kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Astros Autopsy

Last baseball post for awhile, and it will be brief, much like the mercy killing the Sox delivered to the Astros. I wonder if this will be discussed as a suitable metaphor in exploring the Oregon assisted-suicide case currently under consideration at the Supreme Court. (Is it in bad taste to mention, in this context, Harriet Miers falling on her sword?)

I have neither the time nor the energy nor the interest in digging up statistics to support my claims here. Assume they are there, and that I could, or find your own statistics and let me know how wrong I am.

Fundamentally, anyone who thinks the Astros' offense "disappeared" in the Series wasn't paying attention to a) the Astros' season b) the NLDS or c) the NLCS. The Astros don't have an offense; they have good pitching and get the occasional 280 foot dinger at home. They do have good defense, but all you need to do is look at Clemens' ERA and win-loss record. They don't have an offense. As I mentioned earlier here, I was confident that the Cardinals would win because they did have an offense, which is why their record against the 'stros was so dominating all season long.

McCarver (and Joe Buck, whose comments struck me as alternating between vacuous and simply stupid--and I grew up listening to his dad--didn't have the advantage Jack did, of learning from Harry Carey) consistently got this wrong. Look at the Average w/RISP in the categories a) b) and c) above. I bet they are embarrassing.

The question isn't how the Sox beat them, that's easy: better offense, better defense, better pitching, better managing (although Garner didn't have much to work with, and didn't make too many glaring errors), better energy, better attitude. The Sox acted like they expected to win; the Astros acted like they were surprised to be in the Series.

They should have acted that way. They got two phenomenal pitching performances from Oswalt, a couple of cheap home runs, and the Cardinals didn't play very well at all. Thus the Astros beat them in 6 and staggered into the Series.

Is this an excuse for the Cardinals? Hardly; the Cardinals played quite badly, and Edmonds, oy, Edmonds. The games were generally very close, and could have gone either way; imagine Rodriguez's ball is 5 feet to the left: Tavares doesn't catch it, Cards win. Imagine Lane doesn't catch Eckstein's ball early in game 2; the whole game changes. Imagine Morris pitches well in the postseason (ok, even my imagination isn't that good). The Cardinals lost, and deserved to, but anyone who thought the Astros should have won the Series was confused.

I'm one of them; I picked them to win in 6, oddly enough thinking a) they would get better pitching and b) Morris Ensberg might finally be able to hit his ass using both hands. I was wrong on both counts. Oswalt blowing up, giving up 5 runs in one inning, was hard to predict or believe.

This takes nothing away from the Sox, who absolutely dominated the postseason. Cleveland was the only team who seems to have challenged them this year, as it turned out. They clearly deserved the title. I just would have liked the Cards to have played the Astros a bit better, and seen what happened in a Cards' Series with the Sox; hey, they couldn't have lost any faster than the Astros, and might have done it with a bit more panache, a bit more effort, and bit more class (perhaps learning a lesson from the other Sox).

All I will remember about the Astros series is the whining about the roof (which the Astros, for some reason, got to keep closed during the NLCS, but not in the Series: how come???) and the generally pathetic offense of a generally pathetic offense. Some Series get nicknames: the Subway Series, the I-70 Series, the Bay Series.

I suggest for the 2005 version we refer to it as "The Euthanasia Series."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

SCOTUS Cynicism

The grumblings (and rumblings) about the Harriet Miers nomination has me thinking something that I haven't heard from the right, the center, or what qualifies as the left in the US political discussion. This may be cynical, but then again, this is an administration that really asks us to be as cynical as possible; where we have been fooled hasn't been in those cases where we were too skeptical, but rather where we were too trusting.

So here's a guess:

The Miers nomination, all along, was put forth as a trial balloon/Potemkin candidacy (choose your own metaphor), knowing that for a number of obvious reasons, she wouldn't actually be confirmed (either she would withdraw her nomination, the Prez would withdraw the nomination, or the Right would indicate officially or unofficially that she was unacceptable). Bush then gets to nominate who ever he wants to (and he has a long list of candidates, of course, e.g. Michael Luttig and Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen and all the usual suspects). This will be a candidate the hard-right adores (and whose vote against Roe is virtually assured); the left (I know, it is hard to use this term with a straight face) then has to respond to the following points:

Candidate x has appeals court experience (so that can't be used as a disqualification, as it might be with Miers).
Candidate x has excellent academic credentials (so that can't be used as a disqualification, as it might be with Miers).
Candidate x is highly-regarded by his or her peers (so that can't be used as a disqualification, as it might be with Miers).
Candidate x is not a Bush "crony" (so that can't be used as a disqualification, as it might be with Miers).
Candidate x didn't do something foolish like fail to fill out appropriate paperwork, or do it incorrectly, or have shady land dealings (so that can't be used as a disqualification, as it might be with Miers).


The presumption will be invoked, as usual (except when the Right doesn't like the particular candidate), that Senators should allow the President to choose the nominees he wishes.

So the Democratic leadership will be faced, under this scenario, with having to argue that the candidate is unacceptable, and so unacceptable that a filibuster might be required. The Republicans will have put the Democrats in a position where the latter will have to develop strong, persuasive, well-reasoned arguments, based on a clear understanding of the function of the judiciary, the Constitution, and on principle.

This is called "backing the Democrats into a corner." As I said, this is cynical, but on whose side do you want to be: Republicans fighting for what they want, or Democrats fighting on the basis of their "principles"?

Friday, October 21, 2005

The World Serious

I try only to do one entry a week (that on Tuesdays), but given that the Fall Classic is upon us, it is time for some random thoughts on the Series, a prediction, and whatever else happens to find itself perambulating among my synapses.

1) The 6th game of the NLCS was not a very interesting game (game 5 was much more engaging, and would have been so even without Pujols' dramatics). As mentioned below, Oswalt is someone to worry about, and now we see why. Totally unruffled, in complete control of his pitches, he was slingin' it up there at 94/95 mph, sometimes up to 97; he didn't seem even to need his breaking ball. I kept trying to figure out--as apparently the Cardinals hitters were as well--what he was throwing that was coming in at 85 mph; I gather it was a slider. I gather, as well, that he was unhittable for the most part.

The phrase that kept running through my mind was the brilliant aperçu of Mike Shannon, former Cardinal 3rd baseman and current announcer: "In baseball, good pitching will beat good hitting every time. And vice versa."

2) Should Edmonds even come back? I know he is a dazzling outfielder (although that catch he made in game 1 (2? all a blur, now) he actually made look more difficult than necessary. As I was watching it--and this part wasn't replayed--he seemed to be running at the speed necessary to then dive; had he been running at full speed, he could have caught that ball without leaving his feet. That's the way it looked to me. Others may disagree.

But he killed the Cardinals offensively. Yes, he had a big homerun in game 6 last year, and got us off to a good start against the Padres (which turned out not to be so crucial). He completely sucked--to use the technical term--against the Astros, and hitting where he was in the lineup, that just destroyed offensive momentum inning after inning.

I think it is time for the Cards to rethink what they want their outfield to look like in the Spring. My suggestions, which Walt Jocketty no doubt is holding his breath to hear, are these:

1) dump Edmonds, or better see if he can be traded to the AL; maybe Walt can pick up a middle reliever for him, or a utility infielder?

2) dump Grudzielanek ("Cruddy Gruddy"): not only does this diminish the ex-Cubs factor, but he doesn't seem to be all that great offensively or defensively.

2a) put Nuñez at 2B (he came up as a middle infielder); assuming Rolen is healthy next year, we get both their bats in the line up. Nuñez is at least as potent an offensive threat as Grudzielanek, is probably cheaper, and as good or better defensively.

The projected lineup in the Spring:

SS: Eckstein
2B: Nuñez
1B: Pujols
3B: Rolen
RF: ?
CF: ?
LF: Sanders/Rodriguez
C: Molina

SP: Carpenter, Mulder, Morris (I think he will be back, although I'm not sure
it's a good idea), Suppan, Marquis (hmmm. I'm torn about ol' Jason. I think
he has it in him, but sometimes I wonder where his head is. If he were left-
handed, I'd understand.)

RP: Isringhausen, Reyes, King, Thompson, Tavarez.

So there are some holes to fill, but finding decent outfielders may not be that hard to find, and Seabol looks promising. I think there is some substantial retooling both necessary for next year, and which could turn this team into one that is even better than this one. Sure would like a strong middle reliever, though.

3) The Wild Card, I keep being told, adds so much to the excitement of the game, and, yes, we had "pennant races" with the Indians in the AL and the Philllies in the NL. On the other hand, we also discover that a team like the Cardinals, who beat the hell out of the Astros during the regular season, and won their division by 11 games, are now sitting out because they couldn't win a seven-game series. I'm not whining too much here, because the Cardinals didn't play very well (a cynic might say their offense tanked in the NLCS this year, rather than waiting until the World Series to do so, like last year) in the NLCS. But a one-game home advantage seems to be a rather meager pay-off for showing season-long brilliance and utter domination of one's own division. Baseball is supposed to be a marathon, not a sprint. Imagine you run a marathon, which you win by 15 minutes over your nearest competitor. Then you are asked to run a 100 meter dash with that competitor to determine who really wins.

4) The White Sox pitching was extraordinary during the ALCS--and what in the heck happened to Vladimir Guerrero? If they pitch that well during the Series, it's over. No one can predict whether they will come close to repeating that performance. But Contreras is pitching great, Buerhle, Gardner, and Garcia are all top-notch; while we didn't actually see the bullpen (except for 2/3 of an inning), it is pretty strong (although not as good as the Astros'). If the Astros can somehow turn the games into battles between the bullpens, I like the Astros' chances. I also like the experience brought by Clemens and Pettite; Biggio will get some big hits, as well, I expect. And Lane is a real sleeper; his catch against Eckstein in Game 2 was completely ignored, but had that ball gotten by him, the entire inning and possibly the game and series turns around.

So the prediction: Astros in Six.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Another baseball thread

[I'll be the first to admit that if no one reads this, it hardly qualifies as a "thread."]

Baseball season's climax (ooh) is almost upon us, with the Fall Classic. Today's entry will be brief, just trying to keep to my blog once every Tuesday schedule, for reasons known only to me and the llamas. Soon I will have to move to other topics, like college basketball, politics, and sex.

Last night, for Cardinal fans, was just about as sweet as it gets. That game is sufficient to show why baseball is as fabulous as it is, and why those (call 'em "Dodger fans") will never see excitement when they insist on leaving at the part of the game where the greatest excitement occurs.

Enough ink and pixels have been spilled over Pujols' home run, and even Eckstein's gritty at bat, and Edmonds checking his ego at the door and walking (on a pitch virtually identical to that which was called a strike the game before, and which generated his exit). Fewer folks have said much about how Isringhausen came in and took care of bidness in the 9th; sure, the Astros were deflated, but they were only down a run, had Bagwell available, and Izzy took charge.

This was also both a fabulous game and a torturous one, in that so many plays were close; Sanders came very close to hitting a double, Lamb came close to having his foot on the bag, etc., etc.. I would almost need to see it again to mark down how many different things turned on a matter of inches (hence the cliché).

Second guessing, as one does: Carpenter looked tired to me at the beginning of the 8th, and the Astros were starting to hit him. I would have brought in King--Rotund Ray--to face Berkman, but, hey: we got the win, everything was joyous outside of Houston, and we get to see what happens Wednesday night.

As far as Houston, I don't feel too bad, even though I think it is an okay franchise. I was in Houston in '86, and while they were in the NLCS, the local sports segment of the news led off with a football story (the Oilers, back in the day). That isn't something that is conceivable in St. Louis.

I've made my predictions, and I'll stick with them (Sox in 6 (oops, it was 5) and Cards in 7 (?)). As far as Wednesday night's game, the toughest thing to determine is whether I should skip the first night of my Principles of Macroeconomics course to watch it. (I'm tending toward yes.) Mulder is better at night, the Cards have whatever one might refer to with the word "momentum," the fans will be going absolutely nuts, especially at the beginning of the game. The only thing is this: if Oswalt shuts down the offense, the Cards are in trouble. He's done it before, and as I predicted awhile ago (see below), if the Astros get a couple of absolutely stellar starts, the Cards may well lose. I just didn't think it could be two starts from the same pitcher; but Oswalt is a total bad-ass. I think the Cards can (and will) get to him, but I won't be shocked if they don't. If they can figure him out, Morris is better at home, and for some reason Clemens doesn't scare me as much as Oswalt. I think we win a game seven, by hitting Clemens, along with the psychological trauma the Astros will be suffering.

And, if they get by Oswalt, I'll be there for game 7. Clemens' last game? Busch's last game? Or on to the Series and the Sox? Stay tuned, llama fans.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Down to Four

Here were my predictions for the Division Series (see below):

Cards over Padres (in 4)
Astros over Braves (in 4)

White Sox over Red Sox (in 5)
Angels over Yankees (in 4)

I did pretty well, although I missed on the length of some of them.

The League Championship Series are trickier, in a way; I think what we learned from the Division Series is that the AL East teams were too much like softball teams, relying on lots of offense and not caring enough about defense. Not a good strategy. I'm glad the teams in the AL that run well, play good defense and fundamental baseball, advanced.

We also learned that just because a game goes 18 innings doesn't make it a great game, or a "classic" to use ESPN's language. It was 9 more innings of offensive futility, and not nearly as riveting as the '86 Astros/Mets 16-inning bit of weirdness. Brian Giles, I thought, was a big disappointment, and had many opportunities. I wouldn't want to let him off the hook.

Two more things about the ALDS: 1) on the controversial play that Cano was called out on (the dropped third strike), he ran inside the baseline the entire time, giving him an advantage by making Molina's throw more difficult than it would have been had Cano been running where he should have been. I think that may have had something to do with Joe West's call; I think he made the right call, in spite of Joe Buck's repeated relativistic whining about how it could have gone either way. No one mentioned Adam Kennedy backing up that throw, by the way; the bases would have been loaded and no one would have scored, and I think on a number of teams Molina's throw would have ended up in right field, scoring at least one of the lumbering Yankee baserunners. 2) Matsui, who was a wreck at the plate (although A-Rod's double play in the ninth was, perhaps, the suicidal dagger), made a great catch going into the stands for a flyball. Fans need to figure this out, as I think they have in St. Louis: you don't (like the Yankee fans) reach out onto the field to interfere with the play [and the umpires miss this with some frequency], but if the ball is in the stands, it's yours (unless it is your team in the field). There should have been no way an Angels fan should have let Matsui get that ball; consider it an assist to prevent him from catching it, and all perfectly legal.

Predictions, which I make with a good deal of diffidence, especially in the NLCS:

Cardinals over Houston in 7
White Sox over Angels in 6

I don't think the Angels will roll over and die for the Sox, and they have some good hitters who have yet to show just how good they are (e.g. Guerrero). I expect it to be more of a battle than many of the experts seem to, but I do think there will be a psychological toll from having beaten the Yankees, with all that that means.

The Cards-Astros series is a tricky one, and made more difficult since I have tickets for game 7 of the NLCS (if necessary). The Cardinals offense has looked okay--not great--and the Astros have great starting pitching and a great closer. But deep down I think the Cards take it to the Astros, because they have this "mission" thing about getting back to the Series, and enough veteran players who know how to play the game. Also, LaRussa will keep them focused. If an Astros pitcher or two has some incredible game, then the Cards are in trouble. Keep your fingers crossed for a 7th game, so I can finally see a post-season game in person, and then hope, as mentioned before, that the mighty Redbirds win that 7th game 18-2.

Monday, October 03, 2005

While I'm considering former students, I thought I'd share one particular story. I had a student in my Introduction to Philosophy class a few years ago--very sharp, very imaginative, very judgmental, and very combative. We can call her Ms. Cokesbury. If I said x, she'd say not x; if I said up, she'd say down. I was never too sure about this woman, and as far as I can tell, she was never too sure about me. Of course, the latter is expected and desirable; no fun being predictable. I tried to get her to take my logic class, and see if she could construct a rule for her inferential pattern; given "p," "~p" follows. Not exactly truth-preserving in a bivalent universe, but an interesting approach nonetheless.

Every now and then teachers meet students who seem mature and interesting to talk with, and whose careers we follow, or about whom we guess; if we find out later what they ended up doing, our guesses are frequently quite wrong. This is especially so in my case; I've had students who I just knew would end up working in a huge law firm, making lots of dough ripping off the righteous; I then find up they are working in the inner-city for peanuts, teaching English or math in schools that are badly funded and, generally, up against it.

So what will Ms. Cokesbury end up doing? I can't even guess in this case. She has suggested a variety of interesting opinions to me--opinions worth arguing about--such as a potential racist submotif in the term "film noir"; she also insists when talking with me that we only discuss things on the basis of "former student-former teacher." I'm pretty sure she's wrong about film noir, although I'm tempted to consider any movie with Reece Witherspoon in it film blanc. So the quandry: she is fun to talk with, but seems suspicious and only willing to talk in these bizarre two line e-mail exchanges.

The more general issue, which is why I'm even thinking aloud about this stuff, is the whole student-teacher relationship. There is, of course, a given distance between the two groups, and generally that is probably a good thing; how many of your friends would really sit and listen as you bloviate about the mind-body problem, or show how a sentence is a theorem if it can be derived from the empty set? On the other hand, at what point is it appropriate to cross that line separating instructor from student? At graduation?

Anecdotally, I tend to agree with Ms. Cokesbury's hesitation. I knew a teacher at a former school who had to hold office hours in the cafeteria, due to repeated complaints (and possibly formal charges) for sexual harrassment. He was, to be precise, a complete sleazebag; had I been in position to do so, I would have fired his ass on the spot. On the other hand, I used to hang out at the same time with three older female students--it didn't really hurt that they were loaded--and after class we would often go out to eat, or drink; I was in their houses, they once paid my rent, and we were all pretty good friends. Had one of them issued a formal complaint against me--say if I'd given them a bad grade--I would probably have been in some trouble, and the kind of trouble that may well have prevented me from pursuing an academic career.

Perhaps the solution would be to have no interaction of any kind with any student? That seems to impoverish the whole idea of what can be gained from listening to students, and talking with students (and even what they also can gain from such conversations); indeed, one of my professors in college was--is--a brilliant man, who introduced me to all sorts of interesting things about Africa, art, and the general joys of intellectual curiosity. He was also gay, and out, and introduced me to what all that meant, at a time when I was remarkably naïve about such issues. I learned quickly when his partner died of AIDS what was involved, both in the politics of such a situation and the pain involved in being the "other" and, in an important sense, not accepted as a full member of one's community. (Fortunately, he didn't give much of a fuck about any of that, and he was so good at what he did, and was so smart, he could get away with that attitude. Some of us aren't that gifted.) Yet had I followed Ms. Cokesbury's approach, I would have never been exposed to all that my friend showed me; while I was his student--and in awe of him--we ended up good friends, and he even came all the way from Texas to Chicago to go to my wedding.

Perhaps the lesson is that life presents certain challenges--wow, what a bold statement!--and the easiest and most clear-cut solution provides a seductive response that fails to solve anything, yet all other solutions are messy and complicated. Perhaps, also, we often grasp the easy solution, simply because it clears up any potential problems, but by doing so we miss out on what makes life the interesting set of complexities it is. A trade-off; but what is the right way to resolve the choice here?

This entry is more stream of consciousness than most. I should get back to something I know about, like baseball. Quickly (more later in the week):

Cards over Padres (in 4)
Astros over Braves (in 4)

White Sox over Red Sox (in 5)
Angels over Yankees (in 4)