Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday Reading

The Top Ten List — Kevin Drum on the shutdown in ten infuriating sentences.

At its core, the dispute over the budget and the debt ceiling isn’t complicated at all. But it is full of misconceptions and urban myths. Here are the 10 facts worth remembering past all the obfuscation:

1. Democrats have already agreed to fund the government at Republican levels.

2. Despite what you might have heard, there have only been two serious government shutdowns in recent history, and both were the result of Republican ultimatums.

3. Democrats in the Senate have been begging the House to negotiate over the budget for the past six months, but Republicans have refused.

4. That’s because Republicans wanted to wait until they had either a government shutdown or a debt ceiling breach as leverage, something they’ve been very clear about all along.

5. Republicans keep talking about compromise, but they’ve offered nothing in return for agreeing to their demands—except to keep the government intact if they get their way.

6. The public is very strongly opposed to using a government shutdown to stop Obamacare.

7. Contrary to Republican claims, the deficit is not increasing—it peaked in 2009 and has been dropping ever since, declining by $200 billion last year with another $450 billion drop projected this year.

8. A long government shutdown is likely to seriously hurt economic growth, with a monthlong shutdown projected to slash GDP in the fourth quarter by 1 percentage point and reduce employment by over a million jobs.

9. No, Democrats have not used debt ceiling hostage taking in the past to force presidents to accept their political agenda.

10. This whole dispute is about the Republican Party fighting to make sure the working poor don’t have access to affordable health care.

Gun Control in Canada — Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker explains how they do it in the True North, and no one’s rights get violated.

The Gopnik family seat, such as it is, is nowhere near Manhattan, Upper West or East Side, but rather a farm in remote rural Ontario, where my parents live surrounded by crops, animals, and pests—and indeed by farmers who need and use rifles. When I was talking to my father there last weekend, we discussed a recent raccoon infestation, and how he had called on a neighbor with a rifle to hightail it over to shoot the five unfortunate masked marauders beneath the back porch. (My dad buried them afterward, further proof that English professors can be eminently practical people.) My dad is actually a pretty good shot, and could have done it himself—but he had not finished the paperwork for his gun.

What onerous tasks are involved in getting a gun for the necessary work of rural life in Canada? Well, you have to do that paperwork, fill out an application for a license, take a gun-safety course, and then you have your raccoon-shootin’ rifle for the grim work of keeping off pests. (There are some other “controls”; if you have a longstanding dispute, for instance, your spouse is informed.) Does anything in this interfere with the liberty of the individual or the exigencies of rural life? No one disputes that there are sane reasons for ordinary people to need a rifle. But there is no imaginable, meaningful sense in which Canadians, or Australians, are “less free” when it comes to guns because they have to take a safety course before they use one. People who really need guns—and many, my folks among them, do—can get them and use them safely, while there are hedgerows, so to speak, against impulsive purchases or unsafe or frankly homicidal use.

What we can learn from Canada is how to legislate common sense without violating anyone’s liberty—unless you imagine that anyone’s liberty depends on having as many weapons as he wants whenever he wants them. Perhaps no existing gun law could have been explicitly designed to stop the shotgun killer of the Navy Yard. But to repeat the central truth of modern criminology: building low barriers against violent crime has a disproportionate effect in ending it. Make something difficult and you begin to make it impossible. You don’t have to back-engineer every law to cover every past criminal circumstance; you just have to sensibly craft laws to discourage the next one.

Miggy — Mark Leibovich profiles Tiger slugger Miguel Cabrera, the best player in baseball.

Sluggers used to be the heroes. Now they and their statistics have become suspect. But while fans have been outraged over performance-enhancing drugs, they are also conditioned to expect their results. Cabrera, 30, has never been linked in any way to P.E.D.’s. (His beer-league physique is one obvious defense.) On the field, his only blemish is that he has put up remarkable numbers during an era in which so much seemed too good to be true, and regularly proved just that. In a sense, Cabrera is now positioned to redeem the modern slugger. The question is whether he can compete with the fantasy of players past.

Cabrera’s constitution is not his game’s only anachronism. Over the past decade or so, the stat geeks, data brains and Bill James basement set have tried to redefine the “value” of the modern baseball player, introducing measurements like W.A.R. (wins above replacement) and w.R.C.+ (an indirect attempt to determine the number of runs a player creates) and de-emphasizing traditional power metrics like batting average and R.B.I. Cabrera is perhaps the old school’s best defense against the new one. When I asked what he considered baseball’s most important offensive statistic, he quickly said R.B.I. and then became slightly defensive. “How do you score runs? You need someone to drive guys to home plate. Not a lot of guys can do that right now. You count, it’s not many.”

Cabrera’s big-kid reputation implies, in part, a breezy indifference to the way most modern hitters prepare: endless film-room study, advanced training regimens and so forth. But it belies his own unique obsessiveness as a hitter. Cabrera resists watching too much video of opposing pitchers because, he told me, he fears that the alternate perspectives of the pitchers’ previous approaches could throw him off in the real-time context of a game. Cabrera also hates pitching machines. “I can’t hit it,” he says. “Because you don’t have time. They throw the ball by you — woomph.” This is puzzling to me; pitching machines, after all, usually deliver the ball considerably slower and straighter than real Major League players. “But you don’t see arm action,” Cabrera insists. In fact, pitching machines cannot help him hone what may be his greatest advantage. In a live at-bat, he can do the bulk of his mental work before the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, recognizing the pitcher’s grip, analyzing the arm angle and even picking up slight variances in his leg kick in the fractions of a second before a 90-something-mile-an-hour fastball whizzes past the plate. “Right up here,” Cabrera says, holding his hand over his head like a pitcher about to release. “If I don’t recognize the ball in hand, I’m in trouble.”


Many of baseball’s best hitters — Babe Ruth, Pete Rose, Manny Ramirez among them — have also been compared to overgrown children. The description conjures loosefitting personalities that, in some cases, disguised varying burdens and demons. And here, for Cabrera, the comparison fits. A few years ago, a predawn argument with his wife during the 2009 pennant race ended with Cabrera at a police station (no charges were filed). During spring training in Florida two years later, Cabrera was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. (He eventually pleaded no contest.) In the police report filed in St. Lucie County, Cabrera is said to have told officers: “Do you know who I am? You don’t know anything about my problems.”

People focused on the first sentence as the classic sign of an entitled athlete, but the second was more revealing. Cabrera was raised in Maracay, Venezuela, and his parents, who are divorced, placed great pressure on him to succeed at baseball. Cabrera’s father, Miguel, worked in an auto shop, and his mother, Gregoria, was a softball player on the Venezuelan national team. His uncle, David Torres, played in the St. Louis Cardinals system and trained young Miguel, who landed a tryout with the Marlins at 15 and received a $1.8 million signing bonus at 16. In 2003, a 20-year-old Cabrera hit a game-ending home run in his big-league debut. A few months later, he responded to a brushback pitch from Roger Clemens by taking him deep in the World Series. The Marlins defeated the Yankees in six games.

Cabrera was traded in December 2007 and signed a deal that would keep him in Detroit for eight years and $152 million. His parents still contact him constantly, urging him to keep improving, wondering, for instance, why he did not hit a home run, even though he had just gone 4 for 5. Cabrera, who is married to his hometown sweetheart, Rosangel, has a son and two daughters. There have been no further public reports of friction since the 2009 incident, and people around the Tigers describe Cabrera today as a lighter and matured personality. The 2012 signing of Prince Fielder, who hits fourth in the Tigers lineup, behind Cabrera, seemed to take a great deal of pressure off him. The acquisition forced him from first base to third, but by all accounts he has worked hard to become a serviceable defender. “He’s in a real good place right now,” said McClendon of Cabrera.

Doonesbury — Putting the No in North Carolina.