Friday, August 31, 2007

More foolishness in Iraq

David Ignatius wrote a column in yesterday's WaPo detailing how the Bush Administration wasted an opportunity to help positively influence the 2005 Iraqi elections. One main source for the article is former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, who has his own agenda. Nonetheless, off-the-record sources confirmed to Ignatius that in the face of Iranian attempts to influence the elections both through advertising and sneaking Iranians across the border to vote (with fake ration cards to prove their "legitimacy"), the Bush Administration pulled a CIA plan to counter the Iranian efforts.

To counter this Iranian tide, the CIA proposed a political-action program, initially at roughly $20 million but with no ceiling. The activities would include funding for moderate Iraqi candidates, outreach to Sunni tribal leaders and other efforts to counter Iranian influence. A covert-action finding was prepared in the fall of 2004 and signed by President Bush. As required by law, the program was briefed to senior members of Congress, including Pelosi.

But less than a week after the finding had been signed, CIA officials were told that it had been withdrawn. Agency officials in Baghdad were ordered to meet with Iraqi political figures and get them to return whatever money had been distributed. Mystified by this turn of events, CIA officers were told that Rice had agreed with Pelosi that the U.S. couldn't on the one hand celebrate Iraqi democracy and on the other try to manipulate it secretly.

Ethically, that was certainly a principled view. But on the ground in Iraq, the start-stop maneuver had the effect of pulling the rug out from under moderate, secular Iraqis who might have contained extremist forces. (Asked about the withdrawal of the intelligence finding, spokesmen for Rice and Pelosi declined to comment.)

Rice's reaction is simply stupid. As Salvor Hardin noted [Isaac Asimov, Foundation] "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right." The US cannot celebrate Iraqi democracy and then allow the Iranians to undermine it. That's like saluting the election results from Venezuela in 2001 as free and fair -- it denies reality to satiate a desire to achieve an ethical ideal without concurrently seeking to achieve the ethical ideal. Pure UN thinking at its worst.

When Bolton speaks . . .

The Monk usually listens.

Today, John Bolton discusses yet more feckless diplomacy by the Bush Administration. The issue -- No. Korean nukes.

Bad acts and consequences

Larry Craig trolled for sex in bathrooms. Michael Vick ran a business built around torturing and killing dogs. Both have lost their livelihood. Bad acts have consequences. Often serious ones.

And that's fine.

Former Sen. Craig (he may resign as early as today, according to CNN -- UPDATE) took specific actions such as lurking around a bathroom stall and repeatedly peeking into an occupied stall to look at its user. His foot tap dance when he went into a neighboring stall seems insignificant, but Jonah Goldberg notes that it could not be innocent:

If Craig didn't know this code he would be appalled by the insinuations of this cop. Imagine if John McCain or Jim Webb were in that stall and accidentally did what Craig claims to have done by accident as well. It would take them fifteen minutes to even understand what the cop was talking about. "You think I'm what?!?!" "You're saying I wanted to do what!?!?!" "Because I touched your #$%^*&@ foot with my foot!?"

And then McCain/Webb would become a helicopter of fists.

Craig understood entirely that he was caught and he was trying to be both indignant and reasonable. You can't do both, which is why he's unconvincing. Add in the fact h's been dogged by rumors for 20 years [even longer -- TKM]. If he was innocently going to bathroom, he's simply the unluckiest man in the world.

Vick lost tens of millions of dollars (don't go by his contract value, NFL contracts are not guaranteed), at least a year of his life in a Federal penitentiary, probably three prime years of his career (if any team ever decides to sign him later) and his reputation for acts that are illegal, reprehensible and quite stupid. Is his punishment too harsh, as Gregg Easterbrook indicates on ESPN's TMQ column?


Equating training and modifying (filing teeth, affecting diet so the dogs would be meaner, etc.) dogs for killing each other to provide sport to random onlookers with slaughtering cows, chickens and lamb (Easterbrook's argument) is off-base. There is direct one-on-one personal interaction with the dogs that creates these canine fighters. Psychological data indicates that people who treat domestic animals with extreme cruelty exhibit psychotic and psychopathic tendencies towards humans. In other words, the lack of compassion and humanity required to drown, electrocute, whip and beat the dogs also manifests in interpersonal relationships.

What about Vick's losses -- the money, prestige and employment on top of the jail time? Criminal sentences are designed to punish the criminal and exact a price upon him in exchange for the harm he caused society. Rehabilitation is secondary. Consideration of the civil consequences (loss of job, loss of endorsements, etc.) entails balancing Vick's personal harm or his merits as a human being (he tithes to charity or somesuch) against society's harm. That's not the criminal justice system's job. Instead, that's the argument in favor of allowing a Pablo Escobar to run a vast criminal enterprise in Eastern Colombia unfettered by the government because his narco-dollars raise the standard of living for the families he uses as servants in cocaine preparation. It's a moral equivalence argument that lacks morality.

Vick chose to engage in clearly illegal activity while concurrently holding a job that would pay him preposterous amounts of money to showcase his significant physical talents. He chose to squander his opportunity. Craig chose to seek out illegal sexual relations (and this is not a gay/straight issue -- if Bill Clinton had been hunting around a women's bathroom, he too would be wrong) despite holding a prestigious governmental position that only 100 Americans can obtain at any one time. He chose to squander his career to have kinky fun.

No tears from The Monk.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Building blocks?

The Yanks just concluded their best series of the season -- sweeping Bahstin at the Stadium, holding the RedSawx to 6 runs and 13 hits in three games, and winning close, well-pitched contests against the RedSax top 3 (Dice-Dice KB, Backout and the Shill) with the Yanks top 3 (Pettitte, Clemens and Wang). Totals for the Yankees' starters: 3-0, 20 IP, 4 ER, 1.80 ERA. The game Tuesday night was the best game of the season between the teams -- just a few feet separated rolltheDice from keeping the game tied, the teams had to scrap out hits and runs, and the performances had an October feel. Compare that to all the games in Ratway this year where neither team has scored fewer than 5 runs in any game and the relievers have taken turns bonking.

Give credit where it's due, the RedSux didn't play badly. DiceDiceKB pitched well except for two justoverthewall homers, Backout ran in and out of trouble all night (12 H in 6 IP before A-Rod's 7th inning homer), The Shill only allowed 2 solo HR to Cano. As well as the Yanks pitched, the RedStanks can feel good because their top 3 had been shredded by the Yanks this season, but all did decent jobs in the Bronx.

Conventional wisdom is now that the RedSawx don't want to face the Yanks in October. As we all know, conventional wisdom is a phrase renowned for its 50% accuracy. The Redstiffs would love to take on the Yanks and dump them en route to a second AL title in four years. Yes, the Yanks are a tougher matchup for Bawstun than the Angels (whom the Redhos routinely crush), but if you think you're the superior team and have a permanent inferiority complex, who better to beat than the most hated rival?

Problem is, if the Yanks make the playoffs, they'd likely have to face the Angels -- a quick but not painless death to Yankee title hopes in 2002 and 2005. Think the third time's the charm against a playoff rival? So did the 2001 Astros, 1978 Royals, 1975 Pirates, and 1953 Dodgers -- each of whom lost for the third straight time to the same foe within a six-year period. And personally, The Monk doesn't want to wait for the fourth time for the breakthrough like those teams did. [Houston lost NLDS to Atlanta in 1997, 1999, 2001, won in 2004 and 2005; Royals lost in the 1976-78 ALCS to the Yanks, won in 1980; Pirates lost the 1970, 1972, 1975 NLCS to the Reds, won in 1979; Dodgers lost the 1949, 1952 and 1953 WS to the Yanks, won in 1955]. The Monkling wants his inaugural playoff season to be memorable for GOOD results.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Return of The Monk

Yes, I'm back after a long hiatus from blogging.

Two weeks ago tonight I had a thought that the Monkling would be coming. At 4 a.m. on August 16, Monkette told me it was time to go to the hospital. But she wanted food first. Seriously.

"They're not going to feed me in the hospital and I'm hungry."

That's my girl.

Just 8.5 hours later, the Monkling officially debuted. He's the smartest person in the house (babies process information at speeds that would embarrass even Marilyn Vos Savant) and The Monk's priority level for Monkette dropped to #5 from #4 -- now her priority order is Monkling, cat, cat, cat, Monk; it used to be cat, cat, cat, Monk (we have three cats, in case you didn't figure that out). Minimal change.

The good part is he's already got more hair on his head than PaMonk. The better part is he had a clean bill of health. The notsogood: babies are incontinent, cry a lot, and are exceedingly messy. Just in case you didn't know. But yeah, they're cute, especially if they don't have the squashed mushybabyhead that so many newborns have. Monkling has a nice round head, and two chins like his namesake, Sir Winston Churchill.

And yes, he is being brought up correctly -- we have pictures of him in his Yankees hat and onesie to prove it. Did you really have any doubts about that?

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Whisper of Sanity

Those problems notwithstanding, to walk away now from the recent gains would be to lose all the progress that has been purchased at such a dear price in lives and dollars. As one soldier said to me, "We have lost so many good people and invested so much, It just doesn't make sense to quit now when we're finally making progress. I want to go home as much as anyone else, but I want this mission to succeed and I'm willing to do what it takes. I just want to know the people back home know we're making progress and support us."

From a strategic perspective, if we leave now, Iraq is likely to break into even worse sectarian conflict. The extremist regime in Iran will expand its influence in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. Terrorist organizations, the people who cut off the heads of civilians, stone women to death, and preach hatred and intolerance, will be emboldened by our departure. In the ensuing chaos, the courageous Iraqi civilians, soldiers and political leaders who have counted on us will be left to the slaughter. No American who cares about human rights, security and our moral standing in the world can be comfortable letting these things happen.

The money quote from an op-ed by Representative Brian Baird (D-Wash.) who visited Iraq recently. He's a liberal and a long-time critic of the war.

HT: Instapundit

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Fed's Discount Window

In the mists of antiquity when Monk and I took Economics in high school and had wonderful teacher affectionately named the Old Bastard we were taught that the Fed discount window was not to be used by banks except in dire emergencies. As a matter of fact, the Fed did not want to see direct borrowing from the Fed except when an institution was under extreme duress.

That has held true for a long time.

That changed last week after the Fed surprised the market by reducing the discount rate 50 basis points (0.5%) to 5.75% and ENCOURAGED institutions to use the facility. So far Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorganChase, Deutsche Bank and Wachovia have used the discount window even though cheaper financing was available elsewhere to confirm that using this facility no longer carries a stigma.

The discount rate move and subsequent events were intended to have a signalling effect, i.e., that the Federal Reserve is offering itself as a lender of last resort and is willing and happy to do it. The rate cut has certainly stabilized the market and is a good thing.

Note that the discount rate is different than the Fed Funds rate which is the target rate that the Fed sets for banks lending reserves kept at the Fed to each other.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Welcome Monkling #1

It gives me great pleasure to announce the arrival of Monkling #1 born to Monk and Monkette today around noon Central Time.

The healthy new addition (6lbs, 7oz; 19+ inches) is auspiciously named after
- the greatest Prime Minister in British history
- PaMonk
- Monkette's brother


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Learning to win again?

Two years ago the Yanks had this dubious record through five series with the D-Rays: 5-11. The Yanks had won exactly one game in each series, and lost 2, 2, 2, 2, and 3 (not in order). The Yanks made the playoffs by two games over Cleveland (which choked a home series to the Whitesax in the last weekend). The Yanks did so, in part, by sweeping the DRays three straight in the last meeting between the teams -- another 1-2 series loss would have dropped the Yanks into a one-game playoff against the Indians.

This year, the Yanks have the dubious distinction of a not-robust 4-7 record against the Orioles, which includes two one-run wins, and a walk-off homer by A-Rod to reverse the outcome in another, and at current writing they're closing in on 4-8 as Erik Bedard is in the midst of dominating the team for the third time this year. The teams have played, you guessed it, four series and the Yanks have won exactly one game in each (the completion on July 27 of a suspended game from June 28 kicked that win into the Yankees' credit as of the date the game started -- that win also made the Yanks' All-Star Break record 43-43, not sub-.500 for the first time since 1995). The Yanks close with three games in Baltimore on the last weekend of the season.

Until last weekend, the Tigers had been awful; they got better by winning a couple against the moribund A's and beat Cleveland yesterday. The Yanks were shutout last night and have three hits in the last 13 innings. Not the time for a reversal of fortune -- the Yanks play 8 of their next 11 against the cats, with three at the Yankee-killing Angels in the middle of that stretch and three against the Redsux right afterwards.

Time to right the ship -- and the Yanks will need to stink less against the O's in September. Despite their owner, the O's have a decent team, good young pitchers and could be a contender next year.

UPDATE(S): First, kudos to Shelley Duncan, the Yanks' own Baby Huey -- a 6-foot-5, 235-lb bruiser who's smacked 6 HR in limited appearances and is the biggest cheerleader in the dugout. He whacked a two-out, three-run bomb to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th.

Second, boo and hiss to Mo -- the Great One bonked yet again, this time allowing consecutive doubles to start the 10th and a one-out bomb to D-Ray retread Aubrey Huff to send the Yanks to a 6-3 loss. So much for the 4 IP, 3 H, 0R, 3 K work of Henn and Ramirez to keep the team close. They were called up from AAA Scranton this morning.

Note that Phil Hughes is 0-1, 7.71 at home and 2-0, 0.73 on the road. Then again, he faces the Angels and (probably) the Tigers on the road in his next two starts so that success is hardly immutable.

Third, kudos to TB stiff Andy Sonnanstine, a junkballer who raised his record to a not-so-robust 2-8 by beating the BloSax. The Sawx have had trouble with guys who throw muck -- comes from having so many dead-red fastball hitters in the lineup (Ortiz, Pedroia, Lowell, Drew).

Fourth, thankfully the Twins have embarrassed the M's almost as badly as the O's have turned the trick on the Yanks -- today the underwhelming Scott Baker bottled up the M's and the Twinkies won thanks to Rondell White's first dinger, an unearned run in the 8th and a Torii Hunter slam in the 9th. Hunter's on pace for a career year (.295-24-84, and .877 OPS; his bests are .289, 31, 102, .859) and he'll be a free agent this winter. No comment on any sort of correlation. Right now, the Twins are off the threat matrix in the Wild Card race (60-60, 7 GB), but if they keep winning when Santana doesn't pitch (like the last two days) and can win when he does (unlike their loss Monday), they could make a charge.

Hamastan, even worse than Arafatistan

After the 9-11-01 World Trade Center attacks, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon famously stated that he would not allow a terrorist state of Arafatistan to grow from the territory Israel ceded to the Palestinians.

Instead, Gaza is worse. It's Hamastan. And as Jonathan Schanzer shows, Hamas rule is frighteningly similar to the Taliban's regime in Afghanistan.

Must Read of the Day: The Giuliani Doctrine

In Foreign Affairs, Rudolph Giuliani presents his view of the next foreign policy challenges for the President who assumes office on January 20, 2009, and how to achieve the US's goals. It is a must read.

Here is a taste:

The next U.S. president will face three key foreign policy challenges. First and foremost will be to set a course for victory in the terrorists' war on global order. The second will be to strengthen the international system that the terrorists seek to destroy. The third will be to extend the benefits of the international system in an ever-widening arc of security and stability across the globe. The most effective means for achieving these goals are building a stronger defense, developing a determined diplomacy, and expanding our economic and cultural influence. Using all three, the next president can build the foundations of a lasting, realistic peace.

Achieving a realistic peace means balancing realism and idealism in our foreign policy. America is a nation that loves peace and hates war. At the core of all Americans is the belief that all human beings have certain inalienable rights that proceed from God but must be protected by the state. Americans believe that to the extent that nations recognize these rights within their own laws and customs, peace with them is achievable. To the extent that they do not, violence and disorder are much more likely. Preserving and extending American ideals must remain the goal of all U.S. policy, foreign and domestic. But unless we pursue our idealistic goals through realistic means, peace will not be achieved.

Idealism should define our ultimate goals; realism must help us recognize the road we must travel to achieve them. The world is a dangerous place. We cannot afford to indulge any illusions about the enemies we face. The Terrorists' War on Us was encouraged by unrealistic and inconsistent actions taken in response to terrorist attacks in the past. A realistic peace can only be achieved through strength.

A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the "realist" school of foreign policy thought. That doctrine defines America's interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values. To rely solely on this type of realism would be to cede the advantage to our enemies in the complex war of ideas and ideals. It would also place too great a hope in the potential for diplomatic accommodation with hostile states. And it would exaggerate America's weaknesses and downplay America's strengths. Our economy is the strongest in the developed world. Our political system is far more stable than those of the world's rising economic giants. And the United States is the world's premier magnet for global talent and capital.

Here is the Readers' Digest version from the NY Sun, which deals primarily with Giuliani's views on the Israel-Palestine issue and also points out how Giuliani's "realistic" viewpoint contrasts with the realpolitik school whose disciples include Brent Scowcroft and his protege Condoleeza Rice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On the current market crisis

[Caveat: This is not meant to be a scholarly piece and in the interests of time I will not be citing/linking articles. Consider it a commentary from someone in the markets - I hope it is useful.]

Anyone reading headlines or watching the news should have realized that the equities market has been usually volatile in recent weeks and the word "subprime" has been thrown around like F-bombs in a vintage Eddie Murphy stand-up performance.

What is SUBPRIME?: "Subprime" refers to various types of loans, typically mortgages, made to consumers whose credit and/or credit history did not qualify them for the typical 30 year amortizing loan on 80% of a property's value.

In the old days, people plunked down 20% of the selling price as down payment on a house and borrowed 80% that was typically paid out over 30 years. Banks would check credit history, look at income and if the price paid for the property were reasonable make the loan. They would then earn the spread between say a mortgage at 7% and pay out 3% on deposits.

That started to change in the early 1990s with the advent of the mortgage-backed securities market. [Go read Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis - a truly outstanding book] Instead of banks holding on the mortgages, they packaged them into securities and resold them. This allowed banks to issue more mortgages as they no longer had to a) service them b) have them sit on the balance sheet. This was GOOD for everyone as banks could issue more mortgages and most of these mortgages were (are) AAA rated. (Now Monk and I might not qualify as AAA borrowers BUT combine 1,000 of us together and you have pretty good diversity.)

Fast forward ten years later. The market is booming. Americans are doing well but we like to live at or beyond our means. That starter house is starting to look shabby and we want that 4 bedroom McMansion that Toll Brothers is putting up. A bank might balk at our qualifications but non bank lenders like Countrywide and American Home Mortgage have found that there is money to be made by making riskier loans to borrowers on the margin. They are more aggressive allowing 10% or perhaps even 5% down payment. There are more interest-only loans where the consumer doesn't amortize the principal - for the moment. Further, borrowers can take advantage of a low rate environment by committing to adjustable rate mortgages like 2/28 ARMs where you get a super-low, e.g., 4% rate for the first two years and then have refinance.

WHY WOULD ANYONE LEND MONEY IN SUCH A RISKY FASHION? "Lender" has become a misnomer. These firms aren't really lenders they are really more "packagers". Within weeks or a couple months after the loan is originated it is securitized and diced up into securities that are bought by the market.

WHO WOULD BUY THIS STUFF? Good question. EVERYBODY. One of Wall Street's dirty little secrets is they are pretty much all YIELD WHORES. Basically for an extra 10, 25 or 50 basis points (100 basis points = 1 percent) they are willing to take on much more risk.

CREDIT DEFAULT DERIVATIVES was a market that boomed in the past 3-4 years. This market allowed folks to buy and sell insurance on bonds defaulting. The original idea was to allow owners of corporate bonds to buy some insurance against default in lieu of trying to sell bonds at a fraction of their cost if conditions for a firm suddenly deteriorated.

What happened was folks, including many hedge funds, found that writing this insurance was profitable - especially as the economy was doing quite well and defaults were very low. So investors were able to buy these higher yielding securities AS WELL as insurance.

However things snowballed and got out of hand and lending practices started to lose sight of economic reality. Combine that with home prices starting to level off and then decline in 2006. Folks start to default because their property is already underwater so they stop making monthly payments. Loans that have been committed but haven't been packaged or sold off are now the equivalent of toxic waste. Holder of repossessed homes are trying desperately to offload.

Now this whole exercise is very upsetting for Main Street because NEW HOME SALES are a huge driver for the economy. The economic activity derived from building a new home to the appliances that are bought to outfit it to the furniture that is bought by new owners is critical to the economy. The subprime shock is a terrific body blow to an already weakening homebuilding sector which has increasing inventory of built but unsold homes as well as holding a lot of land at very high prices.

So are we in danger of FINANCIAL ARMAGEDDON? I don't think so. The true subprime market is only about 10-20% of the mortgage market and not nearly all of it is in default or truly toxic. The yield whores holding this paper and many subprime lenders are getting hurt. However, major financial institutions will probably take material hits in earnings but it is unlikely that any of them are in jeopardy. The market is very concerned about liquidity at the moment since the market on these securities has largely stopped trading and raising funds for ongoing operations via asset backed commercial paper or for margin calls is difficult.

However, the European System of Central Banks as well as Federal Reserve have 'shown the flag' via significant injections of liquidity over the past week and while the market may not be as confident with Bernanke as they were with Greenspan I think most seasoned players are looking at his as a bad patch rather than a swamp.

Also the fact that Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman, Sachs, is Treasury Secretary and not John Snow should not be underestimated.

The Scooter's record -- analyzed

Rob Neyer notes the controversy over Phil Rizzuto's election to the Hall of Fame in 1994 by the Baseball Veterans' Committee. Steinbrenner worked tirelessly on Scooter's behalf, and Rizzuto had the support of his teammates because they felt he was the heart of the team. But detractors criticized his career average (.273) and paucity of hits (1.588). Neyer discusses how Rizzuto's Hall of Fame status is exactly what Scooter was entitled to:

[Rizzuto's election by the Veterans' Committee] is generally seen as yet another flawed result, and it's clear that the process was terribly flawed. You get a bunch of old men in a room and let them start horse-trading, and the results won't be pretty. You look at Rizzuto's career, and you see a player who wasn't much of a hitter, either qualitatively (.355 career slugging percentage) or quantitatively (1,588 career hits).

That's objectively true ... but leaves out the salient arguments for Rizzuto's greatness. Actually, there's really just one argument, from which everything else flows: World War II. As a rookie in 1941, Rizzuto batted .307. In 1942 he batted .287. He was 25, and just about to enter the prime of his career. At which point he, like almost every other great baseball player in America, went into the service. Rizzuto didn't see any combat during the war, but that doesn't mean it didn't wipe out a good chunk of his career. He spent three full seasons in the Navy. And while he did play a lot of baseball and didn't see much combat, he did pick up a nasty case of malaria while serving in the Pacific.

Rizzuto returned to the Yankees in 1946, but he simply wasn't the same hitter he'd been before the war. Even leaving that aside, though, it's fair to assume that those three lost seasons cost Rizzuto somewhere between 450 and 500 hits, which would put him comfortably over 2,000 for his career. That's not bad, quantitatively. As for the quality, Rizzuto was probably a better hitter, relative to his league, than Ozzie Smith.

Of course, Smith's not in the Hall of Fame for his hitting. But Rizzuto was an outstanding shortstop, too. According to [baseball historian Bill] James, Rizzuto "deserved the American League Gold Glove" -- if one had existed -- "in 1941, 1942, 1946, and 1950." Well, if he was the best defensive shortstop in 1942 and 1946, we can assume he'd have been the best defensive shortstop from 1943 through 1945, right? . . . [N]ow we're talking about a seven-time Gold Glover with more than 2,000 hits and a (well-earned) MVP Award in 1950.

As a player, Rizzuto wasn't as good as Ozzie Smith. He wasn't as good as his supposed equal, Pee Wee Reese. And it's hard to take him seriously as a broadcaster, considering his penchant for rambling on about Italian food while runners were circling the bases. As a Hall of Famer, though? The Scooter's no joke.

The Scooter, RIP

The glue that held the Yankees' dynasty together in the 1940s and '50s was not the bad-ball hitting catcher, the smooth centerfielder(s), or even the team's iconoclastic manager, The Perfesser. Instead, it was the diminutive little paesan shortstop with the big ears and the big heart.

This morning, that World War II Naval veteran, four-decade broadcaster, Money Store and Bank of New York shill and the oldest living Hall of Famer passed away. Phil Rizzuto was 89 but had unfortunately been diminishing for about a decade -- he had resided in a nursing home in West Orange, NJ for years.

Rizzuto is the little guy that could -- only 5-foot-6 and with zero power, he not only put the short in shortstop, but became the model for the position (see Patek, Freddie) before Cal Ripken, Jr. reinvented it. Rizzuto was a tremendous fielder, a basestealer, a bunter (who always complained about how modern players couldn't bunt, except for Bucky Dent) and the prototypical dirty-uniform guy who would leap, dive and throw his body around to help the team win. Want to see Rizzuto play today? Watch David Eckstein of the Cardinals. Want to watch his favorite player? Tune in for Derek Jeter -- whom Rizzuto repeatedly referred to as the best player in the game.

Rizzuto went basically straight from the field to the booth -- he became an icon as a Yankees' broadcaster with his signature call "Holy Cow!" (what -- you thought that hack Mike Patrick originated the call?), his jibes to his broadcast partners (to whom he always referred by last name, even when talking to them again after they moved on -- like former Cardinal, Yankee broadcaster, and NL President Bill White) and his fear of lightning and thunder.

As goofy and funny as he was, he commanded tremendous respect. Larry Doby offered kudos to Rizzuto on a visit to the Yankees' telecast booth, specifically noting Scooter as one of the good guys when Doby faced racism as the first black AL player ("you were a ballplayer, that's what mattered," said Scooter); Joe DiMaggio said Rizzuto "held the team together" and Ted Williams declared "If we'd had Rizzuto in Boston, we'd have won all those pennants instead of New York." The respect of Williams, and Steinbrenner's relentless campaign for him, ultimately resulted in Scooter's election to the Hall of Fame in 1994.

Here's Steinbrenner's remembrance (HT):

I guess heaven must have needed a shortstop. Phil Rizzuto’s contributions to the Yankees and the sport of baseball were immense for a period of over 50 years. He was one of the greatest Yankees of all time and a dear, close friend of mine whose loss is enormous to me and to the entire Yankee family. He epitomized the Yankee spirit – gritty and hard charging – and he wore the pinstripes proudly.

While Scooter may have been smaller in size than some, he was among the tallest in his stature as a Yankee. He was a favorite of fans both as a player and later as a broadcaster. His voice and “Holy Cow” will be part of baseball for as long as we play the game.

No one deserved his place in the Hall of Fame more than Number 10. Our condolences to his wife, Cora, and the rest of his family.

So here's to the Scooter -- the Yankee icon and a player who gave everything for the team.


In Sympathy

The Monk has 1.5 siblings -- two half-brothers and a half-sister. We're all PaMonk's but only I am MaMonk's.

They have a different mom, and she died yesterday. Her end days were, unfortunately, extremely unpleasant as her body lost its battle with cancer. Even the knowledge that her pain is gone and the discomfort no longer exists does not obviate the loss. She's survived by my sibs, and her granddaughter, MonkNiece.

Monkette is about thisclose to giving birth to Monkling 1.0, and The Monk is needed deep-in-the-heart-a Texas. So instead of in-person support, The Monk and Monkette can only offer our sympathy and condolences.

Which we do. Our regrets and condolences to our siblings.

Libel tourism and the American press

In 2000, Deborah Lipstadt became a victim of libel tourism. Her book Denying the Holocaust exposed various historians as frauds. One who fought her was David Irving, a prominent Holocaust denier from the UK who stood upon his reputation as a military historian in an attempt to rewrite Holocaust history by minimizing Hitler's role, reinventing a false death toll that was merely a fraction of the number of people killed by the Nazi genocide and promulgating a view that the Nazi genocide was neither a true genocide nor the state-created mechanical process for abusing and killing humans that it truly was. Irving was, and remains, a liar.

The UK does not have a First Amendment, nor a Supreme Court that balances the rights in favor of the speaker over the subject of the speech. Instead, in the UK, a libel defendant must prove the truth of his assertion and is subject to UK law even on the most tenuous jurisdictional grounds. Irving sued Lipstadt in the UK for libel and damages. She cleaned his clock.

But not every publisher (Penguin, in Lipstadt's case) is brave enough to fight for truth in the English courts, nor is every statement (exposing Nazi-sympathizing Holocaust deniers) deemed worthy of fighting for. Thus, Cambridge University Press caved into pressure by Sheikh
Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz, a terrorist financier (just ask former Clinton Administration counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke), to pull Alms for Jihad instead of fighting a libel suit. Cambridge didn't deign to tell the authors before it caved in.

So kudos to Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of
Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed -- and How to Stop It, for fighting against a British default judgment Mahfouz obtained against her (the book is not published in the UK, so she refused to recognize its jurisdiction) and suing Mahfouz in New York for a declaratory judgment that the British ruling cannot be enforced.

Andy McCarthy has details of the Sheikh's strategy and Dr. Ehrenfeld's fight.

Monday, August 13, 2007

No win situations

The ridiculous level of specialization in baseball leaves managers with no-win situations. Exhibit 1 -- bottom 8, one out, runner on first, Terry Francona lifts Hideki Okajima (lefty) for Eric Gagne (righty) with a 3-1 lead because the next hitter is righty Miguel Tejada. Seven pitches later, Tejada takes Gagne out and the Oreos have tied the RedSux 3-3.

The problem with the move? Before the Redyux traded for Gagne, Okajima was the full-time set-up reliever for the Sux whose 3-1, 1.26 and .173 batting average against vaulted him from unknown to Rookie of the Year candidate. He's not a lefty specialist: Okajima has limited righties to a .180 average -- lower than Gagne's .247 BAA for righties. And the HR rate against, going into yesterday's game, was the same -- each had allowed about one homer to righties for every 40-45 ABs. Without Gagne, Okajima stays in. With Gagne, Francona goes into robo-manager mode and turns the non-fireballing lefty into a lefty specialist because he has a hard-throwing righty available.

The problem with the situation: Francona cannot win. On June 26, 1998, Bobby Valentine chose to stick with Mel Rojas in a game against the Yankees. Rojas is a righty who had limited lefties to a sub-.200 average through that game; Valentine's lefty specialist Dennis Cook had allowed nearly a .300 average to lefties (for the whole season, Rojas let lefties hit just .218 against him, despite a horrid September; Cook allowed .299 BAA by lefties, .203 by righties). So with one out, two on, a one-run lead and lefty Paul O'Neill up, Valentine stuck with Rojas. O'Neill banged a homer, the Yanks won and the NY press shredded Valentine.

Valentine made the right call but went against conventional wisdom, it backfired and he got torn to shreds. Francona made the wrong call, went with conventional wisdom, and last night ESPN ripped him to shreds.

Managing from the press box has never been easier.

A couple of other comments: (1) Steve Phillips needs to shut up. His credibility regarding New York baseball teams is non-existent. The Mets fired him, so he holds a grudge (just see how often he mentions he signed Jose Reyes and David Wright). Of course, he avoids mentioning he traded Scott Kazmir for a bunch of beans -- and the Mess' rotation problems would be minimized with one of baseball's best young pitchers pitching in a pitchers' park in a pitchers' division instead of fighting the Yanks, RedSux, BloJs and Oreos for 40% of his starts. The Yanks beat the Mets in nearly every season series and in the 2000 World Series during Phillips' tenure. His claim yesterday that Seattle would win the wild card because the M's have "enough" hitting and "enough" starting pitching doesn't have any basis in sanity. Yes, the M's could win -- they do have decent pitching and a lot of games against the Rangers (who stink) and A's (who are basically playing dead). But if you're a baseball analyst, do you EVER pick against the Yankees in an even contest (the Yanks and M's are tied) over a 45-game stretch? A short series, this isn't. The Yanks have had the AL's best record four times in the past five years -- in other words, they rarely lose over a long stretch.

(2) The Giants (football version) are in trouble. Then again, we knew this when they decided to bring back Coughlin. Strahan or not, the defense is weak. Big Blue is looking like it's ready for a fight this year -- for the bottom of the NL East.

(3) Peter Abraham first started banging this drum, and the NY Post's Joel Sherman has joined in: the Yanks should keep Bobby Abreu next year. Yes, he's expensive. But even with ARod putting up ridiculous stats, the Yanks' offense goes how Abreu goes. His red-hot stats since July 2, and the Yanks' good hitting since then, are not coincidental.

(4) BTW, the Yanks' sweep of the Indians over the weekend was their first road sweep since taking all three here in Texas in early May.

Friday, August 10, 2007

MTA = behind the times

The Monk and Wongdoer basically became friends because we rode the NYC subway home every day from school. We did this in the 1980s, when New York was only marginally safer and cleaner than the squalid mess depicted (with somewhat alarming accuracy) in ESPN's The Bronx is Burning.

Yeah, we bad.

And so is subway service. We had delays in bad weather and weak to non-existent AC when it was hot, we had graffiti throughout the subway cars and stations, bums living in the stations, and rampant crime. There's been a vast improvement in the conditions of the subway from when we rode it daily, especially in terms of train cleanliness, crime level and AC. But weather-related delays, re-routings, and lack of information make the system a mess today.

The subway is one of the least user-friendly systems in the world. To non-New Yorkers, the train maps are indecipherable. There are too many lines, various re-routings, no in-station displays about delays or next train arrivals like in the Underground or Paris Metro (although the latter is in bad shape too), and generally too little information for the riders. The New York Times article linked to this post explains the problems and brings up another one -- how straphangers are shut off from the world whilst in the subway.

He's a great guy, that President of Canada

When a Boston TV reporter pulled a pop quiz to see if Governor George W. Bush could identify a number of heads of state (India, Pakistan, Chechnya, Taiwan -- he at least should have known the first and last given their global importance) in November 1999, Democrats trumpeted Bush's failures to ID them as evidence that he was incompetent to handle American foreign policy.

Answer this: who is the President of Canada? According to Barack Obama, there is one.

In reality, there isn't -- Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister and head of government, there is a Speaker who is the presiding officer of the House of Commons and a second Speaker who is the presiding officer of the Senate. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

No President there.

And Obama wasn't conversing about a head of state half a world away but the head of our closest neighbor.

Very weak.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Gallic Stupidity, part deux

TKM followed up with the writer of the Reuters story we referenced below regarding the release on his own recognizance in France of a serial pedophile arrested on multiple counts of child rape and molestation. Remember, the perv in question has admitted he committed the acts AND has tapes of him doing so that police obtained.

The writer said the "judicial source" indicated that these types of criminals are ROR'd pending trial a few times each week. France should consider studying the crimes these pervs commit while on their own pending trial.

The Monk once had a boss who had been an assistant DA in charge of sex crimes against minors. He proudly kept a collection of mugshots in his desk drawer. The subjects were his "lifers" -- the pedophiles he had put away for life. French prosecutors need more of that ethic.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

One step closer to the door

The DC Commission on Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges notified Roy Pearson that he may not be reappointed as an ALJ in DC. Apparently, this is their nice way of saying "you're about to be canned."

Or so I hope.

THE record falls

Last night, The Monk watched as Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record. No, I wasn't a Bonds obsessive who watched each ESPN2 telecast, I had just switched over out of curiosity and decided to stick with the program through Bonds' third at bat. Bonds was very gracious in his remarks to the fans, and Hank Aaron sent an appropriate and non-effusive message to Barry upon the occasion. Aaron is in an unenviable situation -- he believes the record he worked so hard to attain (and suffered through heinous racist attacks while he achieved it) has been wrested from him by a cheater. But the cheater is a black man, and the African-American community in the US loves Aaron AND believes the doubts(/attacks) about Bonds are racially motivated.

On the occasion of Bonds' record-breaking homer, the record needs to be straight. First, whoever holds the record, the fact remains that Babe Ruth is the greatest home run hitter ever. Ruth not only inspired the word "Ruthian" to describe long home runs, he transformed the game with his power hitting. He was so far above and beyond the capabilities of his peers that he hit more homers than some TEAMS. And Ruth lost years of batting productivity to both the dead ball era and his truncated career as a pitcher. Bonds' claim that he, not Ruth, is the greatest lefty slugger is simply crap.

Second, Aaron achieved his home runs during a pitchers' era. During the 1950s and 1960s, the pitching mounds were higher (an advantage to pitchers), the overall pitching quality was better (less talent dilution through expansion -- in the mid-60s, league ERA hovered in the 3.55 range, in the early 2000s, NL ERA hovered in the 4.25 range, and the best pitchers of the 60s like Gibson, Koufax, Drysdale, Marichal, Perry weren't pitching for the Braves), the league didn't have homer havens like Citizens' Bank, the Great American Ballpark, Coors Field or Miller Park. Yet Aaron had five 40-bomb seasons before 1969 (when the mounds were lowered) and 10 30+ homer seasons from 1957-68. So his consistency in a pitchers' era is laudable.

Third, Bonds' achievements cannot be dismissed. From 1993-now, he has played home games in two of the worst hitters' parks in baseball -- Candlestick and PacBellSBCAT&T Park. At the time he allegedly began using steroids, after the 1998 season, he had 411 career home runs, 5 30-30 (HR-SB) seasons including a 40-40 year and two near-misses where he had 29 SB (he tied his father Bobby for most 30-30 seasons), 3 MVPs (which should have been four), 7 Silver Sluggers and 8 Gold Gloves. In other words, Bonds was a first-ballot Hall of Famer at that point.

And he's continued to produce DESPITE the ballpark, DESPITE the fact that teams avoid pitching to him more than any player since Ruth, and DESPITE walking more than once per game every year since 2001. Take away a reasonable amount of production from 1999-now due to (alleged) steroids and knock down his totals by 20% -- he's still amazing.

So today, The Monk salutes Barry Bonds for becoming the all-time home run king of major league baseball.

But I still hope A-Rod beats him. And does it in pinstripes.

Gallic stupidity?

This story is flabbergasting if true:

PARIS, Aug 8 (Reuters) - French police have detained a man who admitted sprinkling itching powder on young children at the Disneyland theme park near Paris and filming them as they scratched themselves, a judicial source said on Wednesday.

The 50-year-old was arrested on Sunday after a German tourist spotted him sprinkling her 11-year-old niece's underwear with itching powder, the source said.

The man had been photographing young girls when they dropped their underwear to relieve the itching, the source said.

A police search of the man's home later revealed a hoard of child pornography on his computer downloaded from the Internet, and videos hidden in a secret compartment in his bathroom.

The source said the videos included sequences of the suspect raping one of his nieces and of a series of sexual assaults on other minors. Judicial officials were questioning the children who had been assaulted, the source added.

The man, who admitted the offences, according to the source, was placed under formal investigation on Monday and released on conditions that included an order to seek treatment.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of raping a minor, 10 years for aggravated sexual assault on minors and three years for possession of child pornography. The sentences would run concurrently.


A star is born?

Can Joba (say: jah bah) Chamberlain become the next Tom Henke/Todd Worrell/K-Rod/Bobby Jenks? The big kid also known as Joba the Hutt debuted last night in Toronto to pitch the final two innings of the Yanks' win over the BloJs. His line: 2IP, 1H, 0R, 2BB, 2K and he consistently hit 96+ on the radar.

Joba's rise has been ballistic: a questionable 1st round supplemental pick in the 2006 draft (41st overall) due to injury and weight issues, no one doubted his raw ability. But the key adjective was "raw" -- he had only pitched since his senior year of high school. And his numbers had dropped off from his sophomore to his junior years at Nebraska (from 10-2, 2.81 to 6-5, 3.93). The Yanks liked him and picked him as he fell out of the first round. Chamberlain recovered from his triceps tendonitis to dominate the Hawaii Fall League, where he had a ridiculous 46/3 K/BB ratio. His weight has dipped from nearly three bills (circa 290) to a listed weight of 230 that seems legit (as opposed to listing David Wells at 230).

The Yanks brought him along slowly this year, starting his minor league career in May with Tampa. He dominated high-A hitters (4-0, 2.03, 40 IP, 25 H, 51 K), did the same in AA ball with one bad outing (4-2, 3.35, 40.1 IP, 32 H, 66 K), and in his AAA debut he whiffed 10 in five innings without allowing a run. He seems mentally sharp and has a good attitude. The Yanks want him to be a starter (Verlander type stuff -- serious heat and a good slider) but are using him in relief because (a) there only equivalent arm available was Gagne; (b) they want to limit his innings.

And he's humble. Chamberlain is a member of the Winnebago Native American tribe and grew up on a reservation where his father, who lost an arm to injury, would play ball with a young Joba. He has stated a desire to show kids that they can leave the reservation and become a success in the wider world.

So welcome to the big time, Joba. Good luck.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Who loves us?

Victor Davis Hanson reviews the recently released Pew Global Attitudes Poll. A lot of the results are not surprising - we are strongly disliked in Western Europe and the Middle East, and even in Kuwait which owes its existence to the US the poll found favorable/unfavorable at an ungrateful 46/46.

What's more interesting though is the United States' overwhelming popularity in Sub-Saharan Africa, Japan, India and South Korea (58/38! I should cut the SoKo's some slack...) and in parts of Central and Latin America. Even Chavez dominated Venezuela the US still gets 56/40 favorability.

Hanson's article is worth the time and so is skimming the Pew Report.

Hanson's best insight:

The more confident a nation is, even when poor, the more likely it seems to admire America. Some of our best supporters turn out to be one-billion person India (59 percent favorable rating), Japan (61 percent), and South Korea (58 percent) — all democratic, capitalist juggernauts, and appreciative of liberal American trade policy and U.S. military support. Again, should we Americans value the friendship of such democracies — or that of a China that cheats on international trade accords and intimidates its neighbors?

So it is encouraging to be admired by idealistic populations in Africa and Eastern Europe, and shown friendship by India and Japan. But perhaps it is equally to our credit that a bullying China and Russia, a dictatorial and intolerant Middle East, and smug nations of Western Europe seem to resent us, especially our support for democratic change abroad.

Firing the pants plaintiff?

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy: the man who sued a dry cleaners for $60M+ (later reduced to $54M+) for a pair of lost slacks that were not lost may be about to lose his spot at the public trough.

Roy Pearson is the first DC administrative law judge that chief ALJ Tyrone Butler has not recommended for a 10-year reappointment. And Butler wavered because he wanted to give Pearson a second chance. After Pearson tried to take the cleaners to the cleaners, Butler gave in to not only his better judgment, but also to negative input from the District's Parks Department -- a first by the department.

"Pearson's demeanor, analysis and the quality of his written decisions demonstrate that he lacks the necessary skills for this position," stated the Dec. 5 letter from Christine Davis, the department's general counsel. One public works inspector described Pearson as "condescending and unwilling to listen to litigants," while another inspector said Pearson was "often argumentative and hostile," according to the letter.

Here's hoping the District makes the right choice.

Muslim barbarity of the day

Forcing one of Palestine University's most prominent professors, who is a Christian Arab, to convert to Islam. Hamas kidnapped her and force-converted her.

Details at the linked story.

We (still) do not negotiate with terrorists


This is heartening in that it appears at the moment the President has not caved to the Taliban who are holding some dozen to two dozen South Korean missionaries - two of whom have already been murdered.

The Taliban are shrewdly trying to split South Korea of the Coalition by putting responsibility for the safety of the hostages at the feet of the United States. Unlike the Italians we still remember that negotiating with terrorists begets more terrorism.

Michael Strahan is an idiot

That's the subtext of Mike Vaccaro's column ripping the Giants' DE for not reporting to training camp under the excuse that he's suddenly contemplating retirement. Strahan's full of BS: he wants the Giants to fawn over him, or pay him more money. Neither option is on the table. As a leader of the defense, he should lead by example and get his ample a*s to camp. Perhaps playing a full season for the first time in a couple of years would help too.

Strahan's 2007 contract is for $4,000,000. The divorce judgment against him is $15,000,000 and his child support payments will exceed $300K annually. His wife cleaned him out. He wanted to play around (not football this time) and she kicked his butt. So he needs the cash. The Giants, who have been destroyed from inside in the past couple of years due to internal dissent and too many talkers in the lockerroom, rightly have no stomach for this nonsense. If Strahan wants to do his Richie Phillips impersonation, resign and hope the team will pay him, the Giants should be more than happy to let him go, and then seek to recover the pro rata signing bonus from his last deal that they are allowed to recoup upon early retirement.

Then Strahan could learn to keep his ---- in his pants and his head out of his butt.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Every Bush compromise is a loss for the Administration

The Monk does not understand why the President never learned that every compromise he makes with outraged Democrats just means he loses. First, there was the appointment of left-wing Clinton holdover Roger Gregory as a payment to get some of his judicial nominations through -- a ransom payment that still failed to break confirmation gridlock and a politicization of the process by Democrats that is despicable and unconstitutional.

The latest compromise was to put the terror surveillance program under FISA instead of resting upon the Executive's inherent power to protect the United States. That decision became a fiasco quickly -- the FISA court has been rejecting NSA communications intercept applications for calls and Internet activity between people outside the United States if the calls or computer activity is routed at some time through the United States.


Sanity in the law

The Fifth Circuit ruled that a flood exclusion in an insurance policy means that the policyholder cannot get insurance money for damage to property caused, interestingly enough, by a flood. Only in the US could the plaintiffs' bar get away with bringing this type of lawsuit and forcing insurers to pay to defend it (which means we all pay because the insurers aren't running a dang charity -- they'll offset those costs with our premiums).

Howard Bashman has the links to both the AP report and the Fifth Circuit decision ruling against Katrina victims who sued their insurers and claimed that "flood" didn't apply to damage caused when the levees broke -- you know, when there was a flood.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Weird stat of the day

Just pulled this while perusing some Yankees' stats:

Alex Rodriguez would lead baseball in home runs if he only hit against right-handed pitchers. You could throw out his 101 AB against lefties, and he'd lead Prince Fielder by one. A-Rod has 31 HR in 288 AB against righties, 4 HR in 101 AB against lefties.

He's third on his own team in homers against lefties -- both Matsui (7) and Posada (5) have more.

Jeter has one HR against lefties. His power numbers are usually about the same against lefties and righties, with a better average against lefties.

Signs of change in Yankeeland?

The signs are becoming less subtle that the Yankee front office is displeased with certain characteristics of Joe Torre's management, specifically his failure to use young players properly. Last weekend, after another awful outing from Igawa, the Yanks sent Iggie to AAA. But Torre said after Iggie lost to the Royals that the Yanks would maintain a five-man rotation even with an off day this past Monday. That meant Iggie would have been scheduled to pitch tonight. Once the Yanks sent Igawa to Scranton, the upper management sent the message that the next time the Yanks needed a fifth-starter, it would be Phil Hughes. He pitched Sunday, so he's available this weekend; meanwhile Pettitte and Clemens will not receive an extra day of rest.

Yesterday, the Yanks traded Proctor to the Dodgers. According to NYT beat writer Tyler Kepner, the Yanks did this in order to tie Torre's hands. Without his favorite fall-back option, who Torre used in blowouts and close games, even if a kid from the minors could eat a couple of irrelevant innings, the manager would have to use someone the organization wants to develop. No more sitting in the 'pen wasting time for Edwar Ramirez; no hesitation to use Joba Chamberlain.

This is part of a pattern. If not for injuries or organizational commands, Torre would not use young players at all. Last year, the losses of Sheffield and Matsui forced Torre to play Melky Cabrera everyday, and the Melk man proved he could be an everyday outfielder.

Two years ago, the Yanks needed a shake-up and GM Brian Cashman imposed it: he promoted Robby Cano and Chien-Ming Wang from AAA and said they would be counted on to help the team. Cano started off 1-for-24, but ended up hitting .274, showed some pop and was the team's hitting star in the ALDS; Wang established himself as a permanent resident in the Yankee rotation; the Yanks flourished and scrapped to their 8th straight division title and Wang has led the team in wins for consecutive seasons, something no Yankee pitcher has accomplished since Pettitte in 1996-97.

The Yanks are going to get younger soon. Hughes will be a permanent starter next year; Jeff Karstens will be expected to contribute, or showcased for a trade for a young catcher and outfielder; and top draft picks Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy are expected to enter the rotation in the next year or two. After that group, the Yanks like AAA reliever Ross Ohlendorf, AA reliever J.B. Cox, AA starter Alan Horne and AAA starter Humberto Sanchez, and expect that all will be able to contribute by 2009. That may not leave much room in the organization for a field manager who prefers veterans to neophytes, regardless of how dodgy the old guys have become.