Thursday, December 17, 2009

Roberto Alomar Should Be a First Ballot Hall of Famer

Roberto Alomar appears for the first time on the HOF ballot this year. The Hirschbeck incident stains his legacy, as does failing in front of the New York media with the Mets in 2002. “Having said that,” Alomar is the best second-baseman after 1960 not named Joe Morgan. He belongs in the HOF. He should enter on the first ballot.

From 1991 to 2001, Alomar was the game’s premier second baseman. He hit .313/.389/.477 with an OPS+ of 126 and 168 home runs. He had a better than .400 OBP five times. He hit better than .300 nine times. Under the official Duffy standard, he had one outstanding season (2001), four great seasons (1993, 1996, 1997, 1999), four good seasons (1991, 1992, 1994, 2000).

Here are Alomar’s competitors. Sandberg had six great seasons (1984, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992). Biggio had four great seasons (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998) and four good seasons (1992, 1993, 1996, 1999). Jeff Kent – experiencing a career renaissance at 30 in the late 1990’s with Barry Bonds – had one outstanding season (2000), four great seasons (1998, 2001, 2002, 2005) and five good seasons (1999, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007).

Though prolific early in his career, Alomar also developed into a remarkably proficient base stealer. During the tail end of that stretch, 1999 to 2001, he stole 106 bases and was caught just 14 times. Chone Figgins stole 117 bases over the past three seasons. He was caught 42 times.

Alomar’s offense was extremely valuable given his position. His defense is more controversial. Alomar won 10 gold gloves in 11 seasons. All that tells us is that sportswriters thought he was great.

Gold Gloves are about being noticed. Had Alomar wielded Mark Lemke’s career 71 OPS+ stick, maybe he doesn’t win. He had great range going to his left and may have positioned himself accordingly, increasing the number of Sportscenter highlights, integral in the pre-MLB package era.

Fielding metrics are convoluted. For brevity, His fielding percentage was quite good. His range fluctuated. He was poor at home in Toronto, probably because of the faster turf. For most of his career, his range was roughly average on the road.

This page has Alomar ranked as one of the top five defensive second basemen of all-time. That was the perception while he was playing. We would say he was not as good as Sandberg, but significantly better than Biggio or Kent.

During the 1991 to 2001 stretch, Alomar’s teams made the playoffs 7 of 11 years. He was on two World Series winners. He had four great series (1991 ALCS, 1992 ALCS, 1993 WS for Toronto and 1999 ALDS for Cleveland). Over a 230 AB sample size in the playoffs, Alomar was as good as his regular season self .313/.381/.448.

Alomar’s career ended abruptly. He did not linger long enough as an average or below average player like Biggio to get 3,000 hits. To denigrate him for that would be perverse.

Roberto Alomar was the best second-baseman of his generation during his best season. He was the best second-baseman over his prime, which lasted longer than any of his contemporaries. His offensive production would warrant HOF consideration at any position. At second base, he is a no-brainer.

Elin Nordegren to Divorce Tiger … Should Eldrick Put an End to His “Indefinite Leave” From Golf?

Tiger Woods is about to get dumped by his wife, Elin Nordegren, according to ABC News. This does not come as a shock considering Tiger cheated on her with over a dozen women; at last count, the tally was around 15. Friday, Woods announced he was taking an “indefinite leave” from golf, presumably in an attempt to save his marriage. If that is beyond salvageable, does this mean we’ll see Tiger at Torrey Pines for the Buick Invitational [Century Club of San Diego Invitational] at the end of January? The city of San Diego would benefit significantly from Tiger’s first weekend on the course. (That’s the weekend before the Super Bowl, and there’s no football to steal the spotlight.) The media crush will be record-setting.

White House hits back at Howard Dean attack on healthcare reform bill

White House officials responded forcefully Thursday to former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean’s call to defeat healthcare reform bill.

The White House responded forcefully Thursday to former Democratic Party Chairman and presidential candidate Howard Dean’s call for the defeat of the healthcare reform bill, which is now struggling to make it through the Senate.

Former Vermont Governor Dean, a medical doctor by training, pushed healthcare reform legislation in his state. But in an essay published Thursday in the Washington Post, Dr. Dean wrote, “If I were a senator I would not vote for the current health care bill. Any measure that expands private insurers’ monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to priavate corporations is not real health care reform.”

Fleecing the taxpayer

Dean went on to argue that “the winners in this bill are insurance companies; the American taxpayer is about to be fleeced with a bailout in a situation that dwarfs even what happened at [insurance giant] AIG.”

The first salvo from the White House came from senior adviser David Axelrod, who phoned in Thursday morning to MSNBC’s "Morning Joe” program. “I saw his piece in the Post this morning, and it's predicated on a bunch of erroneous conclusions,” Mr. Axelrod said.

Opposition labeled insane

Axelrod, a key architect of President Obama’s presidential campaign, charged that Dean had phoned Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House point person on healthcare, before publishing the essay. She explained why he was wrong, Axelrod said, adding that Dean “simply didn’t want to hear that critique." "To defeat a bill that would bend the curve on this inexorable rise in healthcare costs is insane,” Axelrod said.

The assault on Dean continued later Thursday morning during White House Press Secretary Robert Gibb’s morning meeting with reporters. During the 22-minute session in his office, Mr. Gibbs was asked if he had a message for Dean.

“My message is the same as [Democratic Sens.] Jay Rockefeller’s, Tom Harkin’s, Sherrod Brown’s, Sheldon Whitehouse. I think each of those four, many of whom who have worked on healthcare for quite some time, have addressed the notion that Howard Dean believes that this is not a bill worth passing. They think he is wrong. I think he is wrong. I think the American people think he is wrong.”

Gibbs countered Dean’s argument that the legislation would help insurance companies by asking, “if this is such a great thing for the insurance companies, why are they spending hundreds and millions of dollars every day to attack it?”


The press secretary dismissed Dean’s impact on the uphill battle to get 60 votes for the healthcare legislation in the Senate. “I don’t see that Howard Dean has moved anybody,” Gibbs said.

Mortgage rates rise slightly but stay below 5 pct

Mortgage rates rose for the second consecutive week but the number of homeowners who applied for refinancing remained strong.

The average fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage was 4.94 percent this week, up from 4.81 percent last week, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

Mortgage rates are closely tied to yields on long-term government debt, which have risen since the average fixed rate on 30-year mortgages hit a record low of 4.71 percent the week of Dec. 3.

A Federal Reserve program to buy $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities has kept rates on 30-year mortgages around 5 percent this year. The program, geared to make home buying more affordable, is set to end next spring.

The low rates resulted in a wave of refinancing activity: Roughly three out of four mortgage applications were for refinancing during the first two weeks of December, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported.

Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates each week from lenders around the country. Rates often fluctuate, even within a given day.

The average rate on a 15-year fixed mortgage rose to 4.38 percent from 4.32 percent last week.

Rates on five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 4.37 percent, up from 4.26 percent last week. Rates on one-year, adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 4.34 percent from 4.24 percent.

The rates do not include add-on fees known as points. The nationwide fee for loans in Freddie Mac's survey averaged 0.7 point for 30-year loans. The fee averaged 0.6 point for 15-year and five-year loans, and 0.5 point for one-year mortgages.

Scientists crack 'entire genetic code' of cancer

Scientists have unlocked the entire genetic code of two of the most common cancers - skin and lung - a move they say could revolutionise cancer care.

Not only will the cancer maps pave the way for blood tests to spot tumours far earlier, they will also yield new drug targets, says the Wellcome Trust team.

Scientists around the globe are now working to catalogue all the genes that go wrong in many types of human cancer.

The UK is looking at breast cancer, Japan at liver and India at mouth.

China is studying stomach cancer, and the US is looking at cancers of the brain, ovary and pancreas.

These catalogues are going to change the way we think about individual cancers

Wellcome Trust scientist Professor Michael Stratton
The International Cancer Genome Consortium scientists from the 10 countries involved say it will take them at least five years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete this mammoth task.

But once they have done this, patients will reap the benefits.

Professor Michael Stratton, who is the UK lead, said: "These catalogues are going to change the way we think about individual cancers.

"By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments.

"We can envisage a time when following the removal of a cancer cataloguing it will become routine."

It could even be possible to develop MoT-style blood tests for healthy adults that can check for tell-tale DNA patterns suggestive of cancer.

Russian roulette

The scientists found the DNA code for a skin cancer called melanoma contained more than 30,000 errors almost entirely caused by too much sun exposure.

Most of the time the mutations will land in innocent parts of the genome, but some will hit the right targets for cancer

Wellcome Trust researcher Dr Peter Campbell
The lung cancer DNA code had more than 23,000 errors largely triggered by cigarette smoke exposure.

From this, the experts estimate a typical smoker acquires one new mutation for every 15 cigarettes they smoke.

Although many of these mutations will be harmless, some will trigger cancer.

Wellcome Trust researcher Dr Peter Campbell, who conducted this research, published in the journal Nature, said: "It's like playing Russian roulette.

"Most of the time the mutations will land in innocent parts of the genome, but some will hit the right targets for cancer."

By quitting smoking, people could reduce their cancer risk back down to "normal" with time, he said.

The suspicion is lung cells containing mutations are eventually replaced with new ones free of genetic errors.

By studying the cancer catalogues in detail, the scientists say it should be possible to find exactly which lifestyle and environmental factors trigger different tumours.

Treatment and prevention

Tom Haswell, who was successfully treated 15 years ago for lung cancer, believes the research will benefit the next generation:

"For future patients I think it's tremendous news because hopefully treatments can be targeted to their particular genome mutations, hopefully... reducing some of the side effects we get".

Cancer experts have applauded the work.

The Institute of Cancer Research said: "This is the first time that a complete cancer genome has been sequenced and similar insights into other cancer genomes are likely to follow.

"As more cancer genomes are revealed by this technique, we will gain a greater understanding of how cancer is caused and develops, improving our ability to prevent, treat and cure cancer."

Professor Carlos Caldas, from Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute called the research "groundbreaking".

"Like molecular archaeologists, these researchers have dug through layers of genetic information to uncover the history of these patients' disease.

"What is so new in this study is the researchers have been able to link particular mutations to their cause.

"The hope and excitement for the future is that we will eventually have detailed picture of how different cancers develop, and ultimately how better to treat and prevent them."

We Want the World and We Want It Now

By Richard A. Lee

We live in a world that is immediate and instantaneous.

With digital photography, we never have to wait to see a picture. Airline tickets, hotel reservations and orders from the corner deli are confirmed a soon as we make them. Whether it is the major news events of the day, the scores of our favorite sporting events or how little Johnny did in school in today, the internet makes it possible to instantly learn information. Modern technology also allows us to follow developments wherever we are, thanks to the proliferation of mobile phones and handheld devices.

But when it comes to elections, we have to wait more than two months before the results take effect.

I am not suggesting that a presidential or gubernatorial transition is as simple a process as placing an online order, but perhaps it is time to re-think how we transfer the reigns of power.

Let’s start with the lame-duck period that results when an incumbent is leaving office. This has been an invitation to trouble ever since 1801 when outgoing President John Adams and a lame-duck Congress created – and filled – several federal judgeships before Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated and control of the Congress switched hands.

Over the years, lawmakers have come to view lame-duck periods as opportunities to act on controversial and potentially unpopular items, such as tax increases and pay raises for elected officials. New Jersey has not been immune to such practices. Among the controversial topics under discussion in the current lame-duck session are bills that would permit same-sex marriage, allow the children of illegal immigrants to attend state college at in-state tuition rates, change the process for how New Jersey fills vacancies for the U.S. Senate, and legalize medicinal marijuana.

In addition to the temptations that lame-duck sessions foster, the benefits of a transition period that lasts from Election Day to Inauguration Day are questionable. In theory, the incoming and outgoing administrations are supposed to work in partnership to ensure a smooth transition for the betterment of the citizenry. In reality – and I say this having been part of several transitions – such bipartisan displays of cooperation are rare. Already this year, there have been news reports about Governor Corzine and Governor-elect Christie – and their staffs – bickering over appointments, budget projections and even the seating arrangements at a New Jersey State League of Municipalities luncheon.

So what’s the answer?

Why not swear in the new Governor at noon the day after the election? When a baseball team fires its manager, the new person takes over the next day. Shouldn’t the men and women we elect to run our communities, states and nation have the same ability to step right into the job and hit the ground running? After all, these are offices for which they have been campaigning for months, if not years. When voters decide that a candidate can do a better job than the person in office, why wait two months to change things?

On a broader scale, if candidates know they need to be ready to take office right away, they may be more likely to have their staffs and agendas in place before Election Day. This would provide voters with a clearer view of what to expect from a new administration. The appointment process would become more transparent and have fewer surprises. Imagine going to the polls and knowing not only who is on the ballot, but also who his or her cabinet and senior staff members will be.

Eliminating the transition period also would remove the need for a transition office and staff, as well as the large transition committees that have come to be the norm in recent years. Regardless of how dedicated these individuals are and how hard they work, nothing can fully prepare a new administration for what lies ahead. The real transition takes place in the initial days and weeks of the new administration when the successful candidate and his or her staff actually begin the process of governing. So why not start sooner?

Long before technology transformed the world into a place in which we have – at our fingertips – the ability to obtain up-to-the-minute information, the rock band the Doors declared, “We want the world and we want it now.” The lyrics, written in the late 1960s, had more to do with the spirit of the era than with the many advantages that technology now provides in our daily lives, but why not apply them to politics and government in the 21st Century?

# # #

Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and former Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.

Iron Man 2 Trailer

There are some who feel that Jon Favreau’s Iron Man is perhaps the best comic book movie ever made. Although I’m not in that particular camp, I can agree that the first movie was a lot of fun, and that Robert Downey Jr. was the perfect man to play Tony Stark. So what will they do for an encore? Well, I’m not too familiar with the Iron Man comics, so when people started talking about characters like Whiplash and Black Widow entering the mix, it meant absolutely nothing to me. However, with the addition of Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle to the cast, I think there are plenty of reasons to be interested.

The first trailer for Iron Man 2 has finally hit the web, and it starts off by playing up Tony Stark’s celebrity lifestyle once again, until eventually Whiplash steps in to ruin his fun. The effects look impressive, but I gotta say… the character looks a little goofy! We also get brief glimpses of Black Widow and War Machine, and maybe a half second shot of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. But hey, this is just the first trailer. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of this movie before it hits theatres on May 7th. Either way this looks like money in the bank, and I’m fairly confident that Favreau will deliver once again. Check out the trailer after the jump, or watch it on and let us know what you think.

Iraqi insurgents using $26 software to monitor Predator video feeds

We can't say we've ever heard of a $26 Russian program called SkyGrabber before, but it's about to get famous real fast -- according to the Wall Street Journal, Iraqi insurgents have been regularly using the satellite-snooping software to monitor live Predator video feeds. Apparently the Predator transmits video over an unencrypted link, so there's no major hacking or security breach going on here, but it's obviously a huge issue -- and we'd say the bigger problem is that Pentagon officials have known about this flaw since the 1990s, but they didn't think insurgents would figure out how to exploit it. Way to underestimate, guys. The WSJ says the military is working to encrypt all Predator feeds from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but it's slow going because the Predator network is more than a decade old and based on proprietary tech -- too bad it's not proprietary enough to keep prying eyes out of it.

Jobless Claims Jump Up

Now remember, this spike isn't really important. The unemployment numbers are only important and indicative of a trend when they go down. Got it? If so, you might qualify for a degree in journalism. Just don't count on landing a job after graduation unless the government bails the industry out.

So, if you were a working journalist today, what would you write? Hmm.

WASHINGTON -- The number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week as the recovery of the nation's battered labor market proceeds in fits and starts.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of new jobless claims rose to 480,000 last week, up 7,000 from the previous week. That was a worse performance than the decline to 465,000 that economists had expected.

The four-week average for claims, which smooths out fluctuations, did fall, dipping to 467,500, the 15th straight decline, viewed as an encouraging sign that the labor market is gradually improving. The four-week average is now at its lowest point since late September 2008, the period when the financial crisis was hitting with full force.

Unemployment claims have been on a downward trend since this summer. That improvement is seen as a sign that jobs cuts are slowing and hiring could pick up as soon as early next year. But the rise in weekly claims of 7,000 last week, which had followed an increase of 19,000 the previous week, shows that the improvement has been halting.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Forces Inmates To Listen To Christmas Music All Day, Ignoring Lawsuits

The man who fashions himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ, will force inmates to listen to Christmas music all day through the holidays, in spite of six lawsuits against his actions. Arpaio put out a press release in red and green type, downplaying these lawsuits and saying he’s doing in it spite of them.

The six prior lawsuits have claimed Arpaio’s less-than-merry practice should be considered cruel and unusual punishment, or that the sheriff is forcing people to participate in religious celebrations.

The practice of forcing people to listen to crappy music all day long has been used in the past for interrogation purposes. For example, the U.S. military blared Metallica music at detainees in Guantanamo Bay with the intention of breaking them down psychologically.

Think Progress notes:

According to ABC News, Arpaio said that “for agnostics,” he would “mix in the singing Chipmunks” — who also presumably sing Christmas carols. “We can’t say ‘Merry Christmas’ in the U.S., in the world anymore,” said Arpaio, fulling joining in the War on Christmas. “What are we coming to? I am saying it. I am singing it. It’s gonna be in this jail, and that’s the way the ball bounces.”

Arpaio is not doing this to bring his wards holiday cheer.

Recently Arpaio’s tactics gained attention again when a woman spoke out and said she was detained in Arpaio’s jail while nine months pregnant. She eventually had to give birth while shackled to a bed and then “was not allowed to hold her baby and was told that if no one came to pick up the child within 72 hours, the baby would be turned over to state custody.”

You don’t think being forced to listen to Christmas music is punishment? Then go listen to Burl Ives sing “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”

Kobe Bryant's Winning Buzzer Beater Against Milwaukee Bucks [Video]

Well tonight's LA Lakers vs. Milwaukee Bucks game was very close, and with 5.4 sec left in overtime, the Black Mamba was able to come through and knock down the game winning shot to give the Lakers their 20th win of the season. Kobe had 39 points for the night.

Police: Bengals' Henry dies day after dispute

Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry has died, one day after falling out of the back of a pickup truck in what authorities described as a domestic dispute with his fiancee.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said Henry died at 6:36 a.m. Thursday. Henry was 26.

Henry was rushed to the hospital Wednesday after being found on a residential road. Police said the dispute began at a home about a half-mile away, and Henry jumped into the bed of the pickup truck as his fiancee was driving away from the residence.

Police said at some point when she was driving, Henry "came out of the back of the vehicle." They wouldn't identify the woman, and no charges were immediately filed.

Police spokeswoman Rosalyn Harrington said homicide detectives have been assigned to the case but had no further information. Police have not released the 911 tapes, and Harrington wouldn't say if the woman was present at the scene when police arrived.

Henry is engaged to Loleini Tonga, and the couple has been raising three children. Tonga's MySpace page identifies herself as "Mrs. C. Henry" and has a picture of her next to a person who appears to be Henry. She also has a post from Tuesday talking about buying wedding rings. A neighbor said Wednesday that the Tonga family owns the home where police say the incident began. Charlotte is home to his fiancee's parents.

In a Tuesday Sept. 15, 2009 photo, Loleini, fiance to the Cincinnati Bengals Chris Henry, watches him during a radio interview with 1530 Homer and Lance McAlister in Cincinatti. Police say Henry has suffered serious injuries after falling out of the back of a pickup truck during a domestic dispute with his fiance Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009 in Charlotte.

Henry was away from the team after breaking his left forearm during a win over Baltimore on Nov. 8. He had surgery and was placed on season-ending injured reserve following the game.

Throughout his career, his temper and poor decisions got him in trouble.

He was ejected from a game and suspended for another at West Virginia, where former coach Rich Rodriguez told Henry that he was an embarrassment to himself and the program. His reputation was already costing him — the Bengals were the only NFL team to bring him in for a pre-draft visit in 2005.

The Full Story

Clinton: US would help raise billions on climate

— U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to put new life into flagging U.N. climate talks Thursday, announcing the U.S. would join others in raising $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer nations cope with global warming.

She made the offer contingent on reaching a broader agreement at the 193-nation conference that covers "transparency," a reference to U.S. insistence that China allow some international review of its actions controlling emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The announcement pointed up the U.S.-Chinese diplomatic duel that has marked the two weeks of climate talks, which ground to a near-halt Wednesday as a chronic rich-poor divide flared into the open again, dimming the hopes of the Danish hosts for a comprehensive deal — a preliminary framework for a formal treaty next year on combating climate change.

Environment ministers, having taken over from lower-level negotiators, got down to the final hours of talks Thursday in hopes of producing partial agreements to put before President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and more than 110 other leaders at Friday's summit.

Such accords might include the issues raised by Clinton at a news conference here: long-term goals for financing climate aid, and monitoring of emissions controls.

The Clinton offer represented the first time the U.S. government has publicly cited a figure in discussions here over long-term financing to help poorer countries build sea walls against rising oceans, cope with unusual drought and deal with other impacts of climate change, while also financing renewable-energy and similar projects.

Full Story