Saturday, April 18, 2009

A final lesson from Harry. And a hairy lesson?

Two thoughts today, one whimsical, one decidedly less so.

The whimsy proceeds from the sudden passing of long-time Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas (not to be confused with Harry Caray, the equally beloved Cubs broadcaster, of the Coke-bottle eyewear, who died in 1998). Kalas, perhaps best known for his trademarked way of calling a home run
" here!"was a favorite with fans and players alike. Before last night's game, in fact, the team's top players stood at home plate during a tribute to Harry, their eyes watery as they reverently held his favorite shoes, sportcoat, etc. That's something you don't see every day.

Something else you don't see every day is a casket at home plate. Well, that's precisely what you'd see this morning if you were at Citizens Bank Park, where Kalas is laid out for fan viewing. Thousands have been quietly filing by since 8 a.m.

And now, having trotted out this little parade of poetic images, I'm going to rain on it. Because there's a point that needs making for our purposes. If ever the stage were set for a team to summon up an emotional victory, it was last night, after that touching ceremony, in the Phils' game against the San Diego Padres. And with Harry looking down from on-high, the Phillies did get off to a rousing start, batting around and scoring five runs in the first inning. The beneficiary of this outburst was Cole Hammels, the team's best pitcher and widely regarded as one of the premier pitchers in baseball. So as I say, all the ingredients were there for the Usual Script: You know the one, about how the team "responded" with a "heartfelt tribute" to their "fallen hero"; about how they "won this one for Harry." I'm betting that every sportswriter in Philadelphia, as well as writers at ESPN and the new MLB Network, had already whipped up the copy, to have it ready if that's the story they were able to file. Alas, they weren't able to use that well-worn script, because the Phils couldn't hold the lead. They let the game get away and lost an 8-7 heartbreaker. Even presented with one final chance to conjure a truly stunning, emotional victory, in the bottom of the ninth, the Phils came up short.

Despite what the gods of Sportsthink will tell you, emotion doesn't win ballgames. It doesn't lose them, either. The emotion is certainly there, and you may think it plays all of these varying roles in what takes place on the field. But it doesn't. It's just a spectator, if you will, like the rest of us.


Today's less whimsical thought concerns the Obama administration's position on torture and its controversial release of Bush administration documents on same, juxtaposed against North Korea's announcement that any international sanctions in the wake of its missile launch and ongoing nuclear program will be regarded as an "act of war."

I've said it before and I say it again: We are going to have to deal with these folks. Sooner or later. Diplomacy is nice
for the sake of my grandkids, if for no other reason, I'd love to see diplomacy workbut diplomacy is useless as a tool for dealing with the despotic or the suicidal or the criminally insane. So it strikes me that we can sit here and cling to our high-minded ideals, talking rapturously about how the Obama administration is rehabilitating America's image in the eyes of the world, but in the end the whole thing may come down to an unambiguous proposition of Us or Them, where only one side can go on living life as we know it. Therefore I ask a very simple question. Two of them, actually:

If torture is the only means by which we can obtain information that, say, will save several great American you authorize the torture? Or not?

If preemptively nuking another nation is the only way we can prevent ourselves from being nuked, do you authorize the strike? Or not?

I don't want to hear about "peace talks" and a "new climate of global brotherhood." Assume for the purpose of this exercise that we're past that. I just want a simple answer to my question: If there must be Armageddon, on which side of the ocean do you want it to occur?


Anonymous said...

Personally, I've been shocked, saddened and disturbed by this whole torture business, from Abu Ghraib to the recently released memos.

What shocks me most is how we have dumbed-down the definition of "torture" to mean "annoy". It's not as if the United States has a long-standing tradition of never torturing spies, enemies and others plotting to kill us - we have used torture in every war we;ve ever been in, and much more liberally in the past.

But now naked twister and bugs in confined spaces count as torture even though they are actually closer to college fraternity hazing.

And those who say "torture doesn't work" are lying. Sheikh Khalid Mohammad is perfect proof that it does.

Daniel Pearl, Aasiya Hassan and Nick Berg were unavailable to comment on this story.

Anonymous said...


Who would have thought that such a classy, touching tribute would come from Phillies fans? - in Philadelphia no less!

Philadelphia fans are the meanest, nastiest, most belligerent people around. What sportswriter said "Philadelphia fans would boo a cancer cure"? Philadelphia fans do have a lot of class - most of it low.

Anonymous said...

Steve, why don't you slice an innocent mans testicles up, and then see how you feel about torture, aftre you've stopped puking.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I don't think we're "past that," in regard to strengthened alliances with the rest of the world. I think it's those very alliances that will prove to be our strongest weapon against aggression from North Korea. If we are able to rehabilitate our image in the rest of the world - as we seem to be well on the way to doing - Korea will realize that it is very alone in its stance. Current leader notwithstanding, I don't buy that their entire leadership is patently insane. Certainly, they want to save face, but I doubt that they are in lockstep with the willingness to risk nuclear war in the effort to command respect.

If, however, we revert to the kind of six-gun diplomacy we've exhibited these last 8 years, we'll quickly see those strengthened alliances evaporate. While a pre-emptive strike might be necessitated at some point, I think we need to be very cautious in our decision to launch one, instead, we need to take these alliances out for a spin and see how effective they are.

As to torture... It has been proven to be an ineffective means of gaining meaningful intel. And the downside of using such measures, as we've recently seen, is that we suffer damage to our reputation sufficient to overshadow any meager - and questionable - benefits. And this doesn't even take into account that we like to tell ourselves that we are the "good guys." Hard to sustain that when we engage in the kind of barbarism we so loudly decry.

Cal said...

In reverse order:

1) Obama is going to suffer from the same problem that Bill Clinton suffered from. The hard-liners criticized Clinton for trying to do away with the harsh tactics for dealing with terrorists or dictators. That included using shady characters to get information about rogue states, and so-called torture tactics. Unfortunately, war is a dirty business and maybe the one instance where I would say we have to turn a blind eye to.

There are two problems the U.S. faces. The first is that no one in the world trusts us after the faulty intelligence and other reasons used to go into Iraq. The second is (and I don't know the answer to this) do these techniques violate the Geneva Convention? I'm not sure we can continue to that we are a country that is based on rules of law, and yet we continue to break them.

But we will have to deal with Iran and/or North Korea. I believe Israel will disrupt Iran's nuclear facilities if it gets to that point, but I think with North Korea we are on our own.

This is one area where Dick Cheney, for all his faults, may look like a genius.

2) Unfortunately, the Phillies should be worried about how long Hamels will last (you added an extra "m"). The guy already has back issues and continue to insist that his elbow is OK. And this is despite the babying he and other young pitchers get. There has been no decrease in pitching injuries. In fact, it's been the opposite.

But that wasn't the point of your post. I'm sure if the Phillies have a bad season, it will be blamed on Kalas' death. This is despite the fact that most players really don't care who the announcer is, even if the guy was famous. Because if they are on the field, they can't hear him calling the game.

Anonymous said...


Did you catch how the New York Yankees responded to their new $1.5 billion stadium?

With all of the Yankee mystique available - deceased Hall-of-Famers; living celebutards and dignitaries; their $161 million dollar man on the mound - you expect something other than a 10-2 beatdown at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.

Maybe Cleveland just wanted it more.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: I don't think we're "past that" yet, either. I simply said to assume that we're past that for the sake of the exercise. In other words, do we want to be barbarians? No. Of course not. But when our backs are against a wall...?

Anon 9:43: Hey, a 10-2 drubbing is a lot better than the fate that befell the Yanks today! Don't know if you caught the game, but they were behind by 18 runs (that's not a typo) after just six innings.

Anonymous said...

'We are going to have to deal with these folks. Sooner or later.'

North Korea is starving, all this posturing is desperation. It shares a border with China which keeps a very close eye on its neighbours. There is no way that China will countenance a credible nuclear threat so close at hand. The above is needless hysteria and paranoia, this is not the US's call.

Elizabeth said...

If there must be Armageddon, on which side of the ocean do you want it to occur?If there is Armageddon, Steve, there won't be any "sides of the ocean(s)" unaffected by it.

P.S. WV: biblyle...

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Point taken, in a strictly literal sense, but you know what I mean. Let's put it this way: If there are to be survivors, I think I'd rather they be on this side of the Pacific. But that's just me.

Anon 11:37: We are the country that everyone loves to hate. Proximity matters little. The 9/11 terrorists could've done damage much closer to home (theirs); they could've, e.g., launched attacks in Saudi Arabia itself, which many of them regard as traitorous. But no...they have to come here to do their dirty work, because that's how you "make your bones" in international terrorism: You kill American civilians.

If a Third World nation/second-rate power gets hold of a nuclear weapon and has launch capability, the nation it will launch against is us. Its despotic leaders will starve their own people, bankrupt their own economy, single-mindedly do whatever they have to do to reach the point where they can kill lots of Americans, so they can die happy (or preferably live on in some bunker somewhere). That's just how it goes.

Anonymous said...

'That's just how it goes.'

Actually that isn't how it goes. Ther has been nuclear capability in many states for half a century--not yet one 'That's just how it goes.'

Hysteria and paranoia, probably fuelled by those 400 viewings of the Godfather.
The US as a whole would be well served by occasionally switching off the idiot box and trying to understand the real world, not some escapist, glossy nonsense masquerading as reality.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 11:17: Cute gibe about The Godfather, but off-point, I think.

The primary nuclear actors for the last half of the 20th Century were the Soviets and the U.S.--and what kept things more or less at bay was the theory of MAD: mutually assured destruction. Because, see, back then, believe it or not, we still lived in a world where even tyrants cared whether they lived or died.

Do you have any doubt that if the 9/11 plotters had had access to nukes, they would've used them? Do you think the Taliban would hesitate, or certain theocratic factions in Iran? I think our friend Mr. Il (or "ill") still has some designs on living and perfecting his megalomania, but he's not someone I would trust if he felt cornered, in a lose-lose situation.

Understand, I'm not saying we should lay waste to North Korea; I'm saying that the time may come (soon) when we need to absolutely take out his nuclear capability, if it's still possible for us to do that.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to nuke Korea, do it on a day when the wind isn't blowing towards China, or they might not want to sell you DVD players any more.

Steve Salerno said...

OK, then let's nuke the Chinese too. What the hell, we can make our own DVD players; lord knows we need to begin making something again.