Friday, October 31, 2014

Election Day looking like a referendum on competence

By Charles Krauthammer
October 30, 2014

Political Cartoons by Jerry Holbert

Is this election really about nothing? Democrats might like to think so, but it’s not.
First, like all U.S. elections, it’s about the economy. The effect of the weakest recovery in two generations is reflected in President Obama’s 13-point underwater ratings for his handling of the economy.
Moreover, here is a president who proclaims the reduction of inequality to be the great cause of his administration. Yet it has radically worsened in his six years. The 1 percent are doing splendidly in the Fed-fueled stock market, even as median income has fallen.
Second is the question of competence. The list of disasters is long, highlighted by the Obamacare rollout, the Veterans Affairs scandal and the pratfalls of the once-lionized Secret Service. Beyond mere incompetence is government intrusiveness and corruption, as in the overreach of national security surveillance and IRS targeting of politically disfavored advocacy groups.
Ebola has crystallized the collapse of trust in state authorities. The overstated assurances, the ever-changing protocols, the startling contradictions — the Army quarantines soldiers returning from West Africa while the White House denounces governors who did precisely the same with returning health-care workers — have undermined government in general, this government in particular.
Obama’s clumsy attempt to restore confidence by appointing an Ebola czar has turned farcical. When the next crisis broke — a doctor home from West Africa develops Ebola after having traversed significant parts of New York City between his return and his infection — the czar essentially disappeared. Perhaps he is practicing self-quarantine.
But there’s a third factor contributing to the nation’s deepening anxiety — a sense of helplessness and confusion abroad as, in the delicate phrase of our secretary of defense, “the world is exploding all over.”
Most voters don’t care about the details of Ukraine, the factions in Libya or the precise battle lines of the Islamic State. But they do have a palpable sense of American weakness.
This was brought home most profoundly by the videotaped beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. It wasn’t just the savagery that affected so many Americans but the contempt shown by these savages for America — its power, its resolve. Here is a JV team (Obama’s erstwhile phrase) defying the world’s great superpower, daring it to engage, confident that America will fail or flee.
Obama got a ratings bump when he finally bestirred himself to order airstrikes and vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. Yet almost two months later, there is a realization that the disorganized, halfhearted, ad hoc U.S. reaction has made little difference. The vaunted 60-country coalition is nowhere to be seen. The barbarians are even closer to the gate.
Moreover, U.S. flailing is not just demoralizing at home. It is energizing the very worst people abroad. Being perceived as what Osama bin Laden called the “strong horse” is, for a messianic movement on the march, the ultimate recruiting tool.
Will this affect the election? While there is widespread dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of the Islamic State, in most races it has not risen to the level of major campaign issue. Its principal effect is to reinforce an underlying, preexisting sense of drift and disarray.
The anemic economy, the revulsion with governmental incompetence and the sense of national decline are, taken together, exacting a heavy toll on Democratic candidates. After all, they represent not just the party now in government but the of government.
This portends a bad night for Democrats on Tuesday. State-by-state pollsshow continued Democratic control of the Senate to be highly tenuous.
With one caveat. Democrats could make it up with the so-called ground game (i.e., getting out the vote on Election Day) that polls do not measure. Just a fraction of the unprecedented success the Democrats enjoyed in 2012 in identifying and turning out their voters (especially young, female and minority) could shift the results by one or two points. That, in turn, could tilt several of the knife-edge, margin-of-error Senate races in their favor and transform what would otherwise be a Republican sweep into something of a stalemate.
This could happen. More likely, however, is that the ground-game differential is minor, in which case the current disenchantment — with disorder and diminishment — simply overwhelms the governing Democrats.
The stage is set for a major Republican victory. If they cannot pull it off under conditions so politically favorable, perhaps they might consider looking for another line of work.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Today's Tune: Nikki Lane - Gone, Gone, Gone

Madison Bumgarner saves the Giants

S.F. wins Series behind MVP ace, who pitches five heroic innings of shutout relief

October 30, 2014

Giants ace Bumgarner wins World Series MVP
San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner celebrates with the MVP trophy after Game 7 of baseball's World Series against the Kansas City Royals Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. The Giants won 3-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The bullpen gate opened in the bottom of the fifth inning, and here he came.
It was Madison K. Bumgarner, on his way to the office, to a lonely pitcher's mound in someone else's stadium. To a place where he could do those amazing things that he does.
Where he could save a game. Save a season. Save the San Francisco Giants. Rewrite the October history books. And, when his day's work was done, lug his team to the summit of a mountain that few groups of men have ever scaled.
It was Game 7 of the World Series. But really, it had turned into Madison Bumgarner's game. And Madison Bumgarner's October. And, especially, Madison Bumgarner's World Series.
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Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesMadison Bumgarner has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest World Series pitchers of all time.
"How it ended today pretty much summed up the Giants in the World Series," said his friend and teammate Jeremy Affeldt. "That guy carried us. He flat-out carried us."
How it ended Wednesday night was how the Giants' championship season had to end. With October's most dominant figure dominating one more time. This time as an emergency reliever, doing what no one had ever done in any World Series ever, in an epic 3-2 win over a Royals team that was able to triumph this October over everyone but him.
The Giants would have been happy to get a couple of innings out of Bumgarner in this game. He gave them five. Five? Seriously? Five innings? Of two-hit shutout relief? On two days' rest? In Game 7 of the World Series?
Right. Five. That isn't just how legends are made. That is how major motion pictures are made.
"I don't think I really have words to describe it," Affeldt said, as incredulous as the rest of us. "To throw seven [innings] and then throw nine and then, two days later, to throw five? You're in the World Series. You're pitching against the best hitters in the world. In Game 7. ... That can't happen. I don't think it will ever happen again. I just don't. I don't even know if we're real right now. I don't even know if I'm talking to you after that happened."
Oh, but it was real, all right. As real as the World Series trophy these players were reverently passing around their locker room. As real as the Mumm Napa Brut they'd spent the past 20 minutes uncorking. As real as the confetti that will be floating in the California sky later this week as the Giants parade through San Francisco for the third time in five years.
So let's try to digest what just happened here. The Giants of Mays, McCovey and Marichal won zero World Series. The often star-studded Giants teams that took the field from 1923 through 2009 won two World Series in 87 seasons, none of them after heading west for San Francisco in 1958.
And then came this group. A group that found the keys to the magic carpet. And rode it to three World Series titles in five years -- a feat no National League team had accomplished since the 1942-44-46 St. Louis Cardinals.
Those 2010 and 2012 Giants teams defied expectations, too. But at least those teams had a classic October-style foundation, with one of the best rotations on the planet ready to be rolled out in one series after another.
This team, on the other hand, didn't have a rotation like that. It also arrived in October with no Matt Cain, no Angel Pagan, no Marco Scutaro and, for all intents and purposes, no Tim Lincecum. It was a team that went eight games under .500 over its final 98 games. And it was, essentially, the 10th seed in a 10-team postseason field, the NL's second wild card, grateful to be allowed to even make the tournament.
It had a left fielder (Travis Ishikawa) who had never started a big league game in left field until the third-to-last game of the season. It had a No. 3 hitter (Buster Posey) who was so worn down by the grind of catching that he got no extra-base hits in 69 postseason at-bats. It had an emergency leadoff hitter (Gregor Blanco) who hit .153 in October and .143 in the World Series. And it had a rotation that would record the incomprehensible total of 49 outs in the five World Series games not started by its ace.
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ESPN Stats & Information
So how did this team win the World Series? Even in a locker room drenched with champagne, that was a tough question to answer.
"Standing here right now, I honestly don't know," Hunter Pence said. "I don't know how we won."
OK, so let's tell him how they won. They won because they employed a right fielder named Hunter Pence, the energizer and part-time motivational speaker who hit .444 (12-for-27) in this World Series.
They won because they employed Pablo Sandoval, the hit machine who smoked three more hits in Game 7 to raise his career World Series batting average to .426 (20-for-47), the third-best of all time among players with at least 40 Fall Classic at-bats.
They won because their manager is a guy named Bruce Bochy, who booked his future journey to Cooperstown by becoming the 10th manager in history to win at least three World Series, and only the second (along with Connie Mack) to win three World Series in five years for a team not known as "the Yankees."
But let's be honest here. You don't need to break down the video to understand the real reason this team won the World Series. The real reason could be summed up kind of like this:
Madison Bumgarner.
He'd already performed the job of suffocating No. 1 starter, in Games 1 and 5 of this World Series. But then, for his final act of October heroism, came this -- only the third five-inning save in any baseball game, regular season or postseason, in the past quarter-century. Insane.
"Just when you don't think there's any more room for him to grow, he takes it to another level," said reliever Javier Lopez, one of the many members of the Giants' bullpen whose presence was rendered moot by Bumgarner in Game 7. "I don't think we've even scratched the surface of what this guy can do. And he wants the ball, whether it's starting or relieving. He's taking everybody's job."
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John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsPablo Sandoval, who is soon to become a free agent, went 3-for-3 with two runs scored in Game 7.
The starting pitcher on this night, Tim Hudson, got exactly five outs, the shortest Game 7 start by any pitcher on any team since Bob Turley got three outs in 1960. And no matter who was lurking in that bullpen, no matter that the game was still tied (2-2) when Hudson faded down the dugout steps, and no matter how aggressive the manager planned to manage on this night, that's a crummy formula for winning a game like this.
No team had won a Game 7 in which its starter failed to make it through the second inning since 1947. But Affeldt galloped to the rescue and got them through the fourth inning, with his 22nd consecutive scoreless postseason outing, the longest streak in history by pitchers not named Mariano Rivera. And then ...
It was time for You Know Who.
And as Madison Bumgarner sauntered in from the bullpen, something about his aura struck his center fielder, Gregor Blanco.
"He was just so calm," Blanco said.
Right. As always. And he spread that calm to everyone around him. He grabbed the resin bag and juggled it. He kicked at the dirt on the mound until he'd sculpted it precisely to his liking. And then he did what he has been doing all month:
He took over this game.
"I never take anything for granted," Blanco said. "But I've got to say, to have Madison on the mound was a big relief."
[+] EnlargeGiants consecutive playoff series wins
ESPN Stats and Info
And why not? Bumgarner gave up a single to the first hitter he faced, Omar Infante. And that was that. For the next hour. He buzzed through the next 14 Royals to reach home plate. And only four other pitchers have retired that many hitters in a row in any winner-take-all World Series game ever played. But the other four were all starters, of course.
So out he went, inning after inning. For the sixth. For the seventh. For the eighth. This was Madison Bumgarner'sRandy Johnson moment. Except that in Game 7, 2001, the Unit was asked to get only three outs. The Giants' ace was asked to get 15.
"But he was so confident," Pence said, "and doing so good that there was like a momentum switch. Obviously, you could see he was locked in. But you could also feel it. You could feel how good he was."
The ace took a raucous crowd of 40,535 very loud people and neutralized them. He took a Royals offense that had piled up 10 eye-popping runs the night before and switched off their ignition.
And for the Giants, a game that seemed very much in doubt suddenly seemed to be in total control. All because the man on the mound was oblivious to the forces that had done in every road team in the previous nine Game 7's, stretched out over the previous 35 years.
He was never supposed to go out there for the eighth. He was never supposed to go out there for the ninth. But as the outs and the zeroes kept mounting, it became clear to everyone: It would have taken a court order to get Bruce Bochy to yank Madison Bumgarner out of this game.
"If Boch would have told Bum he was done," Affeldt chuckled, "I think he would have had two pitchers standing on the mound out there in the ninth inning."
Down went Eric Hosmer for the first out in the ninth. Down went Billy Butler for the second out in the ninth. Bumgarner jumped ahead of Alex Gordon, 0-and-1. The end was obviously near. Except it wasn't.
Gordon looped a soft, sinking liner toward left-center field. Blanco sprinted toward it, listened to his brain tell him he was going to catch it, then realized his brain had lied. He tried to hit the brakes and keep it in front of him -- "but it was too late," he said.
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John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsMadison Bumgarner retired 14 straight batters between the two hits he allowed over five innings.
Suddenly, the baseball hip-hopped past him and toward the wall. Gordon roared around second. Left fielder Juan Perez juggled it on the track. And for one brief moment, every Giant on the field had the terrifying thought that Gordon was going to circle the bases and score -- until he pulled into third and stopped.
"I just watched the highlights," pitching coach Dave Righetti reported afterward. "And it looked like he tripped a little coming around second. It looked like he lost his stride. But suppose he'd stayed on stride. I wonder what would have happened."
Well, we'll never know. And the Giants will never have to wonder again. Because Madison Bumgarner had to get one more out. And he got it. When Salvador Perez's pop-up returned to earth and landed in Sandoval's mitt, the improbable journey of the 2014 Giants was complete. And the legend of Madison Bumgarner was born.
His career World Series ERA was down to 0.25, the lowest by any pitcher in history with at least 25 innings pitched. His ERA in this postseason, over a record 52.2 innings, had shrunk to 1.01, the best of any pitcher with 40 or more innings in any postseason.
His five-inning save was four outs longer than any save in World Series history. And his two wins, a shutout and a save -- in the same World Series -- represented a feat never accomplished by any other pitcher since saves became an official statistic more than four decades ago. Not by Johnson. Not by Schilling. Not by Maddux. Not by Morris. Just him.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Bumgarner would say later, when asked what it felt like to make World Series history. "There's not been near enough time to think about it."
But there will be plenty of time to think and sink in the days and weeks and months ahead. For Madison Bumgarner, life will never be the same. And for that team he plays for, another parade is waiting.
"I'm guessing that some of these guys won't have to pay for a meal in San Francisco for a long time," Righetti said. "And one thing I know for sure is, Madison Bumgarner won't."

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer,

The Miracle that Makes the Red Sea Look Like a Child’s Joke

A Q & A with prominent evangelical author Eric Metaxas

By Corrie Smith
October 29, 2014

Despite living in an increasingly skeptical, secular society, most Americans believe miracles continue to occur today just as they were recorded to in ancient times. Still, in his recent book Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life, prominent evangelical author Eric Metaxas tries to persuade readers to take a fuller look at miracles. He believes some of us need a more open mind, while others could use a more critical eye.

I asked Metaxas a few questions about his take on all things miraculous.

What is your definition of a miracle?

Webster’s Dictionary says, “an extra event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” I think that’s about right. David Hume, who talked a lot about miracles, said it’s “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.”
I concur with both, but what I really say is that a miracle is when something outside of the material, natural world of time and space comes into the material, natural world of time and space.

Do you write anything in this book that you think could convince skeptics that miracles happen?

First of all, I invite the skeptic to see what he thinks, because I don’t want to believe in any of this if it’s not true. So I say, “Look at these facts that we have. What do you make of these facts?” The second half of the book is stories, most of which are just tremendously interesting and amazing, and you have to ask yourself the question, “What do we make of these stories?” So, I invite skeptics into the reasoning process, and I say, “If I’m missing something, what am I missing?”
In the first half of the book, I similarly try to engage the mind so that people can reason their way through it, as opposed to simply dismissing it ideologically. I think people accept miracles ideologically and they can be gullible, they’re not thinking it through. But [also] I think people dismiss the miraculous ideologically without any evidence for dismissing it. It’s just something that they’ve decided that they want to do and they’re not really looking at it carefully. So, I really do want people to be as careful about how they think about the miraculous as we are when we talk about science or math.

Do you believe the universe is governed by natural laws? Can those laws be broken?

There’s no doubt that the universe is governed by natural laws, but if we believe that the universe once did not exist and then at some moment came into existence, we have to ask, “What was it that somehow, beyond time and space, beyond the natural world, brought the natural world into existence?”
So, if there’s anything that did that, then you have to ask yourself the logical question. Why couldn’t that something beyond the natural world speak into the natural world, put information into the system, add information to the system, so to speak?

As you know, C.S. Lewis wrote a book on the same subject by the same title . . . was there something you hoped to do here that he didn’t?

To write a more readable book . . . . Look, nobody could ever compete with Lewis in the brilliance department — he’s practically my favorite writer, but his Miracles book is not the sort of thing I would give a friend. It’s hard to read, and he hasn’t approached it the way I have. He decided to take a very philosophical tack. I’ve taken a little bit more of a popular tack, because I want to invite the “average” reader. I say that the first half of my book is like C.S. Lewis-lite.

What do you think has changed between Lewis’ time and ours? Are there any new cultural conditions that you had to keep in mind that weren’t on his radar?

The most important thing is — and this is the great irony — for the first time in history, we have so much scientific information, more than we have ever had, that leads us to think there’s something beyond the world, or that the world itself was designed. You could not say that of the science in C.S. Lewis’ day.
To use the famous words of Fred Hoyle, the atheist scientist, he said the universe looks like a put-up job. It’s too neat. It’s too perfect. It couldn’t have just happened. It disturbed his atheism, because he said there’s too much information that we know. The more science learns, the more — ironically — it pushes us to this idea that there seems to have been an intelligence that created everything, because otherwise it couldn’t be just as it is.
In fact, I say that the greatest miracle ever, without a doubt, is the creation of the universe and the creation of a planet that can support life. It’s a mind-blowing miracle that makes the Red Sea look like a child’s joke. This is precisely what science has taught us. So, in a funny way, science comes close to proving the existence of God.

How big of an issue are miracles for Christianity?

If you don’t believe in miracles on some level, there is no Christianity. If you don’t believe that the Old and New Testaments are true, if you don’t believe the Resurrection, if you don’t believe in the parting of the Red Sea, if you don’t believe that Jesus did the miracles that he did, then you just have a bunch of ethics. You don’t have any Christianity.
So, Christianity can never be divorced from miracles. The only question is: What exactly do we believe about miracles? What miracles do we take seriously?

Can you describe a miracle you’ve witnessed?

Part of what makes miracle stories compelling is context, so it’s very hard to give a quick answer. The most obvious are healings. I have this friend who had a stroke and was sure that on a particular day his leg would be healed, and that’s exactly what happened. But the details are what make the story just stunning. And then he went on to pray for a number of people who in turn have been healed from severe allergies and impossible-to-cure diseases.
For me, my conversion story is the most fundamental. I had this dream, and I tell the story in depth, but it’s just an extraordinary thing. My life was absolutely changed overnight, and the details of the dream are what just completely stunned me and changed everything literally overnight. And then the proof is in the pudding — my life changed dramatically. If you’re solving for “x,” how do you account for this change? Where does it come from?

How do you wrestle with miracles happening for some but not everyone?

That is absolutely one of the biggest questions — and I deal with that in the book. It’s complicated to answer, because that’s a huge question, but it has to be answered. If you can’t answer that, if you can’t deal with that, you have no business talking about miracles.
It’s a central question that everyone has, and I think maybe the answer would be that you end up talking about the nature of the God behind the miracles. Miracles are never just about miracles — they’re about the God behind the miracles. So you have to ask yourself the question, “What kind of a God would allow children to die of cancer, but would give me a parking space if I pray for it?” You have to actually think about that. Is this something that I can reconcile? At the end of the day, I do reconcile it. But it bears asking and it bears looking into in some depth.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Corrie Mitchell
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Poison Tree of Jihad

Why can’t we acknowledge that the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and Hamas have a shared ideology?