Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bridging the gap

When the bridge in Minnesota collapsed last week it focused the nation’s attention on our strained roadways and our penchant for putting off and delaying necessary maintenance on our infrastructure.
Now, U.S. Rep. Oberstar is proposing a 5-cent gas tax increase to fund bridge inspections and repairs. The bill would hike the federal gas tax to 23.4 cents a gallon from 18.4 cents and raise an estimated $25 billion over three years.
I’m glad to see someone taking responsibility and proposing a solution. We can’t continue to let our nation’s infrastructure deteriorate and someone has to pay for it one way or another.
Quite frankly, with the way that gas prices are jumping around these days, I doubt that anyone would even notice a 5 cent increase in the gas tax.
Nevertheless, President Bush has come out against the increase apparently because he thinks all tax increase are bad no matter what. I guess he would prefer to spend the money in Iraq reparing bridges that the insurgents blew up so that they can blow them up all over again.
Fortunately, we only have to put up with Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility and failed presidency for 18 more months. I just hope no more bridges collapse before then.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hall of Fame conundrum

In light of Barry Bonds’ breaking the home run record, it will be interesting to see how the baseball Hall of Fame responds to the steroid scandal that has plaugued professional sports for the past decade and a half.
When Hank Aaron broke the Babe’s record in 1974, it was pretty much a given that anyone with 500 or more home runs would be in the Hall of Fame. You had players like Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Eddie Matthews and Mel Ott. They were soon joined by Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey and Eddie Murray.
The Hall also opened its doors to players who were just shy of the 500 mark such as Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Willie Stargell, Dave Winfield and Carl Yastrezemski. In fact, you had to go all the way down the list to poor old Dave Kingman at 442 to find someone who apparently did not pass muster with the high priests of the Hall of Fame.
Since then, however, there have been a whole slew of ballplayers who have raced past Kingman into the elite realm of baseball power hitting. Along with Bonds, the list now includes Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Alex Rodriguez, Fred McGriff, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Jose Canseco and Jeff Bagwell. Will any or all of these players be locks for the Hall of Fame? Or have they all been too tainted by the steroids scandal? We already saw Mark McGwire get passed over last time during his first year of eligibility. What about Slammin’ Sammy and Griffey Jr.?
Some of the players such as Palmeiro and Canseco have openly admitted to past steroid use. Would it be fair to keep them out of the Hall because they were honest, while possibly enshrining others who may have lied or covered up past use? And what if a player just worked out at the gym a lot and never used steroids, but now people are suspicious and won’t vote for him? What a mess.
We may just have to look back at the 1990s as the Juiced-ball era and just accept that it was a period when steroids were rampant and may have impacted players’ performances, similar to the way we view the Dead-ball era during the early 1900s.

New Home Run King

Barry Bonds broke the home run record last night, hitting his 756th career blast off of the hapless Washington Nationals during a home game in San Francisco.
It’s kind of sad and ironic that Bonds will likely never be inducted into the Hall of Fame despite holding the career home run record. But the taint of the steroid scandal is too strong for most people to ignore. Despite Bond’s denials and/or protestations of ignorance, people will always believe that he benefitted from an illegal drug that enhanced his strength and stamina beyond normal means. One could argue that steroids alone are not enough to make a great ballplayer and that it still took a boatload of talent for Bonds to get to where he is today. Just look at all the other players who we know or suspect took steroids and fell far short of breaking the home run record. But you can’t get past the fact that without steroids, some of those home runs that piled up over the years would have fallen short of the fence and been recorded as flyball outs instead.
Unlike, for example, Pete Rose who broke Ty Cobb’s career hits record fair and square. The scandal that felled Rose - gambling - had no impact whatsoever on his performance on the field and thus, in my opinion, should not have resulted in permanent banishment from the Hall of Fame.

Here is how the baseball home run list shapes up now. I guess I haven’t been paying attention lately because I was surprised by the number of current players who are now in the top echelon. Active players are in bold with their ages in paretheses, but only A-Rod is considered to be a future threat to the home run record at this point.

1. Barry Bonds (42) 756
2 Hank Aaron 755
3. Babe Ruth 714
4. Willie Mays 660
5. Sammy Sosa (38) 604
6. Ken Griffey Jr. (37) 589
7. Frank Robinson 586
8. Mark McGwire 583
9. Harmon Killebrew 573
10. Rafael Palmeiro 569
11. Reggie Jackson 563
12. Mike Schmidt 548
13. Mickey Mantle 536
14. Jimmie Foxx 534
15. Willie McCovey 521
16. Ted Williams 521
17. Ernie Banks 512
18. Eddie Mathews 512
19. Mel Ott 511
20. Frank Thomas (39) 505
21. Eddie Murray 504
22. Alex Rodriguez (31) 500
23. Lou Gehrig 493
24. Fred McGriff 493
25. Jim Thome (36) 490
26. Manny Ramirez (35) 489
27. Gary Sheffield (38) 478

Monday, August 06, 2007

Realists vs. Fantasists

Fantastn. an impractical dreamer. (Webster’s New World Dictionary)

Michael Ignatieff, a former Harvard professor and now a member of the Canadian parliament, pens a mea culpa about his support for the Iraq War in this week’s New York Times Magazine.
It is an intersting and reflective piece that makes a point I’ve been stressing for some time — that the war supporters have grasped onto an impractical and unrealistic fantasy with regards to their expectations for Iraq.

The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action. They did not necessarily possess more knowledge than the rest of us. They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty intelligence and lack of knowledge of Iraq’s fissured sectarian history. What they didn’t do was take wishes for reality. They didn’t suppose, as President Bush did, that because they believed in the integrity of their own motives everyone else in the region would believe in it, too. They didn’t suppose that a free state could arise on the foundations of 35 years of police terror. They didn’t suppose that America had the power to shape political outcomes in a faraway country of which most Americans knew little.

It would be nice to live in a fantasy world where the United States could galavant around the world righting wrongs, overthrowing dictators, establishing democracies and other superhero pursuits. But that is not the reality and people who ignore reality inevitably run into trouble.
That doesn’t mean we can’t do things to oppose dictators or support the creation of democracies, but we have to do it from a foundation based in reality. Right now the President of the United States and his enablers (the 30 percent or so of the population that still supports him) are living in a fantasy world. They continue to believe - four and half years later - that we are “winning” in Iraq and that we are “making progress.” They warn of dire consequences if we pull out, just as they boasted of glorious triumphs during the earliest stages of the conflict. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul said it well during the latest Republican Debate in Iowa as Josh Marshall notes:

It's sort of obvious now that he said it. But I had not quite thought of it that way. The same people now continually raising the stakes on the price of redeployment from Iraq with increasingly lurid tales of genocide, ethnic cleansing and regional implosion are pretty much exactly the same people who gamed us into this mess in the first place with another bunch of fairy tales.