Comments on the Red Sox 2008 season:

Let’s be blunt, this year’s Bosox were not the World Series winners of last year. Many of the big names who had been responsible for last year’s success, did not do as well, this time around. The newer guys who were called upon to fill the gap certainly tried valiantly, but just could not fill it completely.

The 2008 season:

Bay: As a replacement for Ramirez, what a deal! Sure, you give up a home-run machine … but in return you get a decent hitter who can actually field the ball, and who doesn’t fake injuries, mouth off to the press like a whiny kid, or push middle-aged people around (literally). Ramirez did great for the Dodgers, to be sure … but that was in the NL West, not exactly a bastion of challenging baseball. Bay, on the other hand, improved his batting performance when he left the Pirates for the much-tougher AL East. If that doesn’t show you what he’s made of, I don’t know what will.

Pedroia: 2008 may turn out to be his “career season,” but then again, it may turn out to be a sign of much more to come. Either way he excelled all-around. If he isn’t named the AL MVP, there is no justice.

Ellsbury: What happened to this once-promising rookie? He’s a great outfielder, but suffered several long batting droughts. He’s not going to be much good if he keeps that trend up. He’s a future hall-of-famer, if he can be more consistent with the bat.

Pitching — Sox pitching was not what you’d call stellar in the last half of the season. There’s a reason the Rays took the lead in the AL East at mid-season and held it for months, and that reason was the Sox pitchers. While Lester had a no-hitter and ended the season with a great ERA, he had difficulty in the ALCS and ended up the losing pitcher, twice. Something happened to Beckett late in the season; I have no idea what, nor does anyone else, aside from some Sox talk about him sleeping wrong on his arm (huh?). Buchholz fell completely apart and was nothing like the guy who threw a no-hitter last year in his second MLB outing, although like a trouper he endured a “rehab” trip down to the minors and ended up back there. Masterson successfully converted from a starter to reliever and possibly a closer. Matsuzaka won many more games than he had any right to, given the number of hits and walks he gave up.

Injuries/Illnesses — In this department the Sox were a sad tale of woe, although aside from Ramirez’s non-injured knee(s), no one was to blame. (The jury is out on Beckett’s arm, since we don’t know what happened to it, or even if anything did.) The season got off to a poor start when a number of Sox players brought some sort of flu back with them from their early games in Japan. Ortiz’s wrist was a real setback for the Big Papi, he wasn’t quite the same after returning. It turns out Lowell was dealing with a hip problem nearly all season; only in the last few weeks did it prevent him from playing. (That Lowell played hurt only made Ramirez’s injury-fakes all the more reprehensible.) Drew’s back put him out of commission, and Lugo was sidelined from mid-season on by his own injury. There’s no doubt that, had the Bosox not been as banged-up as they were, things might well have turned out differently.

Looking forward to 2009, by functional area:

Catching — Things are rocky behind the plate for the Sox. Varitek is nearly as good a defensive catcher as there is in baseball, but his bat is anemic. He was effective in leadership and in calling pitches, but sometimes the pitchers were not able to deliver what he called. His free agency creates a problem for the Sox; he’s not worth getting into a bidding war over, but the alternative, relying on Cash, is not an attractive option either. Cash is good, but not that good, nor is he experienced enough to replace Varitek as a pitch-caller and leader. The best we can hope for is to keep Varitek another year at a modest salary, have him pick up his batting, and keep grooming Cash to replace him.

Infield — The Sox are looking good here. Youkilis is a great fielder and a very good hitter; moreover, he’s not old enough to be declining in his career. Both of these are even more true of Pedroia, who is younger still and may well even improve. Lowrie had his moments and should do well next year. Lowell, who just had surgery, was out for a few stretches of time in 2008; while his surgery suggests he’ll be back next year, one can only hope he’s as good as he was.

Outfield — Another place the Sox look good. Bay is a much better fielder than Ramirez; Crisp and Ellsbury are true athletes; and Kotsay and Drew aren’t shabby either. Their bats are not consistent, though; they all run hot and cold at times (some more than others … Bay was probably more consistent than the rest). Drew’s back may also be a problem in 2009; we can only guess how much he’ll do.

Pitching — Lester is young and I expect he will prove better in 2009. As for the rest? I don’t know. I really don’t. Matsuzaka’s tendency to load the bases is probably going to get him into trouble next year; Wakefield is getting old; and Beckett … well … I have no idea what the hell happened with him. Masterson and Papelbon are promising and will continue their success. Hopefully whatever it was that derailed Buchholz will work itself out. Aside from a few bright spots like Masterson and Papelbon (and hopefully Buchholz), Bosox pitching in 2009 doesn’t look to be all that great.

Hitting — The Sox have some of the best hitters in baseball and for the most part they promise to do well again next year … with a few exceptions. Ortiz did not crank out the homers like he used to, not even before his injury (he had a long hitting drought in April). And Ellsbury was inconsistent. Hopefully spring training will straighten him out.

Competition — The Sox are in what is easily the most competitive division in the MLB. This doesn’t look to change any time soon. 2008 was an off-year for the Yankees; do not assume they won’t come roaring back in 2009. The Rays had an unusual year, and may not prove equal to it in 2009, but they certainly won’t be the AL doormats again. The Blue Jays had an excellent second half under their un-retired winning manager Gaston; if he stays with them instead of retiring again, expect them to be in the upper ranks of the league, too.

The Bottom Line for the Red Sox in 2009:

The Sox have a great outfield and an even better infield, and they have some decent hitters. But they have problems in pitching and catching, and it’s there, in the battery, that games are won or lost. This is even more of a liability in such a competitive division. Barring an unexpectedly wonderful acquisition, or the miraculous collapse of a competitor or two, don’t expect the 2009 Red Sox even to equal their 2008 record. Their final record will be 83-79 at best.

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In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of dissent among conservatives in the US. Blogs and journalists have started covering this, as did the New York Times recently:

In recent weeks some prominent conservative intellectuals seem to have discovered they have two hands after all. In column after column, these writers have alternately praised the virtues of John McCain and Sarah Palin and lamented their shortcomings. …

The Times’s Op-Ed columnist David Brooks, who recently described Governor Palin as a “cancer on the Republican Party,” explained in an interview that the movement is now embroiled in a debate: “Should it go back to the core principles of Ronald Reagan or should it go on to something else? That’s the core issue.”

One would think this growing disaffection within conservatism is something new, but it’s not. It has, rather, been building over the last couple of years.

The conservative discontent manifested mostly in the form of dissatisfaction with the GOP presidential candidates, none of whom were able to appeal broadly to conservatives or Republicans. Some of them had some advantages (Mitt Romney was a successful businessman, Mike Huckabee a loveable Baptist minister, etc.), but they also had drawbacks (Huckabee is too much of a populist, Romney is a Mormon) … and that left John McCain to pick up the pieces, even though he had some liabilities of his own (e.g. his campaign-finance bill passed in 2002 — which made him the friend of the mass media, but made him many enemies from his erstwhile allies on the right).

Excuse me, but I can tell anyone who cares exactly what’s wrong with conservatism in the US in general, and the Republican party specifically. You might guess what I’d say based on the content of the rest of this blog, but I’ll just come out with it anyway: The problem is religion. Specifically the hyperreligion of the overwhelmingly Protestant evangelical Christians. Since they seized control of the GOP in the ’90s, they’ve become an increasingly demanding and volatile element of the party. The religious wing of conservatism were “stay-at-homes” during the 1992 and 1996 elections, due to their displeasure with the GOP candidates (Bush Senior and Bob Dole respectively). Neither was sufficiently religious for their tastes — so they withdrew their support. Having learned this lesson, and fueled by Religious Right™ gains in Congress in the 1994 midterms, in 2000 Bush Jr appealed heavily to the Religious Right™ and was rewarded by being elected.

Since 2000 the entire party has become a puppet of the US evangelicals, hewing strictly to religiosity at every step. They won in 2004 but lost big (much bigger than they would admit) in the 2006 midterms, and are on track to lose even more in 2008.

So long as Republicans keep obeying the hyperreligious will of evangelical Christians, they will continue to lose. They managed, through an understated campaign of anti-Mormon whispering, to undermine Romney, who at one time had almost sewn up the nomination. They then forced McCain to swing into religiosity, cozying up to televangelists and other religious opportunists, which contradicted his erstwhile “maverick” status, and caused the mass media to turn on him in spectacular fashion.

If the Republican party wishes to move into the 21st century, its leaders are going to have to break the chains that have enslaved them to the evangelicals. It really is just that simple.

David Brooks’s question of whether to go back to Reagan conservatism or move on to something else, implies that the Reagan route is most attractive … but it would be a mistake. It was Reagan who opened the door to religiosity in the GOP; while his appeal was not solely religious — he was also popular among “free market” conservatives who were decidedly secular — his alliances with guys like Falwell gave evangelicals a foot in the door, that they were able to exploit later. No, a more definite and explicitly non-religious tactic is called for, if the GOP wishes to succeed after 2008.

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A little over a month ago I blogged about the UK Royal Society’s director of education, Michael Reiss, demanding creationism teaching in science classrooms. I wondered, then, what might have been going through the guy’s head. It turns out that in addition to his scientific degrees, Reiss is an Anglican priest — so my question was answered!

He resigned within a few days, claiming that he was misunderstood, and that he was talking about how to address creationism if a student brought it up in class. While he did discuss such a scenario in his remarks, and he later claimed to believe that creationism is not appropriate in a science classroom, his initial remarks included the following sentence:

I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view.

Reiss’s problem, of course, is that — scientifically speaking — creationism is most assuredly a “misconception.” Whether or not it’s a worldview, is irrelevant, in light of that.

Reiss’s remarks and his subsequent resignation are controversial in Britain’s science world. There are some who think his position reasonable and that he should not have been fired for it. He also has vehement critics. A sampling of the matter:

A defender of Professor Reiss’ position on the BBC radio I heard argued that the creation myth was a metaphor, not to be taken literally. Hence scientists should not be so touchy. A critic could argue, however that if that were the case then that is exactly why the teacher should indeed to refer the pupil to poetry, drama or religious studies where parables as metaphor are appropriate. The problem is that as soon as you bring it into a science lesson you risk confusing science and parable. This is not helped by creationists who insist that the creation myth is not a parable but true and should at the very least be taught as a valid theory alongside evolution. This then makes a mockery of science.

That, of course, is the real problem here. If we were talking about a kid who — say — denies the reality of gravity, that’s easily addressed in science class, by explaining the workings of gravity and devising an experiment to show that it works.

But if a kid says, “Mah preacherman dun tol’ me we ain’t no apes, ’cause the Bobble dun says so,” there is really no way for a science teacher to address and debunk this … because nothing the teacher says or does can do so! The kid’s preacherman has pre-empted any possible scientific response, by convincing the child to take the literal word of the Bible over anything and everything else — including valid, time-tested science. It is, in short, a game that the science teacher cannot win.

What’s more, the science teacher’s failure would only become further “evidence” of creationism’s truth, in the eyes of the child. (There are, in fact, already apocryphal stories of believers demolishing atheist teachers, which are — in spite of their known apocryphal nature — used among other believers as “evidence” of the intellectual bankruptcy of atheism. So don’t think this cannot happen.)

Yes, creationism teaching is an insidious force in the lives of the world’s youngsters. Its goal is not only to indoctrinate them in certain metaphysical beliefs, but also to cheat them of the possibility of ever learning the truth. In short … it’s evil.

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My home state of Connecticut just became the third US state to permit gay marriage, and it came about in the same way as in Massachusetts (the first) and California (the second) — via a state Supreme Court decision (locally-cached version):

The [CT] state Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision Friday that same-sex couples have the right to marry swept through the state with the force of a cultural tidal wave.

While lead plaintiff Beth Kerrigan and her partner — soon to be wife — embraced and sobbed after learning of the ruling, opponents vowed to pursue a long and complicated route to change the constitution to ban gay marriage.

The Supreme Court released its historic ruling at 11:30 a.m. Citing the equal protection clause of the state constitution, the justices ruled that civil unions were discriminatory and that the state’s “understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection.”

“Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice,” the majority wrote. “To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.”

There has been a storm of outrage, of course, as one would expect from among the immature tip of the Right wing:

The Family Institute of Connecticut, a political action group that opposes gay marriage, called the ruling outrageous.

“Even the legislature, as liberal as ours, decided that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said executive director Peter Wolfgang. “This is about our right to govern ourselves. It is bigger than gay marriage.”

Wah wah wah. Too bad you cannot point to anyone on the planet who has ever been harmed because a gay couple got married (instead of just living together or getting a “civil union,” whatever the hell those are). Also his comment about self-governing is a non sequitur, since no one is forcing anyone to enter into a gay marriage — so calm yourself, Petey!

Looks like he also forgot that there is no single definition of marriage, it has changed through history, even within Judeo-Christian tradition. Note to the Religious Right™: Grow up and stop imposing your version of religion on other people.

Finally, a note to any who might be interested: As an ordained bishop in the Apathetic Agnostic Church, I am legally able to marry couples residing in Connecticut, and am more than willing to do so for gay couples who are committed to marriage. Use this Contact Form to get in touch with me about this (note, this is not a Comment box, use the Comments link for that).

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Not far away from me, in Springfield, MA, there is a magical window, at Mercy Medical Center there. It bears an image of the Virgin Mary, it is said. People have flocked from all over to see it:

Hundreds of devout Catholics and curious onlookers have gathered to pray, weep and chant outside a Catholic Springfield hospital window where an image that some say looks like the Virgin Mary has appeared.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, with which this medical center is affiliated, is making hay out of it:

Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Springfield Diocese, said that when he saw the image yesterday it was a “clearly, well-defined outline.” …

He said about 100 people had gathered this morning to see the image – and that is what has moved him.

“You may debate the image, but you can’t debate the faces of the people who are gathered there,” he said. “That’s what is inspiring right now.”

The spokesman’s reference to faces is, of course, a form of the “democratic fallacy” by which things are claimed to have veracity merely because there are people who believe they do. Nice. Lots of logic there, Dupont.

Fortunately, some minds more rational than his have been called in to have a look — specifically some engineers, and they have determined there is actually nothing supernatural about the window:

Engineers say an analysis of a hospital window that hundreds claim displays an apparition of the Virgin Mary indicates the image may be due to a mineral deposit. …

Their report indicated the image may be a mineral deposit that built up in the sealed area between the window’s two panes of glass.

Like most windows in New England, this one is double-paned, meaning it’s two sheets of glass sealed with a vacuum between. Unforunately it’s all too easy for the seal to be breached and for air to get inside, letting who-knows-what seep in and stay behind. It’s much more common than most people are aware.

But it’s not magic.

And I defy anyone to show me where, exactly, the Virgin Mary is in these pictures (see links in this article for photos). Sorry but I don’t see anything recognizable — not even if diocesan spokesman Dupont says I must, just because some are convinced of it.

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That Saudi Arabia is stuck in the Middle Ages is not news. What is news is that a prominent Saudi cleric is taking on what has become a major cultural trend in the Arab world, as reported by Reuters:

A senior Saudi cleric has said purveyors of horoscopes on Arab television should face the death penalty, a paper said on Sunday, days after another cleric argued death for TV owners.

“Sorcerers who appear on satellite channels who are proven to be sorcerers have committed a great crime … and the Muslim consensus is that the apostate’s punishment is death by the sword,” Sheikh Saleh al-Fozan told al-Madina daily. …

Many of the hundreds of Arab satellite channels have sprung up in recent years specialise in horoscopes and other advice to callers on solving problems that is seen as “sorcery.”

In their capacity as judges, clerics of Saudi Arabia’s austere form of Islam often sentence “sorcerers” to death.

Fozan, a member of the Higher Council of Clerics, was responding to a controversy ignited by a Council colleague, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, who said last week that owners of Arab TV shows should be tried and face death over some shows. …

Lohaidan, who is the head of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic sharia courts, told Saudi radio: “I want to advise the owners of these channels that broadcast programmes with indecency and vulgarity and warn them of the consequences … They can be put to death through the judicial process.”

He was referring to comedy shows and soap operas airing in Ramadan, a month of fasting when Muslims are supposed to focus on God. Critics say Ramadan has become an orgy of food and television consumption once the fast ends at sunset. …

The Reuters article concludes by explaining the tension between state and religion in Saudi Arabia that drove these clerics to lash out:

The owners of Arab entertainment channels, including MBC, ART, Orbit, Rotana and LBC, are mostly Saudi royals and businessmen closely allied to them.

Concerned about the country’s international image, some key members of the Saudi royal family have promoted liberal reforms. The clerics fear plans to limit their extensive influence in what is the world’s largest oil exporter.

Like little children, when faced with opposition, the Saudi clerics react in typical immature fashion — by stamping and fuming and making threats. Nice, huh?

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It sounds unbelievable, but the latest advocate for teaching creationism in public-school science classrooms is Michael Reiss, who is director of education for one of the western world’s great bulwarks of science, the Royal Society. He wrote in the (UK) Guardian:

Teachers need to accommodate the differing world views of students from Jewish, Christian or Muslim backgrounds — which means openly discussing creationism and intelligent design as alternatives to evolutionary theory

Reiss’s justification for this is, in a word, bizarre:

Evolution and cosmology are understood by many to be a religious issue because they can be seen to contradict the accounts of origins of life and the universe described in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures. The issue seems like an ongoing dispute that has science and religion battling to support the credibility of their explanations.

I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view.

Reiss is saying that because the religionazis of the world have defined evolution and cosmology as being their purview — merely by virtue of their holding metaphysical beliefs about them — that we are required to capitulate to this claim and allow their metaphysics to creep into science in return.

This is simply wrong, however. I’m well aware that believers truly consider themselves somehow “credentialed” as authorities on these subjects for the sole reason that they believe themselves to have such credentials … but they are not, in fact, so credentialed. It is therefore not in any way appropriate to act as though they have such credentials. Only scientists possessing the credentials to do so — and educators trained in science — are capable of deciding what is or isn’t science. Shoving creationism into public-school classrooms simply indulges believers’ mistaken, arrogant claim of possessing scientific credentials, and does nothing to correct the problem.

The answer to clearing up the minds of the young is not to allow the “forces of darkness,” to reimpose medieval thinking on humanity. No, the answer is, instead, to tell believers that their “faith” is not sufficient to allow them to determine what is or isn’t science — and if they don’t like it, well, too bad, no one said they had to like it.

Lastly, I agree with Reiss that creationism is a worldview … but that is precisely why it cannot be mixed with science. There are lots of worldviews, not all of them deserve a hearing in science classrooms. That the earth is flat, not spherical, is a worldview that a few, even today, hold to — but it should not be taught as science. I do not expect Reiss would propose the flat-earth notion to be taught in science classrooms … so why he would want creationism there, I have no idea.

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