World Series Reflections 2014: In a Word, Historic

I think I have finally settled back on Terra-sorta-firma after an ebullient night of celebration and joy at my San Francisco Giants’ 2014 World Series victory last night in Kansas City.

Regular readers of this little corner of the blogosphere know that I am not only a longtime Giants’ fan and a life-long baseball fan, I am also a one-time sports writer. I’ve seen way more than my share of games over the decades (six of them now). So I believe I can bring some perspective to the 2014 World Series that may be lacking in many of my friends’ views.

Here, then, in no particular order, are my reflections on the 2014 World Series of Baseball.

Madison Bumgarner tossing a pitch

SF Giants Ace and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner

MadBum is a Player for the Ages. I’ve seen Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson and Denny McLain. I never saw but have read a lot about Christy Matthewson. Madison Bumgarner may be the best pitcher of the modern era; it’s too soon to tell. He’s only 25. But his Word Series statistics are literally off the chart. Bumgarner’s final line for the 2014 World Series boggles the mind: 2-0 with a save and a 0.43 earned run average, with nine hits, one run, one walk and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. All impressive but the one that stands out for me is his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 17:1. Most pitchers try for 3:1 or 4:1. The greats hit 5:1 or 6:1. But 17:1? That’s all but unbelievable. If you look at all his World Series appearances together, his ERA is 0.25, the all-time best for pitchers with 25 or more innings of World Series experience. Did I mention he’s only 25? (If you want to read one of the best print journalism pieces to come out of this Series, check out Tyler Kepner’s piece on MadBum in the New York Times. This is baseball writing as it used to be.)

SF Giants Second-Baseman, Rookie Joe Panik making unbelievable play in World Series

SF Giants Second-Baseman, Rookie Joe Panik making unbelievable play in World Series

Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford Unbeatable Combo. The start of the double play in the bottom of the third that I think was the turning point — the crushing point if you will — for the Royals was one of the finest defensive efforts I’ve ever seen in my years of watching baseball. Joe Panik’s diving catch and gloved toss to Crawford for the relay to first was impossible to believe even in slowmo. You can watch it over and over and over again here, as I just did for about five minutes. As one of the Fox commentators said in the immediate aftermath, “You can’t teach that.” Only the fact that Panik got called up so late prevents him from serious consideration for NL Rookie of the Year. The Fox broadcasters seemed to have a crush on the Royals’ outfield (which is surely one of the best in baseball) but never really mentioned the Giants’ infield, which has to rank among the best in Major League Baseball. We watched two or three 5-4-3 double plays in this World Series, one of the toughest plays to pull off in baseball, particularly given the fleet feet of the Royals.

World Series Trophy

World Series Trophy

One of Best Series Ever. This was one of the best World Series I ever watched. It had drama, explosives, blowouts, nail-biters and dazzling defensive highlights. It lacked home runs, which is just fine with this old geezer of a fan who vastly prefers Little Ball and the emphasis on strategy that the National League has upheld all these years that what we once called the “junior circuit” has been futzing with the DH. (About the only thing that would make me happier as a baseball fan than the Giants winning this pennant would be for the AL to admit it was wrong to adopt the DH and go back to the game we call baseball.) I honestly can’t remember enjoying a World Series nearly as much as this one.

The D Word. Immediately after the Series ended — actually, starting when Game 7 was under way — there was serious talk that if the Giants won the pennant they would be declared a baseball dynasty. I was right up there with them on this point. But this morning as I perused day-after coverage of the season, I ran across this piece by Cork Gaines on, of all places, BusinessInsider. Now, I don’t have a lot of respect for BI as a business news site, let alone sports. But Gaines makes an interesting point. Gaines says we should consider that, “the minimum definition for a dynasty would seem to be a team that is consistently very good and occasionally wins championships. That’s where the Giants fall short. It’s not just about winning three championships in five years. It is also about what they did in the other two years, which is not much at all.” He’s right. In 2011, the Giants played .531 ball and wound up in second place, eight games off the lead. Not bad, but not dynasty numbers. Then in 2013, they really stepped in it, finishing at .469 in third place, 16 games back. So I’m going to re-think the whole dynasty thing. But I do think 3 World Series rings in 5 years (and as many attempts) makes them one of the best all-time teams, and that may have to be good enough in an era of parity and rapidly moving player parts.

So Much More to Come. In coming days and weeks, I’m sure I’ll find a few more tidbits as I reflect on a truly memorable season in which the G-Men battled to earn a Wild Card spot and then burned through the NL before facing the other league’s Wild Card team (second time that ever happened) in an epic struggle that came down to the Royals with the tying run 90 feet away and two out. And Madison Bumgarner on the mound. Going forward, what happens to Pablo “Panda” Sandoval? What Giants are free agents? Which ones do we need to keep? What about our aces-gone-bad, the two Terrible Timmys? Yes, the Hot Stove League will have plenty to yak about in coming weeks.

But for now, just for this Now moment, let me savor the Best World Series I Ever Saw.

Mississippi Presents Best Argument for National Single-Player Plan

MississippiPity the poor people of Mississippi. And that includes a huge number of people who live in that state. Close to one-quarter of the population (22.3%) live below the poverty level, compared to the national average of 14.9%. Not coincidentally, African-Americans make up 37.4% of the state compared to a national average 13.2%.

When the Affordable Care Act was adopted, the Obama Administration was forced to include provisions that would allow states to opt out of federally funded support for improved health care in the form of extensions to Medicaid. Mississippi is one of a handful of states — all in the South — which opted out. And the figures a year later tell a tale of inhumanity and imbalance that is staggering.

In the state with the highest mortality rate in the nation (962 per 100,000 against a national average of 747.0), the number of uninsured residents actually went up after the enactment of the ACA. It was the only state in the Union where that happened.

I could go on and on with statistics but the story just gets more and more depressing.

All of this might have been avoidable. Perhaps not. But we’ll never know. Because President Obama, in a misguided attempt at mollifying the conservative forces that have always opposed health reform, opened his negotiations with them by taking the only really viable solution off the table unilaterally. Single-payer health care — also known a Medicare for everyone — was the plan that had the best chance of helping most Americans obtain a level playing field in health insurance. By leaving the private insurance companies intact, and giving the states the right to modify or pre-empt key provisions of the law, the Administration effectively crippled its own marquee legislative accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong; Obamacare is still better than anything we’ve ever had in this country. But it is far, far short of what could have been.

This is what happens when the people don’t have visionary leadership. This is what happens when political compromise corrupts the public good at its core. This is what happens when the American free enterprise of nearly unbridled capitalism encounters a critical social need. The Libertarians tell us that if we just get the government out of the way, private enterprise and charity will carry the water. That is demonstrably untrue and the message is nowhere louder than in Mississippi.

Until and unless we scrap Obamacare and replace it with a true single payer system — yes, I’m talking socialized medicine here — there will always be large numbers of people in this nation of vast wealth condemned to live lives of poverty, despair and disenfranchisement.

I don’t understand the politics of Mississippi. But what I do know is that health care and life-or-death situations should not be left in the hands of states where the political agenda is demonstrably inhumane. And the only way to accomplish that is with a single national set of standards and plans.

It’s too bad Obama didn’t have the conviction of that truth in him when the negotiations started. He might not have been able to accomplish everything we needed that way, but he could have accomplished a lot more.

 

I Feel Sad for Eric Kennie…and for Texas

It takes something to get me to feel much emotion (other than righteous indignation) for the State of Texas. But the story in today’s Guardian about Eric Kennie, who won’t be able to vote in next week’s mid-term elections for the first time in his 45 years as a dyed-in-the-wool Texan, evoked some sadness mixed with just a touch of anger.

The stringent new voter ID law in Texas has disenfranchised an estimated 600,000 registered voters, most of whom are people of color and/or of lower economic status. In other words, likely Democratic voters. Kennie is one of them.

voter-id-lawThe saga told by chief US Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington is heart- and gut-wrenching. Those who support disenfranchisement laws like that adopted in Texas (and, incredibly, allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court to be in effect for this election) always tell us, “These are no big deal. We have a special ID card you can get for little or no cost so you can vote.” Kennie’s saga of attempting to obtain such a card is a tale of incredible persistence in the face of a heartless, mindless bureaucracy intent on one thing: preventing voter fraud. Right. Actually, as Pilkington points out, Texas is “a state where in the past 10 years some 20m votes have been cast, yet only two cases of voter impersonation have been prosecuted to conviction.” To protect the citizens of Texas from having their vote stolen — stolen, I tell you! — by impersonators, 600,000 people will be barred from voting at all.

And that ultimately makes me sad for Texas. Because it is keeping itself stuck in the 19th Century when one race, one culture, one people, suppressed those who were different. Without the rich fabric of multi-culturalism and populism that makes America the great nation that it once was and still can be, we are left in an echo chamber where no real progress can be made on the important issues of our day.

Austin, where Kennie lives, is a truly cosmopolitan city. It is one of my favorite cities in the country. A few years ago I had a chance to spend some time there and get to know some of its denizens, including my good friend and then business partner Chipp Walters. Chipp and I disagree about almost everything political, but we both like Austin (he far more than me, of course). But Austin is an oasis, an intellectual melting pot in a state that is trying desperately to hold back the tide of multi-culturalism that is sweeping our nation.

Eventually, the recalcitrant and conservative Texans will lose. The Hispanics and the blacks, the poor and the middle class, will rise to power by sheer dint of numbers. Those states which have accepted and embraced and facilitate this change will continue to grow and prosper while states like Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida (among others) will remain stuck in the backward days, wondering why their children are poorly educated, their population unhealthy, industries abandoning them (a not-yet-visible trend that must follow the lack of an educated work force). They will then be looking for a Federal handout which, by then, it may not be possible to offer thanks to the intervening years during which these myopic governments closed their eyes, put their fingers in their ears and yelled “no, no, no” at the world.

I hope Kennie is alive to see that day and to vote real representative government into power in Texas. Until then, all I can feel is sad.

YouTube Considering Commercial-Free Subscriptions?

There are news reports today that YouTube is considering offering ad-free subscription channels as a new way of generating revenue. There is at least one situation in which I would gladly pay for such a subscription, with the proviso that they share the revenue stream with the content provider.

YoUTube LogoI do a lot of meditating. I have found YouTube to be a rich source of very well-done meditations of all kinds. On my spiritual community Web site, One Mind Fellowship, I post some of my favorites. I also write and record meditations (though I have not [yet] begun uploading to YouTube because the graphical end always stops me cold). The most aggravating “feature” of YouTube is that at the start and end of meditations, I’m often blasted with loud, raucous ads that are inappropriate to the purpose I have for watching the underlying videos. It is frankly annoying. So much so that I have recently begun to seek out other video channels for free meditations which don’t incorporate inappropriate advertising.

So if YouTube offered me a noise-free subscription service that I could pay for based on channels or keywords or some other way that would keep the cost down and let me choose the videos I wished to see ad-free, I’d be all over it. Maybe the solution is to use one of those “see an ad or do something to prevent it” things (I don’t know what to call them). One day recently, e.g., I was on a news site. The article I wanted to read was behind something of a paywall but when I had finished reading the lead (which was free), I was asked to do one of three things: agree to watch an ad, answer a short survey, or pay 99 cents for a day pass to access the site content. I like that a lot. I wish more sites would do that. It is a slight interruption in the flow of content but if handled well — as it was here — I could support that idea across the whole Internet. Maybe there’s a business opportunity there?

 

How About Crowdsolving as an International Pressure Point?

One of the newer buzzwords being bandied about the technosphere these days is “crowdsolving.” As you can undoubtedly discern, it is a portmanteau (isn’t that a beautiful word?) of “crowd” and “solving” and attempts to describe a social-media modeled process in which large groups of people use collective media to discuss and find solutions to huge and complex problems. As far as I can tell, it first came into use in 2013. There are not yet any books about it, surprisingly. It is a variation on “crowdsourcing”, though, so perhaps those books cover it as well.

After my earlier post on the failures of the United Nations, I began to think about whether modern technology might provide an alternative to the increasingly arcane idea that governments — and I don’t confine this to the US — can be expected to solve any problems any more. Maybe the Universe is aligning to tell us that it is time that we used the global consciousness and collectivist tools that are now at our disposal to take government — or at least the problem-solving and decision-making aspects of it — into our own hands. To return (or perhaps establish) democracy to the real grass roots: the people themselves. Perhaps it’s time to take the “representative” out of “representative democracy” on some levels and in some ways and places.

The biggest problem I see in this at the moment is that the collective would have no more effective means of enforcing the adoption of its considered solutions to problems than do world governments in the present scenario.

Still, I think there’s something seriously interesting and worth pursuing in this.

 

“Despite Severe International Criticism”: The Dismal Failure of the UN

This morning brings news that Israel will continue to provoke the Palestinians with whom it claims to seek peace by continuing to create construction projects in “all of Jerusalem.” This, the news report from the Associated Press said, comes “despite stiff International criticism.”

When President Putin of Russia repossessed Crimea, it came “despite severe international criticism” and amid threats that by its warlike behavior Russia risked being ostracized from the global stage of leadership.

As the United States turned back and incarcerated thousands of children trying to migrate to a better, safer life in America from South and Central America, it did so while encountering “severe international criticism.”  And yet there were forces in American politics clamoring for an even more bellicose response.

There are literally hundreds of such events, small and large, undertaken by nations powerful and weak, that draw harsh criticism from around the globe every year. But the criticism tends not to have any real impact. The absence of any real tool of moral suasion seems to me to lie at the root of this ineffectiveness.

Logo of the United NationsThe United Nations Charter, similarly to the Preamble to the United States Constitution, is filled with high-minded, idealistic language outlining purposes and missions that, if actually executed, would lead to a world that is much more peaceful, egalitarian and life-supporting than we experience in the real world. But the UN suffers from some fundamental flaws that are probably never going to be resolved, in part because some of them are probably seen, as we say in the software business, as “features, not bugs.”

The very existence of a Security Council is perhaps the largest single obstacle to the UN accomplishing anything. As long as China, France, Russia, the UK and the US hold permanent seats with veto powers, you can be sure that nothing substantive will ever be done even in the face of the most egregious conduct. These memberships were granted at the formation of the UN when Russia was the Soviet Union, a legitimate world power. It clearly no longer is. The remaining 10 seats on the Security Council are term-limited and effectively powerless so long as the veto power exists.

Just as in our national Congress, meaningful reform will always be dashed against the rocks of entrenched power, so in the United Nations any attempt to eliminate or reduce the power of the veto would itself be vetoed or simply ignored.

It is worthy of national and global debate to reconsider the structure, organization and purpose of the United Nations. This has been the case for virtually my entire life. When I was in high school in 1961, the national debate topic was “Resolved, that the United Nations should be significantly strengthened.” That we are still debating this issue 53 years later is not astonishing, but it can be discouraging.

Short of a single global body through which this “severe international criticism” can be channeled and activated, enforced — not necessarily militarily but perhaps through some combination of name-and-shame and economic sanctions, or though some as-yet-undeveloped mechanism — how can we translate this legitimate concern on the part of most of the world about the conduct of one or a small group of countries? The idea of one World Government will, I suspect, remain a distant dream (or nightmare, depending on one’s politics) for the rest of humanity’s history. Unless, that is, a global catastrophe of the size and scope and power of global climate change finally decimates our population to a point where we are forced to come together to cooperate to save what remains of the race.

Perhaps in the end that will be our fate. To be reduced in size and power to a place where we no longer pose a threat to Gaia and, in so doing, to learn the lesson of Oneness, that we are all in this together, that we hang together or surely we shall hang separately. The only alternative I see is to envision and help bring about a global tipping point of more “enlightened” (however that word is understood) humans who can then bring about the transformational change that I see as humanity’s only hope of surviving the impending crisis.

News Flash: Pope Infallible When Supported by Two-Thirds of Bishops!

I’m not a Catholic but I have studied church history and fundamental Christian theology more extensively than most non-academics. So I was surprised today when the special Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis refused to grant him the two-thirds supermajority he needed to get his specified language on gay rights and unmarried Catholic couples living together into a final document.

pope_francis_wavingI have always been under the impression that the Pope is infallible in matters of doctrine. Yet this document was clearly described as an attempt to “restate Church doctrine” on a number of family-related issues. So in my apparent naivete, I expected the Pope would simply announce, in an encyclical, the new doctrine, and, voila!, the church’s official belief would change In my lifetime, I know Popes have used that power (for example on the whole fish-on-Friday thing).

But because the revised document — even with some very watered-down language on gays that supplanted what the Pope really wanted — could only muster 118 of the required 127 votes to adopt the document, the Roman Catholic Church continues operating out of 16th Century ignorance on topics of increasing importance to its followers.

Little wonder that the Church continues to fade in its influence. The most recent Pew Research polling found that just over 1/4 of self-identified Catholics considered themselves “strong” supporters of Church doctrine.

More Proof — As if it Was Needed — That “Analysts” Are Morons

Picking on analysts has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I honestly don’t know how these so-called “experts” who take apart a company’s financial and operation processes and both predict how their stock will do and presume to tell their C-level teams how to run the businesses.

The latest example is Google. In this New York Times piece, “analysts” are quoted as, at one and the same time:

  • worrying about what Google is going to do next to counter Apple’s new payment technology, improve YouTube’s competitive stance, and cash in on mobile advertising; and…
  • complaining that R&D costs are on the verge of getting out of control as core businesses begin to shrink (which they haven’t yet).

So let me get this straight. Google needs to spend more on R&D to stay ahead of the competition but they shouldn’t spend more on R&D because, you know, analysis.

These folks have clout in the marketplace completely out of proportion to their repeatedly demonstrated ignorance and conflicting advice. Over one period of four years when I watched Apple analysts closely, these so-called experts offered completely contradictory advice on no fewer than 11 occasions.

If you ask me (and, nope, nobody has…yet), these people are more interested in covering their own asses than they are in making useful comments and predictions about business performance.

They are, in short, narcissistic parasites on the economy. We’d all be better off if they went away and became, oh, I don’t know, hedge fund managers?

 

Giants in World Series Again But So Are the Once-Hapless Royals

An incredibly busy week has kept me from posting anything this week. That’s the first time that’s happened in a long time. Did you miss me? Didn’t think so.

I’ve been spending most of what little unscheduled time I was able to muster this week watching my San Francisco Giants crush the St. Louis Cardinals, thus earning their third trip to the World Series in five years. Well, okay, “crush” is a bit strong. Over the course of the five games, the Giants outscored the Redbirds 24-16, which is an average of 4.8 to 3.2 for an average winning margin of less than 2 runs per game. So “crush”? Maybe not. But out-played? For sure. And, I think, out-toughed is another appropriate description. Last night’s Game 5 was a perfect microcapsule. When the Giants had tied the game, the Cards came to bat in the top of the ninth and had runners on 1st and 2nd with one out, and runners at 2nd and 3rd with two out and failed to score. In the bottom of the inning, the Giants got to runners at 1st and 2nd with one out before Travis Ishikawa hit his magical homer. Just guts.

nlcs_celebrationCardinal third-baseman Matt Carpenter said after the game, “It wasn’t meant to be. Look at the way this game unfolded. We were inches away from taking the lead (again). That’s the way the series has been going. It wasn’t meant to be for us.” And that resignation to fate — the Giants were also inches away from taking the lead again…and they did…– may be as good an explanation as we need of why the Giants are headed to Kansas City and the Cards are headed elsewhere in Missouri.

The Giants out-hit the Cards .253 to .233 and reached base more often (.330 to .298) although the Cards led in Slugging Percentage (.423 to .355) and the highly touted On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) by .721 to .685.

On the mound, San Francisco’s team ERA was a respectable 3.20 vs the Cards’ fairly dismal 4.57. Strikeout-to-walk ratios were pretty close (SF 32/13 and StL 27/19) and not very impressive. (Stats courtesy of BaseballReference.com.)

But at the end of the day, the Giants won 80% of the games played. Nuff said.

Interesting Tidbits

In my post-game reading, I stumbled across a couple of interesting items I haven’t seen mentioned in many places.

  • Michael Morse

    Michael Morse

    Barry Bonds was on hand for the playoffs and is still finding ways to help the Giants. Michael Morse gave Bonds partial credit for his game-tying homer in the bottom of the eight. Morse told SF Gate, “Barry came up to me and told me, ‘Get your foot down. You can’t hit if your foot’s in the air. I really thought about it. I went to the cage trying to get my foot down early.” When his pinch-hit opportunity arrived, he was ready. Foot down. Ball over left field wall. Tie game.

  • As far as I can tell, MLB.com was the first news outlet to use the word dynasty to describe the G-Men, who are appearing in their third world series in five years. (Every even-numbered year as if to help take our minds off the numbing run of election news). The article by Anthony DiComo attributed the Giant’s run of success to the ability of the team to keep a core of solid players together when other teams are juggling players and roster spots like an out-of-control clown. At least that was reliefer Jeremy Affeldt’s opinion, which DiComo cited with approval in his piece. Dynasty. I sort of like the ring of that.
  • Cardinals fans and media are second-guessing Manager Mike Matheny’s decision to give the ball to Michael Wacha for that fateful final inning. Wacha hadn’t thrown a pitch in more than a month after an injury but had been asking and asking and asking to get into the post-
    Travis Ishakawa

    Travis Ishakawa

    season. When he did, he looked pretty terrible. He gave up a leadoff single to Pablo “Panda” Sandoval, got Hunter Pence on a routine fly, then walked Brandon Belt. After Belt gave way to pinch-runner Joaquin Arias, Wacha missed the first two pitches to Ishakawa before serving up the inevitable 2-0 fastball. Ishakawa parked it on the arcade high over the right field wall and it was over. Well, it was almost over. Giants pitcher Jake Peavy thought the ball had stayed in the yard, meaning Ishakawa had a walk-off double to score the winning run. So he went out and met the Giants’ outfielder between second and third and almost tackled him. “Move!” Ishakawa said to his stunned teammate, “I hit it out!” LOL

  •  No sooner was the champagne dry in the SF clubhouse than the national “Hate the Royals” bandwagon began to pick up steam. Beats me why. They’re making their first appearance in the World Series in 29 years and only their second in franchise history. It’s not like they’re the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Dodgers — teams everyone loves to hate because they’re “national” and obnoxious. They’ve not been a very good team historically. My money is on the Giants to make them look like the relatively weak team they were most of the season. But, hate? Seems a bit strong. This piece on Medium.com sort of summarized the roiling national feeling; I expect to see a lot more of this. I prefer to be pro-something than anti-anything so I’m just going to settle for a quiet, mild-mannered..

go_giants

More Validation for Near-Death Experience in UK Study

As someone who has had what I call a Resurrection Experience and what most of the world calls a Near-Death Experience (NDE), I am deeply interested in the subject. So this study out of the UK that concluded that “There may be a small amount of life after death” is yet another proof of the validity of the experience.

In the study, researchers found that, “nearly 40% of those who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted,” a period that was often as long as three minutes. This is particularly interesting because numerous studies conducted over many decades have generally concluded that somewhere closer to 5% of people have such experiences and recall them later.

One of the researchers observed, “A higher proportion of people may have vivid death experiences, but do not recall them due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory circuits.

 

Those in the study who reported this post-death awareness had some experiences in common, including an unusual sense of peacefulness, time slowing down or speeding up, bright light, and physical separation.

(By the way, the reason I choose a different term from most is that for me “dead” is a binary condition: you are or you’re not. You’re not “near” death, at least not as a measurable or detectable state except in the sense that “near” means “approaching.”