More on the Storm of 2013 – with Dustin Pedroia

We have a lot of snow here in Boston and the hot discussion is whether the T or train system could have reopened faster – not until tomorrow morning for the Monday commute.  For those of you who don’t know, the train is partially underground and partially above.  I can hear them working on the orange line which runs down the hill from our house and is above ground where we are.  And while our street has been plowed there are places where the wind has blown snow back across it and people are getting stuck.

But Brendan Lynch at public radio WGBH is trying his best to look forward to spring.  He is measuring the snow in Dustin Pedroias.  Dustin is the shortest member of the Red Sox.  I think that Brendan is working on the official Major League height and Dustin is actually shorter, but here is what was posted yesterday morning.  There have been so new totals since then so you can do your own math.

Spencer (which is near Worcester, MA) is now reported at 34.5″  clearly half a Pedroia.  Logan Airport (which will be the official Boston total) is 24.9″   And Jamaica Plain, a section of Boston right across those Orange Line tracks from us, is 25.5″  These totals are from David Epstein’s Weather Wisdon blog.

So while we aren’t quite half a Pedroia here in Boston, that is still a lot of snow!

Highland Park 2-9-2013

Another view of the park across the street.

Snowed in

The blizzard of 2013 is what we are calling it here in Boston.  And it is still snowing.  No cars allowed on the streets and highways, no public transportation.  Because of the blowing snow it is hard to figure exactly how much has fallen, but it is currently in excess of 20 inches and another 5 to 8 may accumulate before it is all finished.  Luckily we didn’t lose power but we are snowed in.  It is also cold currently 20 degrees.

From Boston.com (The paper is not being delivered today.  Also no mail.)

Hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents have lost power because of the mammoth blizzard that lashed Massachusetts with hurricane-force winds and dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas overnight.

The state is at a standstill, with residents hunkering down at home under a rare travel ban imposed by the governor on Friday, and the MBTA saying it will not be able to restore service today. Snowplows are out in force struggling to clear the roads, but the storm is expected to continue dumping snow into midday.

National Guard troops are heading to coastal communities to assist in possible evacuations due to giant waves whipped up by the storm that are expected to batter the beaches at high tide at 10 a.m., potentially devouring beaches and homes.

State emergency management officials said there were no reports of major injuries due to the storm, even though there were two truck rollovers and about 30 stranded motorists had to be rescued from the roads.

According to New England Cable News (NECN) the Governor had this to say

Governor Patrick says he’s impressed with the fact there have not been any serious injuries yet as a result of this storm.

“When you consider the scope of the storm and the severity of it, it’s really a minor triumph that we haven’t had serious injuries,” Governor Patrick said. “We had a couple people out last night, I guess, defying the ban and taking their chances, and we had vehicles driving the wrong way on the Pike, on Storrow Drive … but no serious injuries.”

I guess it takes all kinds!

This picture was just posted on Boston.com

This is in the Charlestown section of Boston.

This is in the Charlestown section of Boston.

We have cousins who live in this area of town.  Like where we live, the streets are narrow and winding.

So why was the storm so bad?  Like Hurricane Sandy, two fronts converged over New England.  According to the Boston Globe

The fierce nor’easter that began walloping New England on Friday was the product of two storms that merged, causing a rapidly strengthening storm known in weather jargon as a “meteorological bomb.”

“We just have the right setup,” said Lance Franck, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Taunton. “It really is just a classic snowstorm.”

Forecasters said Friday night the storm remained on track to produce prodigious amounts of snow. But, in many ways, it reflects an utterly typical winter weather pattern, meteorologists said. Its path just happens to be dead-on, landing at a meteorological sweet spot to produce substantial snowfall in New England.

The jet stream that flows from west to east, 18,000 feet above the surface of the Earth, has two branches: a polar stream that takes a northerly route and a second, more southerly stream. When those branches converge, which is a pretty routine event during winter, snow is a possibility, as the frigid air from the north mingles with the humid air from the south.

“This winter has been interesting because the two streams have been largely separate,” Franck said.‘But the process of this happening isn’t unusual, it happens almost every winter.’

Until Friday.

This time, separate storms were brewing in each branch of the jet stream. The storm in the northern branch had deposited light snow in the upper Midwest. The storm in the southern branch had spawned rain in the mid-Atlantic, Franck said.

They separately swept toward New England, and by Friday night, meteorologists were saying the storms appeared destined to combine — very near a spot meteorologists call the “benchmark” because it is a pivotal spot for understanding how storms are likely to behave.

“The intersection point where the storms will ultimately become one . . . just south of Block Island, in that area — that’s just the perfect location,” said David Epstein, a meteorologist whose forecasts appear on Boston.com.

The bottom line is that the two fronts merged at the sweet spot to produce our blizzard.

Here are some pictures I took from the house this morning.

my street

my street

The park across the street

The park across the street

Why are we still fighting over birth control?

The Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare, included a provision for insurance to cover the cost of birth control.  After all, it has been estimated that 99% of all women use birth control at some point in their lives.  This is not just non-Catholic women.  Contraception is not cheap.  Without insurance, birth control pills can cost up to $100 a month.  Not affordable to lower income women who are also ones who can least afford to have unplanned children.  The pill is used for hormone regulation, not just birth control, a fact often ignored.

In fact, regardless of what the Pope and Cardinals and Archbishops in the United States think, Catholic women do use birth control.  I’m sorry, but no one has explained to me why a bunch of celibate men want to control women.  If you are against abortion, birth control would seem to be reasonable.  Of course, if you believe that life begins at the moment of conception, then some methods are problematic.  But we have no idea how many fertilized eggs just naturally abort, but I guess the distinction here is one is natural and the other has an artificial cause.  I should say that birth control also faces opposition from fundamentalist churches that are not Catholic.  The other thing that plays into the objection to birth control is that sex is to be reserved for marriage and for procreation.  There:   The objections to both birth control and gay marriage in one neat package.

The Obama administration has been twisting itself into knots to make sure that women who choose to use birth control have it covered under their health insurance.  The most recent proposal was outlined by the New York Times.

The Obama administration on Friday proposed yet another compromise to address strenuous objections from religious organizations about a policy requiring health insurance plans to provide free contraceptives, but the change did not end the political furor or legal fight over the issue.

The proposal could expand the number of groups that do not need to pay directly for birth control coverage, encompassing not only churches and other religious organizations, but also some religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service agencies. Health insurance companies would pay for the coverage.

The latest proposed change is the third in the last 15 months, all announced on Fridays, as President Obama has struggled to balance women’s rights, health care and religious liberty. Legal experts said the fight could end up in the Supreme Court

You can see the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)  fact sheet here.

Religious groups dissatisfied with the new proposal want a broader, more explicit exemption for religious organizations and protection for secular businesses owned by people with religious objections to contraceptive coverage.

The tortured history of the rule has played out in several chapters. The Obama administration first issued standards requiring insurers to cover contraceptives for women in August 2011, less than a month after receiving recommendations to that effect from the National Academy of Sciences. In January 2012, the administration rejected a broad exemption sought by the Roman Catholic Church for insurance provided by Catholic hospitals, colleges and charities. After a firestorm of criticism from Catholic bishops and Republican lawmakers, the administration offered a possible compromise that February. But it left many questions unanswered and did not say how coverage would be provided for self-insured religious organizations.

Under the new proposal, churches and nonprofit religious organizations that object to providing birth control coverage on religious grounds would not have to pay for it.

Female employees could get free contraceptive coverage through a separate plan that would be provided by a health insurer. Institutions objecting to the coverage would not pay for the contraceptives.

Yesterday the Catholic Bishops weighed in

“The administration’s proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education and Catholic charities. The Department of Health and Human Services offers what it calls an ‘accommodation,’ rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches.”

The bishops’ statement, issued after they had reviewed President Obama’s proposal for six days, was more moderate and measured than their criticisms of the original rule issued by the White House early last year. Cardinal Dolan said the bishops wanted to work with the administration to find a solution.

The administration had no immediate reaction to the bishops’ statement, other than to say it was not a surprise.

One thing is clear, the Obama administration does not want to start saying the private business owners can opt out of paying for insurance that covers things they find objectionable.  What if we go from birth control to vaccinations to flu shots?

The birth control issue will end up in court and probably the Supreme Court.  For people who say they don’t want the ACA because they don’t want government controlling their health care, this the ultimate irony.  In case they haven’t noticed.  The Supreme Court is a branch of government.

So until the courts decide, Emily Douglas at the Nation has prepared this handy chart for you.

How to pay for your bith control

I guess I sound bitter, but I thought we already had this fight 40 years ago.  Contraception is supposed to be a routine option for women’s health care.

Voting in America

We all saw the lines on television last November. A lot of us stood in them.  In Florida, in Ohio.  I saw at least a 20 minute wait on election morning as I timed a friend who went into vote while I was outside handing out Warren/Obama literature.  This was much longer than usual at my precinct.  It turns out that these are only the outward manifestations of larger problems.  President Obama has said fixing the problems is one of his priorities.  Now he can look at a couple of studies to see exactly what needs to be fixed.

Voter buttons

First the Daily Kos posted a story about the MIT study showing that black and Hispanic voters waited longer to vote than other voters.

You’d think after two hundred years (including some awkward Constitution-patching, here and there) we would finally have this “voting” thing down. Nope:

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis determined that blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites. Florida had the nation’s longest lines, at 45 minutes, followed by the District of Columbia, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Charles Stewart III, the political science professor who conducted the analysis.

So how are states going to fix this?  Maybe by making it harder to register and then harder to vote.

…In states like Virginia, in fact, they’re still trying their level best to make sure certain people don’t have to wait in long lines to vote by making sure certain people aren’t allowed to vote at all. Newly passed legislation would:

eliminate the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check and Social Security card as acceptable identification that can be presented at the polls. Voters would still be able to use a voter identification card, concealed handgun permit, driver’s license and student ID card.

Well, so long as you’re still taking concealed handgun permits.

Since most of those now-banned documents are still perfectly acceptable for obtaining “real” ID’s, like drivers licenses, the possibilities for thwarting rampant voting fraud are approximately nil. The only substantive outcome is to make it ever more inconvenient for certain people (i.e. poor, elderly, and those that don’t have cars, those city-living bastards) to vote.

So I’m not sure that we can depend on states to fix their own problems.

On the heels of the MIT study comes Pew Research.  The New York Times reported on the study which looked at 17 factors.

The flaws in the American election system are deep and widespread, extending beyond isolated voting issues in a few locations and flaring up in states rich and poor, according to a major new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The group ranked all 50 states based on more than 15 criteria, including wait times, lost votes and problems with absentee and provisional ballots, and the order often confounds the conventional wisdom.

In 2010, for instance, Mississippi ranked last over all. But it was preceded by two surprises: New York and California.

The project includes an interactive tool that allows rankings by individual criteria or clusters of them.

Some states, for instance, lost very few votes because of shortcomings in voting technology and voter confusion, with the best 10 reporting failure rates of 0.5 percent or less in 2008. In West Virginia, by contrast, the rate was 3.2 percent.

I hope you will click on the interactive link and look up your state.  The study covers the 2008 and 2010 elections and will be updated with 2012 data when it is available.  Massachusetts is only ranked in the middle at 64% overall which is interesting as I would have guessed it would have been higher.

The study also covered the new trend of voting by mail.

The shift to voting by mail, which now accounts for some 20 percent of all ballots cast, tends to eliminate lines. But it has also produced new problems, especially in places where mail voting has soared because the state does not require an excuse or a new ballot request for each election. Arizona and California, where voting by mail is commonplace, had among the highest rates of problems with voter registration and absentee ballots.

In 2010, California rejected absentee ballots 0.7 percent of the time, a higher rate than any other state.

Dean C. Logan, the registrar for Los Angeles County, said the rate was partly a byproduct of the popularity of voting by mail in California and partly a function of how the state defines rejected ballots. Its definition includes ballots that voters requested but that the Postal Service returned to election officials as undeliverable.

“Voter behavior is changing and evolving,” Mr. Logan said. Young people do not sign their names as consistently as older ones, he said, and mail delivery is becoming less reliable.

He also cautioned that statewide results can mask the fact that “the elections process is extremely decentralized.”

Provisional ballots are also a potential problem according to the study.

Charles Stewart III [cited also by the Daily Kos], a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Pew adviser, said that high provisional ballot rates were an important signal of potential trouble.

“Nationwide, a bit over 1 percent of voters are given a provisional ballot,” he said. “In Arizona in 2008, the rate was 6.5 percent. In the battleground state of Ohio, it was 3.6 percent. While these numbers may seem small, in a recount or election dispute, they would be huge.”

There are lots of things to consider as we look at ways to fix things.  How can people more easily register to vote?  What kind of ID, if any, should a voter have to show?  Do we vote by mail?  Online?  In person?  How many options should voters be offered?  I don’t know how many of the issues raised by the Pew study are local and how many can be federally mandated.  I believe that the federal government may have more say if the election is for a national office and is not just a state or local election.

I hope we can tackle some of these issues before 2014 and more of them before 2016.

Professor Stewart said the study should focus attention on the infrastructure of democracy.

“Among all important areas of public policy, election administration is probably the most episodic and prone to the problem of short attention spans,” he said. “What would the world be like if we only gave intense attention to education, corrections, transportation and public health problems for a one-week period every four years?”

An Oregon mail-in ballot for a special electio...

An Oregon mail-in ballot for a special election in May 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French debate gay marriage

The French Parliament has approved gay marriage.

I started reading the article, The French Debate Gay Marriage, in Their Fashion, from Sunday’s New York Times thinking I wouldn’t learn much.  Wrong.  Turns out some of the ambivalence about gay marriage has to do with ambivalence about marriage generally.

“After May ’68, if you were modern, you didn’t get married,” said Frédéric Martel, organizer of the Rond-Point event and author of the new book, “Global Gay: How the Gay Revolution is Changing the World.” “Now we’re at a moment when we are all a bit hysterical about marriage — gay marriage. But this is really a conservative movement, about stability in society and being good parents and protecting children and becoming rather ordinary.”

Seventy percent of the French do not think it is important for couples living together to get married, according to an Insee poll in 2012. Fewer than four marriages for every 1,000 citizens were performed in France in 2011, compared with nearly eight in 1970.

The civil solidarity pact legislation, which was intended to give gay couples many of the rights of marriage, has been used overwhelmingly by straight couples as a kind of “marriage light.” It is so popular as an alternative to marriage that in 2010, there were four civil unions for every five marriages.

And then there are feminist concerns.

Some feminist lesbians think a change in the law is retrograde. In Elle, the historian Marie-Josèphe Bonnet called marriage an “instrument of domination” and same-sex marriage a project of gay men, not lesbians.

“We want to be able to exist socially as women, without being a mother or ‘the wife of,’ ” she said. Asked why she didn’t mobilize lesbians against the law, she said, “No one can be opposed to equality.”

Plus the fact that the French President, Francois Hollande, has never married.

Mr. Hollande, who made passage of the same-sex law a campaign promise, is a model for unmarrieds. He never married Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children; she called herself “a free woman” and marriage a “bourgeois institution” when she ran unsuccessfully for president in 2007. There is no indication he intends to marry Ms. Trierweiler.

Valerie Trierweiler supports gay marriage.

When Valérie Trierweiler, the partner of France’s president, François Hollande, announced that if the law came into effect she would attend the wedding of two gay friends, Bernard Debré, a center-right deputy, wrote on his blog that she had no right to enter the debate. “She’s just the mistress of the French president,” he said.

The French support marriage but aren’t so sure about adoption by same sex couples.

While 63 percent of the French favor same-sex marriage, according to a poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion released last Saturday, 49 percent favor the right of same-sex married couples to adopt. There is less support for legalizing artificially induced pregnancies for gay couples. And some liberals and feminists consider surrogate motherhood an exploitation of poor working women by the rich.

“It introduces the notion of the child as merchandise,” the historian Max Gallo said on France Culture radio last Sunday. “You rent a belly and buy the product.”

The concerns of the French who are generally supportive are very different from those of Americans.  Here it is viewed as a matter of equality and civil rights. Here in the United States, we, for the most part, still believe in marriage.  We got past the era when it was an institution of our parents.

But the views of the opposition are pretty much the same in both countries.  The New York Times reported on an anti-gay marriage rally held in January.

“Nobody expected this two or three months ago,” said Frigide Barjot, a flamboyant comedian leading the protest. At the rally, she read out a letter to Mr. Hollande asking him to withdraw the draft bill and hold an extended public debate.

Strongly backed by the Catholic Church hierarchy, Ms. Barjot and groups working with her mobilized churchgoing families and political conservatives as well as some Muslims, evangelicals and even homosexuals opposed to gay marriage to protest.

“The French are tolerant, but they are deeply attached to the family and the defense of children,” said Daniel Liechti, vice president of the National Council of French Evangelicals, which urged its members to join the march.

Opponents of gay marriage and adoption, including most faith leaders in France, have argued that the reform would create psychological and social problems for children, which they believe should trump the desire for equal rights for gay adults.

Sounds familiar.

Protesters in Paris opposing gay marriage.

I think both sides will find out what we have already learned in Massachusetts:  The sky won’t fall.

Photograph:  Marriage for all Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Photograph:  Protesters Getty Images.

Stephen Lynch maybe changes his mind

Ok.  People do change their minds.  They evolve, as President Obama has said about his position on gay marriage.  But if you change your mind, you need to actually change your mind, not just kinda change it because it is politically expedient.

We have all known for years that Representative Stephen Lynch is against abortion.  He has famously referred to himself as a pro-life Democrat.  And unlike the pro-choice Republicans, the Democratic party has not run him out of town.  But, that is not a winning position outside of his Southie constituency.  He is one of them and, so far, that has been enough to keep him in Congress.  Lynch now says that abortion should be legal but rare. So today the Boston Globe ran this story

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who has consistently described himself as an antiabortion legislator, said Monday that he believes abortion is a constitutionally protected right and that as a US senator he would actively oppose anti­abortion nominees to the Supreme Court.

Forces on both sides of the issue charge that Lynch is shifting his stance as he tries to expand beyond his socially conservative political base in South Boston to a liberal statewide primary.

“He’s trying to have it both ways,” said Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, a group backing abortion rights.

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the state’s leading antiabortion group, pointed out that when Lynch was representing South Boston in the state Senate, he had a 100 percent voting ­record from her group. When he ran for Congress in 2001, her group mailed out postcards urging voters to support him.

Now, Lynch is vowing to protect Roe v. Wade.

“Apparently, that’s what they think they’re supposed to do, politicians with their eyes on higher office, at least in Massachusetts,” Fox said.

It seems that no one is happy with him now.

To give Lynch some credit, he voted against Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood noting that the work they do helps reduce the number of abortions.

But Mr. Lynch, you need to do better than

“I don’t oppose it. I accept, I guess.” – Feb. 4, 2013, Globe interview, speaking of Roe v. Wade.

Interesting move against an opponent, Representative Ed Markey, who has been publically pro-choice since 1983.  But I think Lynch may reflect the confusion of a lot of voters.  As I said, it will be interesting.

Official congressional portrait of Stephen F. ...

Official congressional portrait of Stephen F. Lynch, member of the , in the 110th Congress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard the Third the last Plantagenet

Richard III was, according to Shakespeare, one of the worst villans to rule England.  On the other hand, there were many, including Josephine Tey who believed otherwise.  And now, his bones have been found and identified.

The bones as discovered.

Greyfriars car park, Leicester, where the remains of King Richard III were found

Grey Friars car park, Leicester, where the remains of King Richard III were found.

According to the BBC

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.

Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family.

Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”

Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.

The Guardian detailed the careful science behind the declaration.

There were cheers when Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist on the hunt for the king’s body, finally announced that the university team was convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” that it had found the last Plantagenet king, bent by scoliosis of the spine, and twisted further to fit into a hastily dug hole in Grey Friars church, which was slightly too small to hold his body.

But by then it was clear the evidence was overwhelming, as the scientists who carried out the DNA tests, those who created the computer-imaging technology to peer on to and into the bones in raking detail, the genealogists who found a distant descendant with matching DNA, and the academics who scoured contemporary texts for accounts of the king’s death and burial, outlined their findings.

The skeleton’s injuries were consistent with accounts of Richard’s death.

Richard died at Bosworth on 22 August 1485, the last English king to fall in battle, and the researchers revealed how for the first time. There was an audible intake of breath as a slide came up showing the base of his skull sliced off by one terrible blow, believed to be from a halberd, a fearsome medieval battle weapon with a razor-sharp iron axe blade weighing about two kilos, mounted on a wooden pole, which was swung at Richard at very close range. The blade probably penetrated several centimetres into his brain and, said the human bones expert Jo Appleby, he would have been unconscious at once and dead almost as soon.

The injury appears to confirm contemporary accounts that he died in close combat in the thick of the battle and unhorsed – as in the great despairing cry Shakespeare gives him: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Another sword slash, which also went through the bone and into the brain, would also have proved fatal. But many of the other injuries were after death, suggesting a gruesome ritual on the battlefield and as the king’s body was brought back to Leicester, as he was stripped, mocked and mutilated – which would have revealed for the first time to any but his closest intimates the twisted back, a condition from an unknown cause, which began to contort his body from the age of about 10. By the time he died he would have stood inches shorter than his true height of 5′ 8″, tall for a medieval man. The bones were those of an unusually slight, delicately built man – Appleby described him as having an “almost feminine” build – which also matches contemporary descriptions.

According to the Boston Globe story

Richard III ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long tussle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses. His brief reign saw liberal reforms, including introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.

The discovery of Richard’s bones will not resolve the controversy surrounding him, however.  Most believe in the Shakespearean image of him as a the evil hunchbacked killer of two young princes in the Tower of London.

After I read Richard III in high school, my mother introduced me to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time.  Her detective character, Alan Grant, takes up the case while in the hospital with the help of a young researcher who does the leg work.  The Wikipedia article about the book has a good summary of what Grant concluded and Tey believed.

The main arguments presented in the book in defence of King Richard:

  • There was no political advantage for Richard III in killing the young princes. He was legitimately made king.
  • There is no evidence that the princes were missing from the Tower when Henry VII took over.
  • Although a Bill of Attainder was brought by Henry VII against Richard it made no mention of the princes. There never was any formal accusation, much less a verdict of guilt.
  • Henry never produced the bodies of the dead princes for public mourning and a state funeral.
  • The mother of the Princes, Elizabeth Woodville, remained on good terms with Richard.
  • The Princes were more of a threat to Henry VII as the foundation of his claim to the crown was significantly more remote than theirs.

Grant and his American collaborator argue that there is little evidence of resistance to Richard’s rule (ignoring Buckingham’s rebellion). They allow that there were rumours of his murdering the princes during his lifetime, but they decide that the rumours had little circulation, and attribute them to the Croyland Chronicle and to the Lord Chancellor of France, and ultimately to Tudor sympathiser John Morton. They also propose that Morton was the actual author of Thomas More‘s biography of Richard, suggesting that the incomplete manuscript found after More’s death was an unfinished copy by More of Morton’s lost original. They conclude that the princes probably remained alive throughout Richard’s reign and were later killed by Henry.

The Richard III Society which sponsored discovery and will have his bones reinterred will still have work to do to clear his name.  Where are the alleged bones of the princes and can we now do DNA on them?

Photograph of car park Darren Staples/Reuters

Francona and the Red Sox

I finished reading Francona last week and have been listening and reading to what people are saying about it.  In case you don’t live in Boston, follow the Red Sox, or follow another baseball team, Terry Francona was the manager of the Boston Red Sox from 2004 through the 2011 season.  Quite a long time in baseball years, particularly in Red Sox years.  He managed the team to their first World Series win (2004) in 86 years breaking the infamous curse of Babe Ruth.  And then one a second Series in 2007.  I loved seeing him in the corner of the dugout chewing his tobacco which he pretended was gum or maybe is was sometimes the other way around.  And I felt terrible as the 2011 season imploded in September.  I think we all knew that Francona wouldn’t be back for 2012.

Terry in the dugout.

Terry in the dugout.

So now there is the book, Francona. by Terry and Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.  Some people don’t like it because they think it completely trashes the owners which makes me wonder if they have actually read the book.  Or maybe they are responding on behalf of the owners.  I had read some of the advanced reviews which said that he was not nice to the owners so I guess I looked for those parts in the book.  (for a nice interview with Terry by Emily Rooney, click here.)

The controversy appears to stem largely from his statement that the owners didn’t like baseball.  Taken out of context, this is a rather silly statement.  Why would you spend millions to own a team if you didn’t like the game?  But if you read the book, you learn that in Francona’s  world, where one lives and breathes baseball from a very young age, the owners are different.  They have other interests, like making money, and bring in fans.  Why else would they bring in a showman like Bobby Valentine after Terry?

There is a delicate balance between the purity of the game and the game as business.  Francona is on one side of that fine line, John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino are on the other.  And that is the essence of the the matter.  In the end, Francona and Theo Epstein were on the wrong side from those that paid them.  I don’t think they were surprised.

I love baseball.  I like going to minor league games without all the show of the bigs to distract me.  I guess I’m like Francona in that tiny way.  If you love baseball and want an inside picture, read this book.

Red Sox pitchers and catchers report on the 12th; everyone else on the 15th.  I read that most of the pitchers have already arrived in Florida.  Bobby V. is thankfully gone.  New manager John Farrell is a baseball guy.  Maybe John Lackey will redeem himself.  Maybe we can give the young kids a chance to play and grow.  Maybe the Sox will have a winning year.  Francona is managing the Cleveland Indians and Theo is with the Cubs.  It’s spring time for baseball and anything can happen.

Photograph sportsofboston.com

Women in combat

The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and the head of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, recently signed an order to allow women to serve in combat.  Each branch of the services will now develop a timetable and guidelines for implementation.  This move will allow for official recognition of roles women are already playing.

I posted a pithy little sentence about this from Winning Progressive on my Facebook page only to set off a sometimes not completely coherent discussion among some who oppose the entire idea.  What I posted was

“Now that women can serve in combat that leaves the neo-cons as the only group that apparently can’t serve in war.” – LOLGOP

When I put the comment on Facebook, I was more interested in the neo-cons not serving than in the decision about women.  But the discussion ended up centering around women and combat.  (Sometimes I think friends on the right don’t have much sense of humor.)  Their arguments against were essentially the same ones that Kathleen Parker made in her column in the Washington Post.

The two most popular arguments for inclusion of women in combat would be valid if only they weren’t incorrect. They are: (1) Only qualified women will be included in combat units; (2) We have a volunteer military and, therefore, only those who want to serve in combat will.

Parker worries about the lowering of physical standards, she call it “gender norming” and the fact that women will now have to register for selective service so we may not have a volunteer army at some point.  Parker also seems to think that women would be able to choose whether to be in combat but men would not which would result in the kind of inequality allowing women in combat is supposed to correct.  It is my understanding that both men and women currently make some choices about what job they want after basic training and there are qualifying tests for those jobs.  But right now, women just can’t choose the jobs that have a combat designation.

So how did the decision happen in the first place?  Here is how CNN reported the story.

For Gen. Martin Dempsey, Thursday’s move to open combat units in the U.S. military to women had its roots nearly a decade ago, on the streets of Baghdad.

Dempsey took command of the Army’s 1st Armored Division in June 2003, when Iraqi insurgents were starting to target American troops with sniper fire, grenades and roadside bombs. As he prepared for a trip outside his headquarters, he took a moment to introduce himself to the crew of his Humvee.

“I slapped the turret gunner on the leg and I said, ‘Who are you?’ And she leaned down and said, I’m Amanda.’ And I said, ‘Ah, OK,’ ” Dempsey told reporters at the Pentagon.

“So, female turret-gunner protecting division commander. It’s from that point on that I realized something had changed, and it was time to do something about it.”

Thursday, Dempsey — now chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff — sat alongside Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as both men signed a directive that will open front-line posts to the roughly 200,000 women now serving in the active-duty military.

Panetta said the move is a bow to reality on the battlefield, where women in what are technically non-combat units already find themselves fighting alongside their male comrades.

I think that Parker and other opponents envision battlefields with opposing armies lined up to face each other.  Don’t think this happens any more.

Once we heard similar arguments opposing women in the police force.  I once had a high ranking Virginia State Trooper tell me that women were generally too short to meet what was then a height requirement (I think it was 5’9″ or 5’10”) so they couldn’t be troopers.  Why did they have a height requirement?  So they could fire over their vehicles.  When, I asked, was the last time you fired over your vehicle?  Never have, he said.

There will be a lot of fuss over physical standards and what they really need to be.  And sometimes they will be like the height requirement for Virgina troopers – just tradition.  In the end, women will serve in combat as they do now only they will get credit.  And yes, maybe women will have to register for Selective Service, but maybe we can turn that into a national service requirement for everyone to give a couple of years helping the country in some way.

With this move, we join our allies.

Several U.S. allies, including NATO members France, Canada and Germany, allow women to serve in combat posts. Earlier this month, the U.S. Army opened the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to women, and it has begun recruiting female pilots and crew chiefs. The Navy put its first female officers on submarines in the past year, and certain female ground troops have been attached to combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Change is hard, but we have until January 2016 to see what the actual changes will be.  See what you started, Amanda!

Illustration from the Denver Post.

Confirming Chuck Hagel

Republican Chuck Hagel, a former two-term senator from Nebraska and President Obama's choice to lead the Pentagon, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013

Republican Chuck Hagel, a former two-term senator from Nebraska and President Obama’s choice to lead the Pentagon, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013

Let’s just get this out of the way:  Former Senator Chuck Hagel is not perfect.  There are things that the Democrats don’t like (he may cut some of their pork, for one) and that the Republicans don’t like (he doesn’t seem to like war for example).  Hey, when both sides have some problems with you, maybe that does make you perfect!

I do think that Hagel will be confirmed at Secretary of Defense, but the vote will likely be close.  I like the nomination for exactly the examples I gave.  Hagel will have to cut the defense budget one way or another, he will have to deal with contractor abuses, and he will be very reluctant to get us into war.  And maybe he will begin a conversation within the administration about rules for drone strikes.  It seems to me that it will be useful to have to combat veterans, Kerry and Hagel, looking at issues of war and peace.

George Zornick has been followed the confirmation hearing for the Nation and has compiled his top ten ridiculous questions that were asked.  Here are some of the best.

He has divisions so first the “Please Admit You Hate America” Division

Senator James Inhofe, R-OK: The question I’d like to ask you, and you can answer for the record if you like, why do you think that the Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination to be the secretary of defense?

“Please Pledge, Here and Now, To Start A War” Division

Senator John McCain, R-AZ: Do you think that Syrians should get the weapons they need and perhaps establish a no-fly zone? [A no-fly zone would, almost without question, quickly lead to a full-scale air war with Syria.]

It should be noted that almost everyone seemed to want to know if he would use force if necessary against Iran.

“Please Promise to Keep the Pork Flowing to my State” Division (the winners were all Democrats, two from New England, I picked Jeanne Shaheen for some gender balance.)

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH: Our four public shipyards are the backbone of our naval power. But according to the Navy there’s huge backlog of the modernization and restorations projects at our shipyards.… Will you commit to ensuring that this modernization plan is produced, and will you commit to pressing the Navy, within the fiscal constraints that I appreciate, to fully fund the improvements in the long term?

And finally we have questions that were ridiculous but “We Really Wish Hagel Would Have Answered ‘Yes’ To “Division

Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX: Senator Hagel, do you think it’s appropriate for the chief civilian leader for the US military forces to agree with the statement that both the ‘perception and the reality’ is that the United States is ‘the world’s bully’?”

All I can say is good luck Secretary Hagel.  We wish you well.

Photograph: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite