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It will be the obvious headline of many columns and posts for the next two weeks, so let me be one of the first to remark on the obvious: a Patriots-Giants rematch in the Super Bowl to determine whether the Pats go undefeated this year, after the Giants nearly stopped the winning streak at the end of the regular season, presents one of the most intriguing match-ups of the last twenty years. 

It’s too late to make a prediction for the Seahawks-Packers game, which has understandably turned into a rout of Seattle, but I will go out on a limb and say that the Jaguars are going to surprise some people (though probably not those who have been following Jacksonville closely) and defeat the Patriots with their running game 35-24.  Tomorrow, the Colts and Cowboys win by at least a touchdown.

Update: Jaguars lead 7-0 after first drive. Never mind.  My prediction also cursed the Colts and the Cowboys in their games.

The Red Sox are dominating the Rockies 13-1 in the top of the ninth.  Fortunately, this is the first of the first two games in Boston, so perhaps Colorado will be warmed up by the next one. 

Even if you aren’t a Colorado fan, do you really want to see another Red Sox championship?  I mean, c’mon, they’ve already had their quota for this century.  Twice in the same decade would be unseemly.

For clarification, in baseball I believe it is generally considered permissible to support a team from the same league in the post-season (this is especially true of National League fans, who are morally obligated to oppose any AL team in the World Series on the assumption that this team will very often be the Yankees), but only if the team is not a division rival.  The more bitter of a division rival the team is, the less acceptable supporting their post-season play will be.  Supporting your team’s historic, bitter division rival is obviously entirely unacceptable.  Doing so as part of political pandering should normally result in deportation, but standards are slipping.

P.S.  There is one gray zone, which may permit supporting the team that defeated your team in the latest round of the playoffs on the grounds that you may find some consolation in having lost to the overall champion, but this is generally viewed as a weak excuse.  This does not usually conflict with the no-support-for-division-rival rule, since it is relatively rare, even with wild cards, for division rivals to meet in the playoffs.  If there is a direct conflict, as there was in the Yankees-Red Sox matchup a few years ago, the division rival rule obviously takes precedence.

P.P.S.  There is also a general New York exception for all non-New York fans, which means that in the event that either New York club reaches the World Series or (horror of horrors) there is a subway series, it is not only permitted, but positively encouraged, for them to support the non-New York team or simply pretend that the entire thing is a bad dream.

As many of us have known for a long time, Giuliani is a treacherous baseball fan, having turned against the Dodgers when he lived in Brooklyn and now allying himself with the Red Sox.  It’s as if I were to start cheering for the Cubs or Cardinals because my own team had been eliminated.  It’s absurd.

As an original native of Denver, where I was born, I have been especially impressed and stunned by the Rockies’ surge to the World Series.  When the Rockies began as an expansion team, I took some interest in them as the nearest baseball franchise to Albuquerque and as a team representing my birthplace, but they were never going to displace my attachment to Houston.  Their bumbling (mis)management over the last decade made it painful to think about the franchise, and O’Dowd seemed dedicated to ensuring perpetual mediocrity.  No longer. 

Even so, it was a great shock to see the Rockies capture the wild card in an end-of-season sprint, and sweep through the first two rounds in record time.  They wiped out their playoff competition so quickly that they have had a week to recover while the Indians and Red Sox bludgeon each other in a complete seven-game series. 

On the other side, I do hope that the Indians finally prevail in the AL, because the only thing as obnoxious as a satisfied Yankee fan is a proud Red Sox fan.  Also, as Tom Piatak has explained, the Indians represent the forces of good fighting against those of evil

Not to jinx anything before the series is over, but I wouldn’t be much of an Astros fan living in the Southside of Chicago if I didn’t take a moment to enjoy the suffering and humiliation of the Cubs at the hands of the Diamondbacks thus far.  In Game 3, Arizona leads the Cubs 3-0 in the 4th, and it’s a best-of-five series.  It’s never over till it’s over, but it appears that the Cubs will not be advancing.  This is a very good thing. 

Update: It’s bottom of the seventh, and the Diamondbacks lead 4-1. Now bottom of the ninth, Arizona leading 5-1.  I think we can look forward to an all-Southwest NL Championship.  Rockies win in 5.

But can China compel the junta to do the right thing?

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Surely China will have to “fix” the problem, analysts argue, because of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. 

————

Last night I saw the news reports saying two military divisions had arrived in Rangoon, including the 22nd —one of the same units deployed to Rangoon in 1988. ~Melinda Liu

This last point is one of the more telling observations of the article.  The question about China forcing the junta to “do the right thing” assumes that Beijing sees the “right thing” to be the same as other outsiders do.  I am doubtful that the Chinese government sees it this way.  As the article relates, China has tried to distance itself from its more disreputable satellites in recent months, but any expectation that China wants to stop the crackdown in Burma because of the ‘08 Olympics seems mistaken.  There is no guarantee that China’s economic interests in Burma would be seriously threatened by a destabilisation or ousting of the junta, but it is likely not something that the Chinese government wants to risk.  Any government that replaced the junta would be made up of those democrats who will remember China’s backing of the junta for all these years. 

Even if economic realities dictate that Burma remain tied to China for the present, resentment against China’s role in the junta’s grip on power could fuel a strong reaction against the Chinese.  (Consider how radicalised Iranians reacted against the United States as a model of what might happen.)  There have been strong expressions of anti-Chinese sentiment in other outposts of Beijing’s informal empire:

While China likes to portray itself as a benign force in Africa, free of the historical baggage carried by the former colonial powers, Beijing’s conduct is already resented.

During last year’s presidential election in Zambia, the leading opposition candidate, Michael Sata, campaigned on an explicitly anti-Chinese ticket. Beijing’s investment was, Mr Sata argued, almost entirely worthless for Zambia.    

China has every interest at this point in backing the junta, even if it engages in a brutal crackdown.  Those who think that hosting the Olympics inspires good international behaviour should recall that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December of the year before the Moscow games.  There was a U.S. boycott, of course, which did nothing substantial to harm Moscow.  If one of China’s satellites does something vicious between now and next summer, it will affect Beijing even less.

P.S. Joshua Kurlantzick has a good article on Burma in The New Republic, which concludes:

Apparently convinced they’d risk no serious sanction, in September 1988 the Burmese military stepped in, staging a kind of auto-coup. In the course of suppressing protests, Burmese troops killed as many as three-thousand people. Today, similar fears are rising. More soldiers reportedly are taking positions in Rangoon, and the regime reportedly is recruiting criminals, possibly to infiltrate protests and cause havoc, a tactic utilized in 1988. Burmese opposition radio has reported rumors that senior junta leader Than Shwe has ordered that authorities can use violence to squash demonstrations. Twenty years on, 1988 looks nearer than ever.

Look, if we were at all serious about public diplomacy, we’d have had all our regional experts who speak Arabic flooding the airwaves apologizing for Condi’s immensely tone-deaf “birth pangs” comment during the Lebanon-Israeli war the summer before last, when the entire Islamic world was enraged by images of cluster munitions being littered willy-nilly through south Lebanon, not to mention the horrific incident at Qana. Or she would follow her predecessor Colin Powell’s recommendation to close Guantanamo without delay, by having a come to Jesus w/ the Decider about how the Cuban penal colony (along with the hooded man at Abu Ghraib) was overshadowing the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of America among many around the world.

These would be the makings of a serious public diplomacy effort, not this breezy, palsy-walsy festiveness with Cal [Ripken]. But what good does it do to scream on like this? You do public diplomacy with the public diplomacy team you have…. ~Greg Djerejian

Via Yglesias

I agree.  Then again, if we were serious about public diplomacy we would have a lot more regional experts who speak Arabic working for the government than we do right now.

Djerejian is responding to this unfortunate episode, catching Secretary Rice saying something especially silly:

I’ll bet he’s going to go out and find people who want to be Cal Ripken in…Pakistan, people who want to be Cal Ripken in Guatemala, people who want to be Cal Ripken in Europe, and that’s the wonderful thing about sports…it really transcends culture and it transcends identity.

That must be why we are all such avid soccer and cricket fans here, and hockey is wildly popular in Brazil.

He agreed to a $28 million, one-year contract that will start when he is added to the major league roster for his first start, most likely in three to four weeks. Clemens will earn about $18.5 million under the deal, which will cost the Yankees approximately $7.4 million in additional luxury tax, meaning they are investing about $26 million in a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who will turn 45 in August. ~AP

As longtime readers of the blog will know, I am an Astros fan and have been since I was five years old.  When Clemens, a native Texan, came out of retirement in Houston a few years back, it was generally understood (at least publicly) that he was only doing this because playing in Houston afforded him a chance to play baseball while being able to spend more time with his family.  Apparently that was nothing more than a lot of PR garbage, and I should have realised as much at the time. 

Now he has turned his back on his hometown and gone to serve the dreadful Yankees, who are to the integrity of baseball what Dick Cheney is to responsible foreign policy.  Of course, it’s not hard to see why: any ballclub stupid enough to throw that much money at a 45-year old pitcher deserves to be taken to the cleaners, and forcing the Yankees to cough up $26 million for one year’s work (minus spring training!) from Clemens is the sort of karmic retribution that George Steinbrenner undoubtedly deserves but so rarely receives.  In that sense, I can appreciate what Clemens is doing, and I can take some pleasure knowing that the Yankees have unloaded enormous amounts of money to destroy the Astros’ rotation (they took Pettite before this) but will ultimately not benefit from the expense.   

Your next speaker grew up in Brooklyn when the Dodgers were still there, and nevertheless rooted for the Yankees. ~George Will at CPAC

How does treason to one’s home borough recommend a man to anyone?  You might as well say, “Our next speaker grew up in America during the Cold War, but nonetheless supported the expansion of Soviet communism.”  How on earth does it make him comparable to Margaret Thatcher?  Was she also in the habit of despising her hometown?  I think not. 

What sort of decent person roots for the Yankees anyway?

On Wednesday, Saban became the Alabama coach. And Dolphins fans were not happy. Chagrined by Saban’s departure, two years after he came to South Florida from Louisiana State, many fans flooded the airwaves Wednesday with claims that included deception and carpetbagging. ~The New York Times

Most of you probably couldn’t care less about Nick Saban, and on the whole I’m not that interested in his story myself, but for the past month there has been endless speculation about whether he would betray yet another deal he had made with his employers in Miami and become the coach at Alabama.  He had already betrayed LSU when he swore he would not leave the coaching position there…right before he left for Miami.  For the last month, he has been stating clearly and unequivocally that he would under no circumstances leave his job as coach of the Dolphins to take over in Tuscaloosa.  After so many categorical denials, even I, ever the cynic, assumed that he was telling the truth.  What sort of louse would keep saying the same thing with no intention of following through on it?  Oh, right, the Nick Saban kind. 

I hope the Crimson Tide wind up in some no-name bowl contest.  I hope they lose–badly–to Auburn.  I hope they get shut out by Tennessee.  If there is justice in the world of college football, Nick Saban will become a joke.  Unfortunately, he is quite capable as a football coach and will probably do quite well for that program.  As was pointed out to me, however, to leave the NFL to go down to Alabama is hardly a success story after winning the championship with LSU.  Even if he finds some success, the people in Alabama would have to be fools to ever believe another word that comes out of his mouth. 

Turning to sports, the Detroit Tigers, who lost 119 games just two years ago, have whipped the New York Yankees in the playoffs. I take this as a sign of divine wrath, not against the Yankees, or even George Steinbrenner, but against the Yankee fans, whom Jonathan Swift described as “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”  ~Joseph Sobran

The lines from the Nietzsche poem adapted by Mahler in his Third Symphony, which I heard performed brilliantly tonight, seem particularly appropriate for Mets fans tonight as they watched their team go down in the most painful fashion.  After the symphony, I caught the tail-end of the game as I had dinner in a nearby restaurant. 

Having given up a two-run HR in the top of the ninth, the Mets seemed set to make a comeback, though the odds were obviously against them.  The first batter made contact–a short blooper fell into center-right.  One man on.  Then a shot to left.  Two men on, still no outs.  Then, as I recall, a strikeout by Floyd, followed by Reyes flying out to center.  Then Wainwright walked Lo Duca, and the bases were loaded as Carlos Beltran came to the plate.  He got behind in the count, and then, as the tension mounted…he looked at a called third strike and the game was over.  What a way to go out.  To strike out looking is the most bitterly unsatisfying way to end a season.   

Again, again, the lousy Cardinals advance to the World Series (raise your hands if you are extremely tired of Tony La Russa).  But take heart, Mets fans–the Astros went down to a similar defeat in the ‘04 NLCS and came back the next year to get humiliated by the White Sox in four straight.  This, too, can be yours someday.

But let us be cheered by thoughts from Nietzsche:

Lust tiefer noch als Herzeleid!
Weh spricht: Vergeh!
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit!
Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!

Even with the distribution challenges Versus faces, the best news for the NHL is that it still has a great game and can draw talent from around the world to play in its league. Countries in the northern hemisphere will continue to churn out great hockey players and the infrastructure for high school and collegiate teams is still growing in America, even in the south after the success of the Carolina Hurricanes. Older than both the NFL and the NBA, hockey isn’t going to disappear without a fight. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

It takes a bold man to write an article on the fortunes of professional hockey.  Fortunately, we have just such a courageous and intrepid fellow in Michael.  He gives the NHL fair treatment, probably more than it deserves, and takes us on a nostalgic trip to the salad days of hockey when the Canadiens were still respectable, there were teams called Whalers, Nordiques and Jets and there was no hockey in the bizarre setting of Arizona.

No, I’m not referring to Republican support for Medicare D.  I’m referring to the sense of entitlement and sometimes excessive expectations that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Yankees fans generally have when it comes to postseason success.  We all know that the Yankees are the team with the greatest resources and the biggest market, which for some reason makes us think that they will produce the best baseball team.  Just as America’s being the wealthiest nation produces the wisest politicians and greatest artists, right? 

No doubt, man for man the Yankees have an intimidating line-up, and they came out on top in their division, but were it not for the Tigers’ end-of-season weakening the Yankees would have been playing the team with the best record in the league.  By all rights, the Tigers were the better team, and it showed this past week.  Given the Tigers’ impressive showing for most of the year, if there was any team that ought to have beaten New York it was Detroit (it isn’t every day you can say that with a straight face). 

When you lose a series 3-1, it is almost always because the other side was simply the superior team.  Yet, according to Steinbrenner, losing to what is probably the best team in baseball this year is a “sad failure.”  I can see why Yankee fans would be disappointed, but is it a “sad failure”?  Give it a rest.  Contrary to Yankee propaganda, the World Series is not their private exhibition game and the championship is not always theirs to lose.  Steinbrenner, in the tradition of megalomaniac owners everywhere, will fire his manager in what is sure to be seen as a mistake.  If he hires Piniella, last seen unsuccessfully leading the Devil Rays to their regular sub-par level, he will probably have quite a few more “sad failures” in his future.  

In the Times, David Brooks writes an unusually entertaining and uncharacteristically pessimistic column:

Aeschylus writes: “God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

This is how a true Mets fan greets impending loss. And come to think of it, this is not bad preparation for what’s about to befall Republicans, either.

I suspect everyone’s favourite Mets fan will object to the comparison of the Mets and the GOP.  Besides the doom of defeat, what could they possibly share?  But will he share in this Brooksian lament, or has he been swept up in the ecstasy of the 3-0 sweep?   

That got him thinking about the formula itself. One element was partisanship, certainly, but another ingredient, he suspected, was loneliness – like what he felt when he started Kos. It reminded him of how homesick he felt as a Chicago Cubs fan in the Bay Area. ~Ana Marie Cox, Wired

Of course Kos is a Cubs fan.  Only a Cubs fan could create such organised whining.  Cubs fans already have their own abundant need to whine about their long drought and the Curse.  It makes the perfect introduction to the politics of irrational grievance. 

But the mentality of victimhood has been carried too far. The Pakistanis are muttering about ending their tour of England and abandoning the one-day series if their captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, is suspended from international cricket as a result of events at the Oval. But the Pakistanis are entirely the authors of their own misfortune. They could have made a protest about Darrell Hair’s judgment without refusing to play, but instead they chose to behave like spoilt children, locking themselves in the dressing room and showing no respect for the laws of the game or the paying public. They knew what they were doing by failing to come out on to the field after tea on Sunday and now seem reluctant to pay the price of breaking the law.

Sadly all too many commentators have indulged the Pakistani protest by exaggerating its importance. We are told that this is cricket’s ‘darkest hour’, that the sport is now ‘in turmoil’. A little sense of perspective is required. No lives have been lost, unlike in the notorious Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras in July 1969, when tensions between the two Central American nations spilled over into armed conflict after Honduran fans were beaten up during a World Cup match in San Salvador. In the aftermath of the soccer violence, diplomatic relations were broken off, and revenge killings were perpetrated against Salvadoreans. The antagonism descended into war, which saw 2,000 civilians killed in military offensives before a ceasefire was called. Now that really was a sporting crisis.

Even within cricket, the Darrell Hair row is pretty small beer. It has little of the resonance of the bodyline controversy of 1932–33, when Australia threatened to withdraw from the Empire because of England’s brutal strategy of short-pitched fast bowling. Nor does it have the grandeur of the long-running boycott of South Africa, which was prompted by the apartheid government’s refusal to accept the England touring team of 1968 because it contained the non-white player Basil d’Oliveira. The boycott ultimately helped to bring about the end of white-only rule, whereas the current Oval dispute will achieve nothing except to lose English cricket money. ~Leo McKinstry, The Spectator

An American equivalent might be if the Dallas Mavericks, disgusted by the horrendous officiating in the Finals this year, decided to not show up for Game 4, or closer to the British scene it would have been as if England’s team had walked off the field after Rooney was ejected with a questionable red card.  Most people would understand that any team that did this would forfeit the game in question.  I can understand why the Pakistani team was upset at the ball-tampering ruling, but that is really no excuse.