PLEASE UPDATE YOUR BOOKMARKS AND BLOGROLLS This site is no longer being updated. All new stuff is at my new home on the web:


Don't let me slide down in the Blog Ecosystem! Update your links while you still can!


Goodbye, yellow brick road With much gratitude to Larry for the following appropriate sendoff. Eat your heart out, George Clooney.

This is a blog of constant sorrow
I've seen errors all my day.
I bid farewell to old Blogspot
The place where this was born and served.
(The place where he was born and served )

For six long months I've had such trouble
No pleasures here on site I found
For in this 'sphere I'm bound to ramble
There is no help to help me now.

(chorus) He has no help to help him now

It's fare thee well my old sitename
I never expect to use you again
For I'm tired of archive errors
Perhaps I'll now not post with pain.

(chorus) Perhaps he'll now not post with pain.

You find me at offthekuff.com
For many years where I may write
Then you might want to host your own site
Instead of being Blogger's slave.

(chorus) Instead of being Blogger's slave.

Maybe your friends think I'm just a whiner
My site you'll never see no more.
But there is one promise I'll give you
I'll write for you on this blog's roll.

(chorus) He'll write for you on this blog's roll.

With apologies and no offense intended to the good folks at Blogger and Blogspot, without whom many of us, myself included, would never have gotten started.

Please update your blogrolls and bookmarks and point your browser to http://www.offthekuff.com/mt/ for my new home on the web. Thanks!
Blog spam To the folks who sent me a note announcing their new blog:

First, I suppose I should thank you for cospamming me along with the likes of Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, and Tom Tomorrow. I don't get mentioned in the same breath as them very often, and after being ignored by everyone's favourite wanker I was beginning to question whether I'd ever get noticed by a link slut. So thanks for giving me a little Stuart Smalley moment this morning.

Of course, when you think about it, the A List gets a ton of unsolicited mail, most of which gets ignored since they can barely keep up with the mail they want to read. You're just wasting your time spamming them. You'd be much better off aiming at B and C listers, who might actually have the time to read your mail and look at your blog.

If you do, though, you run the risk that one of those lower-tier fellas (like, say, me) might discover that he's been begged for a link by someone who hasn't already linked to him. Which might lead to him writing a sarcastic blog entry about clueless link sluts and their pathetic attempts to garner attention.

(Actually, on second look, you don't link to most of the people that received your spam. I haven't seen such chutzpah since a UN representative from an OPEC country complained about New York City's gas lines in 1979. Bravo!)

I've already written about some of the ways in which one can properly try to draw people to one's blog. Leaving good comments with your homepage URL, sending feedback to specific entries, writing responses to other people's stuff on your blog (two words, Sparky - "referral logs"), the list goes on but stops rather short of spamming. If I happen to come across your blog by these means in the future, I may pay you another visit. I may even respond to something you've written or (heaven forfend) give you that link you crave. I'm a forgiving chap. Until then, I'm applauding your blog with one hand and deleting the email you sent with the other. Have a nice day.


Best British Blog competition Hey, Avedon! If a few of your friends here on this side of the pond help to stuff the ballot box generate support for your weblog in the Best British Blogs contest, will you buy us all a round with the prize money?
Think Different! Apple has found the perfect spokesperson for their Switch campaign.
Another contender Former City Councilman Joe Roach has thrown his hat into the ring for the 2003 Mayoral race.

"I am running for mayor," said Roach, 41. "I moved to Houston in 1963. My father helped start NASA here. Houston has given me a tremendous opportunity.

"The city has overlooked my obvious disability and enabled me to become a lawyer, (assistant) district attorney, councilman and to have a tremendous law practice right now," said Roach, who is a dwarf. "Now, it's time to help those who helped me."

Back in 1998, the newly-appointed Director of Affirmative Action referred to Joe Roach as a "Republican midget", which led to her being forced out of office. I must confess that I wouldn't have known that "dwarf" was the correct term and "midget" was considered an insult, but then again I wasn't being paid 76K per year to be in charge of, you know, promoting equal opportunity for all. Though I never much cared for Roach as a council member, I thought he handled himself with dignity after Lenoria Walker's idiotic remarks - he spoke about why this was painful without sounding whiny. I can't say that he'd be one of my top choices for Mayor, but there are some runoff scenarios where he'd get my vote.

One would hope that Roach gets a better reaction to his announcement than Michael "The Boy Wonder" Berry has gotten to his. Here's the best thing any observer could say about him:

Republican political consultant Allen Blakemore accords the councilman a bit more respect. He believes Berry could draw Republican support away from Sanchez in a general election because "he's done as much on the issue of tax cuts in six months as Sanchez did in six years."

As the story notes, what Berry did was propose a one-cent rollback in property tax. It failed.

I will say this: As long as Orlando Sanchez isn't the beneficiary, I'm now officially hoping that Berry's candidacy helps sink Sylvester Turner, who helped to impose Berry on us by supporting him over Claudia Williamson. In return for Turner's support, Berry apparently promised to help Turner run for Mayor in 2003. Oops.
If you're looking for alternatives to baseball this weekend, the Chron has a couple for you: The second International Double Wicket Cricket Tournament is going on at the Astrodome, and the 25th World Series of Dog Shows is right next door at Reliant Park. This has been a public service announcement.
Another successful Houston blogmeet This time the political bloggers outnumbered the personal bloggers. We had a smallish crowd at Cahill's pub last night, but we hung out, drank a fair amount of beer, and yakked for nearly three hours. Though the H-Town Blogs group has grown quite a bit lately, we only had two newbies last night, Dave and Alex. We did have the first official meeting of the Heights Area Axis of Left-Leaning Bloggers, as Ginger, Michael, Ted, Rob and I were all present. (I'm pleased to report that our plans for world domination are on schedule, by the way.)

Rounding out the group were Mike, freshly back from his stint in London, Erica, our fearless leader Elaine, and Larry, who brought four loaves of fresh baked bread to give out. I left a bit before things broke up, so I don't know who the lucky recipients were. We did eat one of the garlic-and-parmesan loaves there, and it was excellent.

Once again, a good time was had by all. The H-Town group has done about one happy hour per month, so we really didn't need an "International Blog Meetup" promotion except as an excuse to pick a day. Anyone else do a get-together?


Tough times continue in Central Texas Man, it just sucks to be dependent on the tourist industry sometimes:

The Guadalupe River could be closed to tubing and other recreation below the Canyon Dam for the rest of the year, compounding the economic hardships wrought by the Central Texas floods.

A ban on recreation on the Comal River also will remain in effect for at least another week, officials said Wednesday.

"None of this is good news," said New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce President Michael Meek.

Flooding ruined river-related business on the Fourth of July, one of the summer's three crucial holiday weekends. Meek called the floods a "worst-case scenario" that hasn't finished unfolding.

Comal County and Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority officials extended the bans on water recreation that had been in place since torrential rains and flooding struck the region beginning July 1.

The ban covers the waterways in Comal and Guadalupe counties and also applies to lakes in the region.


"I would think it would be close to the end of the year," said Comal County Judge Danny Scheel when asked how soon full use of the Guadalupe River might be restored.

People who live in the area will soon be allowed to use the river to access their flooded homes, Scheel said.

Scheel said that without doubt, the loss of almost an entire summer season will compound the economic misery of riverside concessions and other businesses that were flooded or rely on tourism.

"This has a trickle-down effect through the entire community as well as city and county government. On the Fourth of July weekend, we probably lost $125,000 in sales tax revenue," he said.

The disaster's full impact hasn't been felt or measured, Scheel said.

"Right now, we're still working on debris removal. We're trying to get people placed in housing of some sort, either rentals or mobiles," the judge said.

New Braunfels has about 35,000 people (Comal County has about 82,000), so that's a pretty big chunk of change for them.

The good news, as the story says, is that the Schlitterbahn is still open, and there's more to New Braunfels than just river activities. I've already heard one of the radio spots they're doing which extols its other virtues for visitors. But it's still gotta suck to have that many eggs in one basket.
Get the cheese, the wine's on its way From the bidness section of today's Chron:

A judge's ruling brings University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray a couple of steps closer to sipping what he calls "nature's great gift to the world" without having to retreat to his home in California's wine country.

Laying aside recent rulings to the contrary, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon on Wednesday decided that Texas' ban on the direct import of out-of-state wine to individual consumers is unconstitutional.

That sound you hear is Tiffany doing the dance of joy in the background.
It's alive! The countdown continues apace...
Priscilla Owen, judicial activist President Bush is lobbying for Priscilla Owen, a Texas Supreme Court judge and nominee for the federal bench, to get a hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can argue about whether the Committee is being needlessly obstructionist or just playing by the rules that were in play when Bill Clinton was President, but as Chron columnist Cragg Hines says, there are plenty of good reasons why Judge Owens should stay in Austin.

Here's the best reason of all:

If President Bush really wants "strict constructionists" on the federal bench, why on earth did he nominate Priscilla R. Owen to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals? She's got to be a finalist for Judicial Activist of the Year.


It doesn't take a raving pinko to catch on to Owen's act. Actually, it was pointed out very astutely by Alberto R. Gonzales, now Bush's White House counsel, when he was on the state's top civil court with her.

In dissents and concurrences in abortion cases two years ago, Owen said everything except that the U.S. Supreme Court majority in Roe v. Wade should be shot at dawn. She sought to contort the state court's already conservative interpretation of the parental notification provision to make it even more, well, conservative.

Gonzales, hardly an ACLU flamer, took a moment in his concurring opinion in one abortion case to point out that what the dissenters (who included Owen) were trying to accomplish were "policy decisions for the Legislature." What the dissenters had in mind, Gonzales said, "would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism."

Should Judge Owens ever get a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, I sincerely hope that someone asks her about this.
Great article on the issues at stake in the baseball labor dispute by Allen Barra of Salon.
McLane fallout Not too surprisingly, the Astros players don't give much credence to owner Drayton McLane's fiscal sob story from yesterday:

"You can throw the names of all these fancy accounting firms around all you want," said Gregg Zaun, the backup catcher who serves as the Astros' player rep. "When the big giants like Arthur Andersen go down and they're proven to be dirty, what are you going to think about the rest of these people and their creative bookkeeping?

"We've seen all the ways that they can hide money and make it look like they're losing so that the big momma corporation or the big pappa corporation gets a tax write-off at the end of the year."


"They're telling us one thing, and Forbes Magazine is telling us another," said Zaun, referring to a Forbes article the refuted MLB's claims earlier this year. "Until Major League Baseball is willing to open up the books to an independent auditor, it doesn't make any sense. They've lied to us so many times. But if I was going to believe any owner, Drayton would be it."

What is surprising is that Chron sports columnist John Lopez doesn't really believe him either. Oh, Lopez gives him the benefit of the doubt about operating losses. Typically, neither he nor beat writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz can be bothered to actually look up the Forbes story (registration required) that Gregg Zaun mentioned, which claimed a $4.1 million profit for the 'Stros last year. But at least Lopez couldn't bring himself to give McLane the kind of tongue bath that local writers usually lavish on owners in these matters.

If Drayton McLane actually does sell the team, he's likely to get anywhere from a 100 to 200% return on his investment in less than ten years. Don't waste any sympathy on him, OK?


Same old song and dance Astros owner Drayton McLane makes his annual statement of poverty to the ever-credulous Chron. He claims he's lost $105 million since he bought the team in 1993, and that he projects a cash loss of $5 million this year.

In a word: bull. Like I said, Drayton has made these claims every stinking year. The people of Houston, myself included, voted to pay for a new stadium with all the bells and whistles so that McLane could make ends meet. If he can't make a buck with Enron Astros Minute Maid Field, then I have to wonder how he ever made his fortune in the first place.

McLane's comments are the latest salvo fired by management in recent days. Last week, commissioner Bud Selig said two teams have such severe financial problems that they were in danger of not finishing the season. One team, he said, might not even make its next payroll.

That team, the Detroit Tigers, did pay its players Monday, but Selig insisted the problems he described were real.

Since allowing owners to speak publicly on labor matters, they've come forward to detail their losses and the need for significant changes in the labor agreement.

That's all this is, a salvo in the labor wars. The owners know that a strike is exceedingly unpopular, and they want to force the players' hand. The fact that not a single thing that Beelzebud and his cronies has said about their finances ("two teams can't make payroll! okay, maybe not") has been true doesn't stop them from acting as if they have credibility.

Kevin also takes his shots at McLane.

Meanwhile, the new Cleveland owner is blaming George Steinbrenner for his problems. Look, I'll stipulate that the Yankees have more money than God, and that most other teams can't compete with the Yankees' checkbook. So don't. Don't give big contracts to "proven veterans". Develop young talent and keep them for as long as they're affordable. However unfair the system may be, does it make sense to compete where you can't fight? Again, I'm struck with how often the complaints of the owners boil down to statements about their own lack of business acumen.

I guess the reason why I don't understand people who get angry with the players for their salaries and willingness to strike is that the alternate choice is to side with a bunch of even richer guys who are fundamentally dishonest. The owners have never told the truth about their finances, their every move is calculated at shifting their costs to players and fans, they threaten to relocate if they public doesn't buy them new stadia - this is who I'm supposed to root for?

I know what it means to be a fan of major league baseball. I put up with the crap because I love the game. The game is bigger than any owner or player or labor dispute. I go to Rice games when I can, I sometimes travel with my dad and uncles to see minor league games, and someday I'll coach Little League for my kids, because it reminds me that the game is more than just what you see on ESPN. It's possible that arrogance and stupidity may someday kill Major League Baseball as we know it, but the game and the love it engenders will live forever.
Congratulations to Matthew Yglesias for his new domain and new blog look. Update those blog rolls, folks.

I'll take this opportunity to announce that I'm not far behind. I've settled on a hosting company (Dreamhost), and as of today I'm the registered owner of offthekuff.com. As soon as I can, I'll be moving everything there. Stay tuned!
Same stuff, different state Tony Adragna outlines what the candidates for Maryland Governor plan on doing about that state's looming deficit. Here's Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's position:

Top-to-bottom management and budget review.
I will direct a review of the structure and budget of every state agency to identify cost-saving measures and organizational changes to improve performance and save money. I will draw on the expertise of leaders from the private, public, and non-profit sectors during this review. Economic Growth, Fiscal Responsibility

Tough choices.
Based on this top-to-bottom budget review, we will make tough choices and eliminate any wasteful and duplicative spending. Last year, we took steps to freeze hiring and reduce spending across state agencies, and eliminated 3,500 vacant positions from the budget this spring. Until our economy is fully recovered, we will examine all budget options carefully and continue to make tough decisions where necessary.

There's more than that, but it's basically "no new spending" and a statement against casinos.

Her opponent, Bob Ehrlich, is even more vague:

Excessive government spending has led to a $1.5 billion deficit. Maryland's budget must be balanced in an honest and efficient manner, without sacrificing programs for the poor and others in need. Excessive spending on non- essential initiatives must be curtailed and our budget priorities redefined.

In other words, both candidates are in favor of a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility, but neither one wants to say exactly how they plan on acheiving those goals, presumably because it would involve a dirty word ("taxes") or could mean cutting funding for a constituency that might otherwise support them. Put a couple of ten-gallon hats on them and you might think they were running for governor of Texas.
The right to privacy Kyle Still has an excellent post on why exactly there is a constitutional right to privacy, even if the document itself never says the word "privacy". Kyle's been bugged by the permalink problem, so scroll down to the July 15 post.
As long as I'm blogging about blog etiquette, may I recommend TTLB's post on drawing attention to one's blog. As Maarten Schenk says in the comments, I've sent some emails to individual bloggers when I've responded to something they've written, and I've added my share of comments on other folks' sites, both of which are well within the bounds of what I consider to be good behavior. Spamming, on the other hand, is right out. Anyone who does it - and that apparently includes everyone's favorite (oops, sorry, I meant "favourite") wanker - is someone who deserves to become a pariah.
It's my party There's a kerfuffle over at Brad DeLong's weblog concerning some rules he's decided to enforce in his comments. Basically, Brad has said that he expects commenters to be polite, and if they're not he'd do something about them.

For some odd reason, this has inspired quite a few people to say nasty things about Brad in the comments to this post. They seem to be upset that the rules he's laid down for commenters don't apply equally to himself.

At the risk of being Mister States The Obvious, let me state the obvious: It's Brad's weblog. It's his forum to say what he wants. He's not required to give equal time to anyone else. He could turn off comments if he wants to. I note that all but two of the people who responded to him have their own blogs, so it's not like disabling comments would silence them.

I really don't see what's so controversial about this. If any of Brad's readers think that his policy makes him a wimp, or a hypocrite, or whatever, they're free to drop him from their daily blog reading and from their blogrolls. They're also free to handle feedback on their own blogs in whatever manner they see fit.

I've not had any problems with cantakerous commenters, but like Ginger, if I did I'd have no qualms about tossing them out. I'm doing this strictly for my enjoyment, after all.

In short, I am the Master Of My Blog. Soon I will be (as they say) Master Of My Domain. While I'm really glad everyone is here, and it's always a kick to hear from new people, my blog is not Usenet, it's not a town square, and it's not a bulletin board. It's my little home on the Internet. At the risk of making my wife spew Diet Dr Pepper onto her screen, I intend to keep it somewhat clean.


Words and actions I see that the IRA has issued an apology for the deaths of "noncombatants" in the last 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. You can read the text of the apology here.

Not everyone is happy with this, of course. An apology is generally more symbolic than anything else, though those symbols often mean a lot to their recipients. And as recent news stories have shown, not everyone has necessarily gotten the message.

But let's face it: If the PLO or Hamas ever issued such a statement, there would be a whole lot more hope for peace in the Middle East. For that reason, I applaud the IRA. A step in the right direction is always a good thing.
Thanks to everyone for the web hosting feedback. I've commenced research, and hope to take action soon. Count your days, Blogspot. I've got your permalink problems right here...
Meanwhile, Ron Kirk is holding his own in the money department against John Cornyn. He's also starting to get noticed by the national press. Took them long enough.
Would you have preferred "crackpot"? The soon-to-be-eponymously-domained Matthew Yglesias points to this week's PunditWatch, which contains the following bits:

I want to reassure our audience, they could be forgiven for not being sure who Larry Klayman is, because when he was filing an avalanche against the Clinton administration, he was largely ignored. Now that he's filing lawsuits against Dick Cheney, he's an avenging Clarence Darrow leading off all the network shows. –Kate O’Bierne, CG

Well, Salon readers have known about him since at least 1998, thanks to articles like this one by Josh Marshall. Note the accompanying clip from a Newsweek article, too. I've sure as heck known about him for a long time now. Maybe Kate O'Bierne needs to expand her reading list.

Fox’s Tony Snow showed three contrasting clips of network reporting on Klayman. He was always “conservative” when filing suits against Clinton; he was a “watchdog” filing against Cheney.

Let me get this straight: Tony Snow was able to find clips of network reporting on Larry Klayman from when he was Clinton Lawsuit Central? Does Kate O'Bierne know about this?

If you look closely at the aforementioned Salon article, you'll note that Larry Klayman is quoted as describing himself as the "conservative Ralph Nader". However, JW does call itself a "non-partisan, non-profit foundation" which serves as "an ethical and legal 'watchdog' over our government, legal, and judicial systems to promote a return to ethics and morality in our nation's public life", so perhaps there is something to this.

It is true, as Jason Zengerle noted last year, that Klayman has been an equal opportunity litigant lately. Still, it's hard for someone like me to recall that avalanche against the Clinton administration, which was funded in part by grants from uber-Clinton-hater Richard Mellon Scaife and which included tinfoil-hat allegations about Vince Foster and Ron Brown as well as an attempt to subpoena Chelsea Clinton and not think that maybe Judicial Watch has been fueled by a bit more than an interest in good governance. Perhaps if the Snows and O'Biernes of the world had been equally dismissive of Larry Klayman when he was serving their agenda as they are now when he's not, I'd have more sympathy for them.
One way to get the economy going Tony Sanchez has outspent Governor Goodhair by a 5-1 margin so far in the gubernatorial race. Sanchez has shelled out over $31 million, compared to $6 million for Perry, of whch nearly $28 million is his own money.

Both candidates are also getting some big-money donations. This one caught my eye:

The second-most generous donor [to Governor Perry] was Sam Wyly at $90,000. Wyly founded a Dallas investment fund that manages funds for the University of Texas. He also is a major owner of Green Mountain Energy Co., which competes in the deregulated electricity market.

Sam Wyly and his brother Charles were behind that notorious "Republicans for Clean Air" ad that ran in New York before the 2000 Presidential primary. John McCain, who was attacked as a polluter by the ad, filed a federal complaint later on.

Green Mountain Energy positions itself as a provider of electricity from renewable and nonpolluting sources such as wind. Some people challenge its credentials as a truly "green" provider, some others go farther than that. I wonder what the slacker types who have a Green Mountain signup booth at our local hippie-friendly eatery think about this.
Grumpy Hour is still permissible This is going to be grist for someone's mill, I just know it:

BRUSSELS killjoys want to wipe the smiles off drinkers’ faces by BANNING pub happy hours.

Euro MPs will vote next month on outlawing the practice of cutting booze prices for an hour or two to attract punters.

Scandinavian socialists in the European Parliament claim big pub firms lose money on happy hours simply to crush rival bars that can’t afford discounts.

They also say happy hours encourage irresponsible drinking.

Via my still-blogless buddy Drew.
The air up there Get the Straight Dope on why baseballs travel farther at Coors Field than they do elsewhere.
Last word on competitive balance Jeff Cooper responds to my most recent post on this topic. Go check it out.

One clarification: In his original comparison of baseball versus football playoffs, Jeff had only included the top NFL wild cards. I missed that distinction, which is why I made a point of there being more playoff teams in the NFL in my response. Sorry about that.


Back to basics Buffy the Vampire Slayer got off track in season 6. So says Leslie Moonves, channelling Joss Whedon. Expect more of the show's humor from early seasons next year.

By the way, did anyone else catch Robin Williams' live HBO show last night? It was good to see him back doing what he does best. And the Sopranos' season debut is September 15. About time!
Hot dogs and proven veterans Kevin links to this report that shows that the Astros' concession prices are among the highest in baseball. That's a legitimate gripe, but I think Kevin goes off base here:

Granted, nobody has to pay [high concession prices], and I don't. But it shows some real nerve for Drayton to ask so much from fans when he won't even shell out the cash to keep, say, a Castilla or Alou or Astacio, or consider trading for Hampton (who is on the trading block, but deemed too expensive).

Kevin is making the assumption that the Astros would be better off if their management had shelled out the bucks to retain veteran free agents Vinny Castilla, Moises Alou, and Pedro Astacio. I would argue that it made good baseball sense as well as good financial sense to let them all go.

First, there's Moises Alou. There's no question that he was a very productive player in his time as an Astro. Unfortunately, he entered the 2002 season as a 35-year-old left fielder with a history of injury problems. He's had a huge dropoff in productivity, with an anemic .244 batting average, a miniscule .380 slugging average, and only eight homeruns. The Cubs are on the hook for Alou for three years and $27 million.

Vinny Castilla has always been an overrated offensive performer thanks to the time he spent in Coors Field, the greatest hitting environment that baseball has seen in over fifty years. He's another 35-year-old, though free of the nagging health problems that have plagued Alou. Like Alou, he's having a poor season at the plate, with a crappy .274 on-base percentage, a .383 slugging average and nine homeruns. The Braves signed him for two years and $8 million.

Geoff Blum is keeping third base warm for the 'Stros until Morgan Ensberg is ready. He has better numbers that Castillo in batting average, OBP, and slugging, he's six years younger, and he can play the outfield in a pinch. I can't find 2002 contract info for him, but he was a one-year signee by the Expos in 2001, so he's likely got a one-year deal this year as well. As this is only his fourth major league season, he's also likely to be a low-cost player.

Daryle Ward is eight years younger than Alou, and is also outperforming him in average, OBP, and slugging. Ward has actually not done as well as he was expected to, but unlike the 35-year-old Alou, there's still room for Ward to improve. And like Geoff Blum, he's cheap.

So, by letting Alou and Castillo go, the Astros have gotten better production for less money. However popular these guys may have been, I find it hard to argue with that.

Unlike the hitters, Pedro Astacio has had a fine season. He's 9-3 with a 3.14 ERA, tenth best in the league. He also would have cost Houston $9 million to keep him in 2002. The Astros had picked him up last year when rookie phenom Carlos Hernandez went down. This year, with a projected rotation that included Wade Miller, Shane Reynolds, Roy Oswalt and Hernandez, the 'Stros had to decide if they'd be better off with Astacio, a 33-year-old who had also had injury issues, or someone from the colection of Dave Mlicki, Tim Redding, or one of their other kids. The difference is that if AStacio had bombed out, he'd be an untradeable multimillion dollar albatross. If a kid like Redding bombs out, or Kirk Saarloos isn't ready, Houston has the room to make a move. Gambling on Astacio would have worked, but it's important to remember that the gamble involved high stakes and came with a limited upside.

I can understand where Kevin's coming from with these complaints, but I think it's misguided to call a refusal to overpay for veterans when a decent and cheap alternative exists a lack of commitment on the part of team ownership. Remember Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell? Their signings at the beginning of the McLane era was proof of his desire to win. Too bad neither player actually contributed to any winning.

There's a larger point here, and it's that many major league teams make this kind of decision incorrectly as a matter of course. They do so in part because of backlash from fans, media, and their own players, who don't see that $27 million for Moises Alou today is $27 million that won't be available for Oswalt or Lance Berkman tomorrow. Bill James demonstrated 20 years ago that the vast majority of players hit their peaks around age 27, coincidentally right at the time that they tend to become high-priced free agents. If more owners started to learn the difference between replaceable talent and non-replaceable talent, they'd have no need to call for a salary cap.

I should note that the guys at the Baseball Prospectus beat this horse all the time. Their regular Transaction Analysis feature is a treasure trove. If you consider yourself a serious baseball fan and you don't read the BP, you're like a French Lit major who's never read any Sartre. Don't leave home without it.
Spam news An interesting article on the proliferation of blocklists, which are used to filter out spam by ISPs. Blocklist admins have gotten more aggressive in their filtering, which has led to an increase in false positives:

Magdalena Donea, a system administrator at Web hosting company KIA Internet Solutions, found a set of her company's IP addresses blacklisted recently on SPEWS. She successfully lobbied to get the listing removed, but it was relisted a second time with additional IP addresses, a move that also affected a company client, the Libertarian Party.

"The SPEWS system is unapologetic about false positives and even regards them as a plus. They've taken the 'ends justify the means' argument way farther than I've seen anyone else take it," Donea said.

"Their philosophy appears to be that if innocent businesses and individuals on the periphery of spam-house blocklists are affected, then those innocents will have no other choice but to pressure their upstream provider to remove the spammers from their blocks, thereby solving the spam problem bit by a bit. Draconian, yes. Effective? Sure."

The more spam I see in the course of my job, the more sympathetic I am to SPEWS' position. And when I do start getting mail through my own domain, I've already got a large list of domains from which I will reject all mail. I only wish I could do that now in Yahoo mail, instead of their wimpy system of blocking by address only.


Wanted: Web host OK, this time I mean it. I've had it with Blogger archive problems and Blogspot unreliability. I'm ready to get my own domain and move this thing onto its own server so I can run Movable Type. I would very much appreciate it if anyone with positive or negative recommendations for web hosting services would leave word in the comments or drop me a note.

I don't need anything too fancy. I'm just a guy who gets 250 hits on a good day, so something low end is probably sufficient for my needs. Reliable and reasonably priced is what I'm looking for. Thanks very much for any feedback you can offer.
The Kerrville Folk Festival is 30 years old and still going strong. It's amazing that they can draw so many people out to where the Hill Country meets West Texas in the middle of the summer for three weeks of music and camping. I really need to do this one of these years before I die.
Houston does well in bid for Olympics, at least according to this Chron article. Sounds like the number of facilities we already have in place helped to impress the USOC.

Best news in the article:

"We talked at length about the prospects of adding some more high capacity, whether light rail or otherwise, particularly going to the two airports and other key centers that need to move people," [USOC task force chair Charles] Moore said. "It's not done, but it looks promising."

Rail lines to the airports! Woo hoo!
Would you believe... A new poll shows that a majority of Texans favor a publicly funded national health-care plan. Fifty-two percent favored such a plan, while 43 percent opposed it. Nationally, only 40% like this idea.

One person who ought to be worried about this is Governor Goodhair. Only 57% of Hispanics in Texas have health insurance, yet he vetoed a bill to expand Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. As Clay Robison notes, Tony Sanchez's latest TV ad attacks him for this veto, and links high insurance rates in the state to Perry's close relationship with the insurance lobby. I've seen this ad, and it's pretty harsh. It's just gonna get uglier from there.
This is the life An entrepreneur has made a splash on Lake Travis by opening a floating barbecue restaurant that delivers:

Pink-bikini-clad Nicole Taylor is on a delivery mission for Tug's Bar B Que. Before she makes it back to the mothership, she'll drop off five sacks of brisket sandwiches, jot down orders from a dozen customers floating in life jackets and politely deflect the catcalls of several admirers.

The bright yellow restaurant, a 1969 Stardust Cruiser houseboat equipped with a large warming oven and remodeled to look like a tugboat, first pulled into the cove on Memorial Day weekend. A week later, it added the delivery boat to ferry barbecue and watermelon directly to boaters.

As you might imagine, the sun-baked, beer-fueled clientele tends to differ from that of, say, a quiet little French restaurant in downtown Austin.

"Yesterday we served a naked woman," said Nicole's father Norm Taylor, who runs the business. "It's a hoot."

God bless Texas.
What Clear Channel has wrought on Houston radio A nice overview in today's Chron about how corporate radio has mostly eliminated local on-air talent.

New station owners with a bottom-line philosophy have canceled public-affairs programming, dismantled news departments and replaced local DJs with broadcasts of prefabricated material to cut costs.

Case in point: When KRBE's Sam Malone and Maria Todd first went on the air in 1993, most radio stations in Houston had a flashy, larger-than-life morning show. Now they're among the dwindling number of megawatt morning personalities.

Malone and Todd consider themselves lucky to work for a relatively small company -- Susquehanna Radio Corp. -- that runs its 29 stations the old-fashioned way, with on-air personalities around the clock and a full-time production, marketing and promotion staff that concentrates on only one station and touts its program at every opportunity.

"The tables have turned in 10 years," Malone said. "(Back then) people were saying, 'Don't go to KRBE in Houston, because they're a mom-and-pop operation.' Now everybody wants to work for a mom-and-pop operation."

"Instead of an evil empire," Todd added.

I used to listen to KLOL when the Stevens and Pruett morning show was worth listening to. S&P were typically raunchy Howard Stern clones, but hey, I was a male in the 25 to 34 age group, so of course they appealed to me. They pushed a lot of boundaries, and eventually station management (which is now the evil Clear Channel empire, though I don't know exactly when CC bought them) forced them to scale back on the racier stuff. They became more political instead, which I found unappealing since they still weren't exactly highbrow. Eventually, Clear Channel fired Stevens, replacing him with a late-night DJ named Greggo, whom I really disliked, and promoting sideman Eddie "The Boner" Sanchez. That lasted about a year, then the whole crew was fired and replaced by a no-talent morning crew called Walton and Johnson, whose only notable acheivement so far has been to annoy a local woman with a billboard that read "Hey, all you virgins - thanks for nothing."

Now, I listen to all-80s station KHPT in the morning. They play music instead of DJs. Sometimes I listen to KKRW's Dean and Rog show, which has been around for awhile and which is usually pretty funny. If KLOL started rerunning old Stevens and Pruett shows from about 10 years ago, I'd listen to that.

I'm moderately surprised that this article didn't touch on the Stevens and Pruett saga at all, since they were a highly rated morning show and their dismissals were sudden and unannounced. It does include this bit of unintentional comedy from a Clear Channel spokesdrone:

Clear Channel spokeswoman Pam Taylor argues that consolidation has led to more diversity in formats rather than less.

"If you own the No. 1 and No. 2 stations in the market, you're not going to compete against yourself. You're going to position yourself in some other niche," she said.

Yeah, it sure would suck to have actual competition among radio stations, wouldn't it? How much worse it was in the old days when radio stations competed for listeners instead of divvying up market niches. Thank God Clear Channel has saved us from that.


Fly the locked-and-loaded skies I'm somewhat of an agnostic on the issue of allowing airline pilots to carry guns as a deterrent to hijacking. I don't oppose the idea, since it's rather hard to make the case that the events of 9/11 could have turned out any worse with armed pilots on board. Given the recent news stories about drunk pilots, all I'm asking is that there be some kind of oversight when it comes to determining who gets to carry guns on a plane. Is it too much to ask that the gun-toting pilots be required to take regular marksmanship and gun-safety tests?

What I really want to know is how much has been done with the proposals to reinforce cockpit doors? This June 19 Reuters story contains the following quote from Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar about the proposal to arm pilots:

The House Transportation Committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, had called the original House proposal "horrible." He said he embraced the compromise on Wednesday because other security measures, such as reinforced cockpit doors and the screening of all baggage for explosives, were not completely in place.

How "not completely in place" are they?

One thing I did find while searching for information was this Aviation Safety newsletter from April, which pointed to this Transport Canada news release. Here's what our neighbors to the north are doing:

The Government of Canada has already made numerous enhancements to the air transportation security system since the attacks of September 11, 2001. For example, the Government of Canada:
  • required that cockpit doors on all Canadian airlines' passenger flights, domestic and international, be locked for the full duration of flights; and

  • committed more than $2.2 billion in the December 2001 budget to new aviation security initiatives, including:

    • the creation of the new Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, which is responsible for the provision of several key aviation security services including pre-board screening;

    • implementing a national program of armed RCMP officers on selected domestic and international flights;

    • funding of up to $128 million per year for pre-board screening; and

    • funding of more than $1 billion over the next five years for the purchase, deployment, maintenance and operation of new explosives detection systems.

Coulter gets scammed Atrios, who just recorded his 50,000th hit, points to this hilarious interview of Ann Coulter by topnotch Coulter-mocker Scoobie Davis. Basically, Davis used a legit media contact to help set up a telephone interview with Coulter on the premise that he was a Rush-style local radio host. The result is a hoot.

Meanwhile, Alex Frantz opens to a random page of Coulter's potboiler and finds several things to dissect, including a patently wrong claim about the first Reagan-Mondale debate of 1984. You really have to wonder about people who consider Ann Coulter to be a reliable source of information.


A lot of people have commented on this earlier post which speculated about a John Kerry-John McCain Democratic ticket for President in 2004. (Once again, trust not the permalinks. Search for "Rob Humenik" if it fails to take you to the right place.) People, this is the political equivalent of pretending to be the general manager of your favorite sports team. We may as well debate about the guys who call into radio sports-talk shows and say things like "What if the Royals traded Neifi Perez for Miguel Tejada? Do you think they could get in the wild card race then?" It's just sound and fury.

That said, there are a couple of things to address. One theme in the comments, a theme I've seen elsewhere as well, is that the Democrats must be really desperate to win in 2004 to consider letting a RINO like John McCain on the ticket. Well, yeah, of course they're desperate to win in 2004. They damn well better be desperate to win in 2004, just as the Republicans were desperate to win in 2000. When a party doesn't feel at least a little bit of desperation (the corporate weasel-speak that I'd use here is "a sense of urgency"), they nominate guys like Michael Dukakis. (When voters don't feel that sense of urgency, they cast their ballots for Ralph Nader.) You better believe I want the Dems to figure out who has the best chance to oust Team Bush in 2004.

Yeah, but McCain doesn't believe in all the things that Democrats believe in, I hear you cry. Sure, but so what? The only potential candidate who believes in everything I do is me, and I ain't running in 2004. I've long since accepted the fact that whoever I punch the chad for in an election is a compromise of some sorts. McCain likes vouchers and has a pro-life voting record? I'll weight that against what I perceive to be his positives, as well as the pros and cons of any alternatives, and I'll consider his odds of helping a ticket win versus someone else's, and make my choice. What's so hard about that? It's not like you Bush voters haven't had to make compromises, unless of course you supported steel tariffs, McCain-Feingold, the farm bill, and the Kennedy education bill. Are you going to change your vote in 2004?

And if McCain wants this, he'll have to make compromises, too. He can start by saying "Though I personally oppose abortion, I no longer think the state should prevent a woman from getting one." Again, it's not like he'll be the first or only politician to ever do such a thing for a prize like the Oval Office. Back in the 1960s there was a Houston congressman who was so progressive on issues of contraception that his nickname was "Rubbers". In a subsequent Presidential primary, he derided an opponent's plan to balance the budget while cutting taxes and increasing defense spending as "voodoo economics". Needless to say, that was Poppy Bush, and he changed his tune on both subjects pretty quickly when he was approached about costarring with Reagan in 1980.

Sure, the True Believers may never fully accept McCain as a Democrat, just as they never accepted Poppy Bush as a conservative Republican. Someone would have to convince them that the alternative of four more years of Dubya is worse. It wouldn't be easy, and in fact I'd bet that a Kerry-McCain ticket would draw spirited opposition in the primary. They'd have to make their case, which I think they'd be able to do, that not only will they ably represent the issues of their supporters, they're also the ticket with the best chance to ever be able to represent those issues.

In the comments to Rob's post, August J. Pollack suggests that the legal issues of divvying up federal campaign funds when there's a two-party ticket involved would bring the whole thing to a screeching halt. While I agree that this would be a legal nightmare, the answer is obvious - McCain would have to switch parties first. Like I said, if he wants it he'll do what it takes.

Finally, a commenter named Zizka thinks that McCain is pulling a fast one on us liberal suckers, and that once in power he'd revert to his previous conservative ways. That's an interesting thought, but I think it's way too deep a position for McCain to take. If he wanted to screw liberals, he could have sucked it up, made nice to Bush, and helped push Bush's agenda through Congress.
Another view David Pinto, who was for many years the lead researcher for ESPN's Baseball Tonight, (and who, alas, has been struck by the Blogger permalink bug) has some words on the competitive balance issue. Check it out.
More competitive balance and salary cap stuff Jeff Cooper has published his promised response to my most recent post about competitive balance in baseball. (Note: My permalink worked when I clicked it, but if it takes you somewhere weird, go back to the top of this page and search for "Fran Blinebury". If Jeff's doesn't work, search for "Charles Kuffner" at the top of his page.)

Jeff focuses on the period since 1995, when baseball signed its last Collective Bargaining Agreement, and came to the conclusion that baseball does indeed have less competitive balance than the NFL. He suggests that the revenue sharing in the NFL as well as its salary cap have helped it to enable more teams to truly compete for playoff spots than in baseball during the comparable timespan.

I don't deny that the rapid increase in average salary in MLB has made it very difficult for small market teams to compete, though it should be noted that when MLB talks about "small markets", they often include places like Houston and Philadelphia, while lumping Seattle and Cleveland as "large market". If you can wrap your mind around that, you're more limber than I am.

What I do dispute is the following:
  1. The NFL model has led to greater competitive balance

  2. The NFL model would be an appropriate one for baseball to adopt

  3. A salary cap would help small market teams to compete better

  4. Competitive balance is in itself a good thing

In order:
  1. Joe Sheehan has put forth the best argument regarding the NFL's competitive balance: It's mostly perception based on a small number of games and a large number of playoff spots (12 for the NFL versus 6 for MLB). In many years, a 6-8 team still has a shot at the NFL playoffs, whereas a 60-80 MLB team is probably 20 games out. The NFL has an unbalanced schedule that rewards weaker teams, so it's not unusual for a 6-10 or 7-9 team to make no significant changes and win a wild card with a 9-7 or 10-6 record the next year.

    If you allow 12 teams (6 from each league) to the MLB playoffs, you add Toronto, Minnesota, Anaheim, and Montreal to Jeff's chart. As the yearly standings show, many years any club over .500 would be in contention. Isn't that how it is in football?

  2. In the same Baseball Prospectus article linked above, Sheehan also discusses how the NFL, with its national TV revenue, operates on a completely different financial model than MLB. For one thing, there's no such thing as a "small market" in the NFL since everyone gets 1/32nd of the TV money, and even if there were it has no effect on competitiveness, as teams have been willing to move from LA to St. Louis and Oakland as well as from Houston to Memphis.

  3. Back in the golden days of the reserve clause, when salaries were entirely dependent on what the owners wanted to pay, there was essentially no competitive balance as I showed back in May. From 1921 to 1964, the Yankees won 29 pennants, while the Cardinals, Giants, and Dodgers combined to win 30. Of the other teams, only Detroit (6) and the Cubs (5) won more than three pennants over this time frame. It's true that there were only two playoff spots per year during this time, but there were also only 16 teams and no such thing as free agency. Having the ultimate salary cap in place was no help to the majority of teams.

    In this article, Joe Sheehan discusses salary caps in much more detail. The Baseball Prospectus has been all over this issue for months now.

  4. In baseball, we talk about "competitive balance" as a good thing. In football, the supposed model for competitive balance, we talk about "parity", usually in a negative fashion. In the 1995 to 2001 time period that Jeff discusses, there are usually one or two really good teams in the NFL and a whole lot of mediocre ones that will compete for the playoffs but have no real chance of getting to (much less winning) the Super Bowl. This is directly attributable to their hard salary cap. To quote Sheehan one more time:

    To the extent that the salary cap contributes to competitive balance, I would say that it works negatively: it punishes success, forcing well-built, winning teams to shed talent on a near-constant basis. It also makes it virtually impossible to trade, increasing the impact of a single catastrophic event in a league where teams cannot make adjustments on the fly. A system that punishes success, rather than rewards it, seems an odd construct for any endeavor, and it's one I have difficulty supporting.

    Even in the era of free agency, a well-built baseball team can be competitive for years because they are not forced to make personnel decisions based on an artificial construct. The Yankees can continue to employ players that they developed in their farm system like Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams because they won't be prohibited from paying them market value when they acheive free agent eligibility. Not to get all Sam the Eagle on you here, but shouldn't hard work and success be rewarded in America?

It's true that teams make deals to dump salary, and it's true that teams let star players go because they can't pay them what they're worth. As the Mariners and A's have shown, this need not be a death sentence. Smart teams make moves to dump overpriced players for prospects, knowing full well that like the Mariners, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, and Indians of the 90s and the A's, Twins, and Reds of today, every team that has invested wisely in their product has been successful.

One final word: Bud Selig and the owners have spent the years since 1995 denigrating their product in order to get people to believe that a device whose only purpose is to limit their costs is good for the game. The first thing they did after the exhilarating and uplifting World Series of 2001 was to announce that they wanted to kill two franchises, one of which is seven games in first place and the other of which has just traded for two All Stars because they think they can win the NL wild card this year. If they had spent this time talking about all of the wonderful, exciting, unique, and historic things that have happened in baseball instead, would you still feel the same way about the state of the game and its finances?
How is wimpy downstream American beer like making love in a canoe? My blog and Real Life buddy Mike Tremoulet is back in the States after an extended gig in London. He's got some pictures from his deportation party here. I just have one thing to say about this:

You're in England! Where they invented the pint! What are you doing drinking Budweiser?!?!

(BTW, if you really don't know the punchline to the joke, admit to it in the comments and I'll post it there.)