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trades

Off the top of my head reaction to the Giants’ moves at the trading deadline.

Beat writer Henry Schulman got it right on Twitter when he tweeted, “Two obvious ???s for Sabean... 1) did he overpay for Lopez? 2) Is Ramirez better than Casilla/Mota/Bautista?” The second one is the easiest to answer. Ramirez is nothing special … he’s a ROOGY, righty hitters are .210/.287/.336 against him in his career. But all four of these guys are middle-relievers. Wilson and Romo, who are both having excellent seasons, have the late innings sewed up. So Ramirez isn’t worthless, but he does seem superfluous, especially since they picked up Chris Ray earlier. I don’t think Daniel Turpen will amount to much, but he has a bigger upside than Ramirez, which makes the trade pointless at best.

So, Lopez. The lefties in the bullpen have had trouble with walks. Actually, the mid-relief righties have, as well. Lopez isn’t much of an improvement in that regard, since he walks his share, as well. He’s a LOOGY: lefties are .243/.337/.351 against him for his career. Your sense of his value depends largely on how valuable you think a one-out lefty reliever is. The Giants could use a lefty reliever, it is true.

What did they give up? Joe Martinez is a great human-interest story, but beyond that, he is about as useful as Lopez. Martinez for Lopez is a reasonable trade … nothing much, really.

But the Giants added John Bowker to the deal. I am not a big Bowker fan, and the Giants had clearly given up on him, so I doubt they thought very hard before adding him to the trade. Bowker hasn’t shown much in the big leagues over his 500+ plate appearances. In fairness, the Giants haven’t done much to make it easy for him. His glove sucks, he can’t hit lefties, but of all the players involved in the two trades, Bowker is the one who might explode. Like I say, I don’t think it will happen. But adding him to the deal suggests Sabean overreacted to the absence of a lefty in the bullpen. I don’t think the Giants got noticeably better or worse for 2010, and while they didn’t get any big names (yet), they didn’t trade Sanchez or Bumgarner, either. The Padres helped themselves … the Dodgers may be sorry in the future if they don’t make anything of what they got … the Giants basically stood pat. I’d rather they did that then mortgage the future.

Now, if they pick up Adam Dunn on waivers in the next couple of days, that would be a big deal.


random friday, 1989 edition: biz markie, "just a friend"

My wife’s musical taste is pretty basic. She likes oldies, especially Motown, and she likes the women of a certain alt-country/folk bent, like Lucinda Williams or Iris DeMent. When she is in the car, though, her tastes are different. She likes music she can sing along to. So when I burn CDs for the car, I have to be careful what goes on the discs.

Rap music was never going to be her favorite … truthfully, music isn’t that important to her, it’s something you sing along with in the car. She doesn’t care for booming bass, and by 1989 she, like me, was in her mid-30s.

There aren’t many rap sing-alongs. And that might be why it’s always safe to put “Just a Friend” on a car CD. Because my wife can sing along to it, and how many rap songs can you say that about?

Biz Markie was already popular in rap circles by 1988, when his debut album hit the Top 20 of the R&B charts. But it was his second album, The Biz Never Sleeps, that pushed Biz over the top, thanks to the single, “Just a Friend.” That track didn’t just make it on the rap and R&B charts … it went Top Ten on the pop charts, as well. And why?

Well, for one thing, it’s a great record. But more than that, it is not only a sing-along, it is a completely irresistible sing-along, the kind where if you’ve never heard it before, by the second time the chorus comes around, you’ll be singing along with everyone else. In other words, my wife likes it.

Here’s the Biz performing the number on Showtime at the Apollo, a year after it was released. You know, it takes Bruce Springsteen a decade or more before he can get people to sing along with his classics … “Out in the Street” took almost two decades. Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” was a sing along within a year:

That sing-along chorus might have sounded familiar to older listeners, since it drew upon a 1968 song by Freddie Scott:

Of course, within a few years, Biz Markie’s sampling skills made him more famous than he ever wanted, when Gilbert O’Sullivan sued the Biz for his track “Alone Again.” O’Sullivan won, and became probably the only Irish pop star of the early 70s to have an enormous influence on hip-hop. Luckily, the Beastie Boys managed to put out Paul’s Boutique before the lawsuit … if they had waited a couple of years, we would have been deprived of one of the all-time great albums.

As long as it lasts on YouTube, here’s Biz Markie’s “Alone Again”:

And here’s is Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally”:


a follow-up post

Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post:

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation. …

To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is "incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting," said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.

The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. "You're bringing a big category of data -- records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information -- outside of judicial review," said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.

As Susie Madrak notes over at Crooks and Liars:

See, here's the problem with these relentless expansions of executive power: I don't actually believe that the Obama administration is interested in putting me under surveillance for criticizing their policies. But they're sure as hell making it a lot easier for a paranoid Republican administration to do it -- not to mention loose cannon FBI agents who simply want to ignore the rules. In a democracy, the way it's supposed to work is, we have laws that will protect us even when the bad guys are in charge …


the aclu on obama

The ACLU offers a review of the President’s term so far. From the press release:

"Establishing a New Normal: National Security, Civil Liberties, and Human Rights Under the Obama Administration," an 18-month review of the Obama administration's record on national security issues affecting civil liberties, concludes that the current administration's record on issues of national security and civil liberties is decidedly mixed: President Obama has made great strides in some areas, such as his auspicious first steps to categorically prohibit torture, outlaw the CIA's use of secret overseas detention sites and release the Bush administration's torture memos, but he has failed to eliminate some of the worst policies put in place by President Bush, such as military commissions and indefinite detention. He has also expanded the Bush administration's "targeted killing" program.

From the report’s conclusion:

There can be no doubt that the Obama administration inherited a legal and moral morass, and that in important respects it has endeavored to restore the nation’s historic commitment to the rule of law. But if the Obama administration does not effect a fundamental break with the Bush administration’s policies on detention, accountability, and other issues, but instead creates a lasting legal architecture in support of those policies, then it will have ratified, rather than rejected, the dangerous notion that America is in a permanent state of emergency and that core liberties must be surrendered forever.


charlatans

Jonathan Bernstein asks an interesting question of liberals (he has a similar one for conservatives, but I’m sticking to my own biases here): “Which liberal bloggers or media types do you consider to be snake-oil salesmen and charlatans?” I have found the answers fascinating (if you click on the link, you’ll see the comments section, which is where the answers can be found).

Some of the nominees are to be expected, I suppose. Michael Moore is the first to be mentioned. Arianna Huffington and her Post are brought up frequently, and I’m happy to see so many people calling the Post on their dreadful coverage of health issues. Keith Olbermann, probably because he’s a loudmouth. Matt Taibbi is a favorite of mine … I think of him as Hunter Thompson with research … but I know why he tires some people.

Two people seem especially important in the discussion. One is Glenn Greenwald of Salon, who is damned with faint praise … well, that’s not exactly true, he is praised for his work and damned for who he is (or at least, who he comes across as being). I devour everything he writes, and he rarely pisses me off, except when he is dismissing the reasoned work of people I respect. One commenter got it right: “I don't think he's a charlatan, and he's attacking things that I agree need attacking, but … he seems more interested in making enemies than in making friends.”

The other person who has special importance is the one I brought up myself in the comments:

Perhaps the most important name in the comments section is Rachel Maddow, because no one has mentioned her. I'm sure I'm forgetting some other fine folks, but she's the one that I thought of: a top liberal media type that no one thinks of as a charlatan. I like a lot of the people mentioned above, so I may not be the best judge of who is or isn't a charlatan. But we seem to agree that Maddow is separate from the others.

Someone recently referred to Maddow as “Jon Stewart without the snark,” but I think she offers plenty of snark. It’s the thing I like least about her. But her adherence to factual evidence, and her ability to maintain decorum even when interviewing someone slimy, makes her Jon Stewart without the parody.


grades

Grades are silly, shorthand for lazy writers. But a friend recently told me he liked it when I gave grades to TV series. And I just noticed that I did not give a grade to Mad Men, so maybe I should rectify that. The grades I’ve given out in the past lacked any specific standards, and they still do, but I’ll try here to explain what I mean by various grades.

As a teacher, I tend to practice a form of grade inflation. If you get an A from me, you deserve it, but at the bottom end, I’ve passed more than one student with a C because I’ll pass anyone who does the work and makes an effort. Grades work differently for works of art, not solely because one shouldn’t attach grades to artwork in the first place. As I have noted before regarding the ratings I give to movies, the curve is higher than normal, because I try not to watch movies I probably won’t like. I doubt I’ll ever see The Last Airbender, so I won’t be able to give out a 5/10 rating.

TV series work in a similar fashion. There is always going to be a good show that I missed out on, but more often, I miss out on shows I would never like in the first place. So there won’t be any Ds or Fs here … why would I watch such a show at all?

Thus, my TV grades work out something like this:

  • A range: the best shows
  • B range: shows I enjoy watching that aren’t great
  • C range: shows I used to watch but gave up on, so I have an opinion but it’s a poor opinion

And yes, I can attach +/- to finely tune the grades.

Mad Men gets an A. What else is on right now that I watch? True Blood gets a B+/A-, depending on my mood. I like it a lot, but think it is frivolous in ways that, say, Buffy was not. Lie to Me gets a B, maybe a B+ if I’m feeling generous. It’s a good show, works for us as a family of two since we both enjoy it, Tim Roth is great, and the relationship between his character and daughter is well-played. But there’s nothing more … its ambitions are met, it’s like a Joan Jett album that you like when you hear it and forget when you aren’t hearing it. Rescue Me … well, I’m trying for an example of a C, but I don’t watch Cs, and for all I know, Rescue Me is good again. But this show, which was a strong B+ at its peak, eventually convinced me to quit watching.


mad men season premiere

OK, I don’t watch every show, and I’m sure there’s something out there better than everything else (Breaking Bad is often mentioned). But at my house, based on the shows I watch, the best show on TV is Mad Men. So yes, I’m glad it’s back (and I’m glad Comcast airs the East Coast feed on HD, so we can watch it at 7:00 instead of waiting until Monday).

Some things are the same. It’s still great, it will still frustrate people who want something “to happen,” and did I mention it’s still great?

You wouldn’t want to say the characters have changed, exactly … better to say we continue to learn more about them. Don Draper … the first line of the new season is “Who is Don Draper?”, and of course there’s no answer because Don Draper doesn’t exist, and to the extent there’s a faux-Don, no one knows who he is, either, including the man pretending to be Don. I had a thought … I know I should quit thinking about Battlestar Galactica, maybe switch to Caprica, since it’s still on … those shows ask fundamental questions about what it means to be human. The locus of these questions lies in the Cylons, most particularly the ones designed to look and act like “real” humans. Well, Don Draper is a Cylon. There is something human inside of him, but it (Don) is really a machine designed to look and act like a “real” human. It’s a tricky thing to pull off … Mad Men is not science fiction, in fact it prides itself on its realism, but Don Draper would fit just fine in one of Philip K. Dick’s 60s’ novels.

Don Draper is a Cylon … he’s also apparently a self-hating Cylon, although I don’t want to say anything specific since the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, has his knives out for anyone tossing out even the most minor of spoilers. Don has a real problem, or rather, Dick Whitman has a problem: Whitman pulled off the ultimate in self-hating stunts by taking on the life of another man, but Dick hates the man he became.

In artistic terms, the character I’m most worried about is Betty. Early on, her struggle to get past her neuroses made her one of the most interesting characters on the show, at least to me. But while Peggy and Joan have grown over the course of the series, Betty is stagnant, or worse when it comes to parenting. As has been pointed out, those characters with jobs get to demonstrate their competence for 8 hours a day, but Betty, the stay-at-home mom, has no outlet for her competence, and so she remains an unhappy housewife who resents her daughter. There is no growth in the character, leaving our hopes in her daughter, Sally, who has gradually emerged as an important secondary character over the years. (It helps that Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally and is now 10 years old, is doing a superb job … I suspect she can handle whatever Weiner gives her.)

Nothing in the season premiere changed my mind: it’s going to be another great season.