Friday, April 28, 2006

Odds and Ends. Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Approaches.

Just a quick note to explain the lack of posts lately. My PC is old. My connection is also old. This combination has hindered my access to the internets all week. I plan on upgrading soon, but next week I have a trip to western PA on my schedule that will further impede my progress in this area. Just so you know.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox were embarrassed last night by the Indians. They were clobbered 15-3 at Jacobs Field. Sox starter Josh Beckett was hammered for nine runs in 3 2/3 innings, including a grand slam to Cleveland first baseman Ben Broussard. The Sox lost two of three to the Tribe, and will take their road show to Tampa Bay for a weekend series against the Devil Rays.

Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Approaches

In other news, Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is approaching the inner Solar System, and, in addition to its close approach, has fragmented into several smaller pieces. Sky and Telescope excerpt:

There's much new to report on Periodic Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (also known as Comet 73P), whose apparition is featured, with finder charts, starting on page 60 of the May 2006 Sky & Telescope.

Two fragments of the disintegrating comet are now visible in small scopes, a third and possibly a fourth are in reach of larger amateur scopes and about 40 much fainter pieces have also been detected. All are on their way to a close pass by Earth during mid-May.

The comet broke apart in 1995, and the process continues. The brightest chunk after C is B, only a little fainter than C as of April 24th and following 1.0 day behind C on close to the same path. Next brightest is G, about 3 magnitudes fainter and following 0.2 day behind B. The rest are much fainter and trailing in a line mostly behind G, by up to 1.2 days.

At their brightest in mid-May, C may reach about 5th magnitude (fainter than originally hoped), B anywhere from 5th or 6th on down (if it survives!) and G maybe about 8th. The rest may be magnitude 13 and fainter.

But nobody knows what backyard observers can actually expect. Although comets sometimes brighten on breaking up, other times they practically vanish. We may get a serious fizzle-out or some new surprise brightenings, most likely a wide double comet, or perhaps additional little comets!

All the lesser fragments are traveling in a line near the track plotted on the finder charts in the May issue.

For those keeping score at home, a 6th magnitude object is at the limit of naked-eye visibility in rural areas under good seeing conditions. 5th magnitude objects are slightly brighter. If you live in an area with a lot of city lights, you can pretty much forget about seeing this comet, and its fragments, unless you have a decent pair of binoculars, or a small telescope. The article also contains updates from observers who have reported what they have seen in the past few weeks as the comet got closer. I will attempt to observe this phenomenon as time permits during my visit to western PA.

Full Story

Monday, April 24, 2006

Red Sox Avoid Being Swept in Toronto. Beat Blue Jays 6-3.

The Red Sox, after having suffered a back-breaking Friday night 12th inning 7-6 defeat, and an 8-1 Saturday drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays, rebounded with a 6-3 win yesterday at Rogers Centre (formerly Sky Dome).

David Ortiz got things off to a good start with a two-run homer in the top of the first inning, his 8th of the season. Later in the inning Manny Ramirez scored on a Mike Lowell RBI single. In the fourth inning, Willie Harris, who started in center field, was hit by a pitch, stole second base, then scored on a Kevin Youkilis single. The Sox were up 4-0 with Matt Clement appearing to be on cruise control.

Cruise control then hit a few bumps as Mike Lowell overthrew Youkilis at first base to allow Vernon Wells to reach base. After a walk to Lyle Overbay, Jays catcher Gregg Zaun hit a three-run homer, his second of the season, to make it a 4-3 game.

Adding to the sense of uneasiness was the fact that the Sox left the bases loaded in both the fifth and sixth innings without scoring. But in the top of the 8th inning, Jays reliever Vinnie Chulk gave Alex Gonzalez a leadoff walk. Youkilis then singled as he and Gonzalez executed a perfect hit-and-run that moved Gonzalez to third. Mark Loretta then singled to drive in Gonzalez to make it a 5-3 game.

In the top of the ninth, reliever Sean Marcum allowed a Jason Varitek single, and a Mike Lowell double to make the score 6-3 heading into the bottom of the frame. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, sporting the veg-head mowhawk look from Charlie Sheen in "Major League", allowed Russ Adams and Frank Catalanotto to reach base before striking out Vernon Wells, then getting big Troy Glaus to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game, and earning his 8th save of the season.

Clement, now 2-1, went 5 2/3 innings before giving way to Keith Foulke who faced five batters and struck out three of them. Mike Timlin pitched the 8th and delivered two more strikeouts.

Let me discuss the Blue Jays for a moment. As an offensive unit, they are for real. Vernon Wells is healthy and is pounding the ball, as well as playing tight defense in center field. He hit two homers Friday night. New third baseman Troy Glaus may have crapped his pants by hitting into the game ending DP yesterday, but he launched a game-tying homer off of Mike Timlin Friday night to wipe out the 6-2 lead the Sox took into the 8th inning. He also scored the winning run all the way from first base on Lyle Overbay's laser beam double off of slob reliever Rudy Seanez, who somehow stinks whenever he wears a Red Sox uniform.

I think Alex Rios is a monster in the making. The lanky right fielder is also pounding the ball, and looks like he is going to be a star very soon. Manager John Gibbons should stop trying to get Eric Hinske into the lineup in RF in Rios's place, as he did Friday night. Hinske isn't that good, and right now Rios is better, and will only improve. With the usual pests in the lineup like Catalanotto and Russ Adams, the Jays have good table setters for Wells and Glaus. New catcher Bengie Molina, who hit a homer Saturday, fits in well with this group, the way he did with the Angels, and with Zaun as a capable backup, the Jays are solid at that position. Lyle Overbay at first base is solid, and second baseman Aaron Hill seems to be coming on after his slow start with the bat. These guys should score plenty of runs.

The pitching is a little more of a question mark now that AJ Burnett is headed to the disabled list. He went just four innings on Friday night, and allowed Manny Ramirez's first homer of the season. Ace Roy Halladay went just five innings, and was not on top of his game, but he was crafty enough to get through his stint without allowing the Sox bats to gain any traction. Reliever Justin Speier was terrific on Friday night, and is a great setup man for closer BJ Ryan, who was also terrific Friday night. Josh Towers, yesterday's starter, was no mystery to the Sox, but has shown that he can pitch (he was 13-12 last season). He needs to get it going while Burnett and Halladay get healthy. With lefty Ted Lilly throwing his disgusting curve balls, the Jays have the potential for a great front four in their starting rotation. But, as is often the case, they will only go as far as that rotation takes them.

The Red Sox are now 12-7, and in first place in the AL East, 1 1/2 games in front of the Orioles. They have today off before starting a three-game series in Cleveland against the Indians.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Red Sox Homestand Ends on a Down Note.

Hola amigos,

I've been busy with both Farm maintenance issues and pre-season softball organizational nonsense, hence the lack of posts this week. I see Scotty the Liar is stepping down. Now if only we can persuade his boss and his boss's crew to do likewise...

Anyway, since all the better blogs have tackled that subject, I'll go on to do my baseball thing. The Red Sox ten-game homestand ended on a down note last night as they dropped the final game of their series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5-1. The Sox ended this homestand with a 6-4 record, making their season record 11-5.

Once again, the Sox brought out the wiffle bats in "support" of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield who has given up six runs in his last two starts (17 innings) only to see his mates get shut out by Seattle last Saturday, and score a single run last night (courtesy of Dustan Mohr's second homer of the season).

The Sox did almost nothing against Tampa Bay lefty Scott Kazmir. This kid has a live arm, and deadly stuff when he is throwing strikes. He had to leave the game in the sixth inning with cramps in his hand. Unfortunately, the Sox could do nothing against reliever Lance Carter who shut them down until the ninth when, after an atrocious Ty Wigginton error (he made two the previous night in left field) that should have been a game-ending 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Mike Lowell loaded the bases (Wigginton also pulled a rock on the bases the previous half inning by getting picked off of third base. On a fly ball to shallow right field, Wigginton tried to draw a throw from Trot Nixon. The throw went all the way to catcher Josh Bard who threw behind Wigginton as he stumbled in an effort to change direction, and was out to end the inning. I don't imagine that Wigginton will have fond memories of this trip to Fenway). Dan Miceli then came in and struck out Trot Nixon and got Jason Varitek to fly out to end the game. Young Tampa Bay DH Jonny Gomes launched two solo homers, his sixth and seventh of the season, to lead the Devil Rays offense.

The Sox now travel to Toronto for a three-game series this weekend against the Blue Jays.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Red Sox Update. Pedro Goes for Number 200.

The Red Sox pulled off a stunning rally to come from behind in the ninth inning to beat the Seattle Mariners 7-6 today in the earliest starting time major league baseball features.

The annual Patriots Day game begins at 11:00 AM, and the Sox replacement starter for David Wells (who is thankfully back on the disabled list) was Lenny DiNardo, who gave the Sox five decent innings yielding two runs.

David Ortiz hit two homers, his fifth and sixth of the young season, and Trot Nixon had three hits, including two doubles in his first game back since his pratfall in the outfield a week ago. Manny Ramirez even had two Wall-ball singles which may be a sign that "Manny being Manny" will start being more like the Manny Ramirez we are accustomed to seeing rather than like the Manny Alexander clone he has resembled during this stretch.

The Sox came back twice late in the game, tying the game at 5-5 in the 8th inning, then losing the lead in the top of the ninth when Keith Foulke and Mike Timlin let the Mariners grab the lead 6-5. With two out in the ninth, Kevin Youkilis scratched out an infield hit, and Mark Loretta, the second baseman acquired from the Padres, hit his first Red Sox homer to win it 7-6.

Concerns: The Sox are now 9-4, but have scored just 60 runs while giving up 55. Coming into today's game, the ratio was 53-49 with the 53 runs scored being the second worst in the American League (Only Kansas City with 45 was worse). I don't expect the Sox bats to continue to struggle (at one point during Sunday's 4-3 victory, a graphic detailing the Sox inefficiency at scoring was shown: 1-for-22 with men in scoring position). The newcomers, Loretta, Lowell, Gonzalez and Youkilis (as a starter) should begin to solidify the more they play together. The anticipated return of Coco Crisp should help in this department. Matt Clement is still a mystery, and must realize that he has the stuff to challenge hitters and stop nibbling. Veteran reliever Rudy Seanez has been awful.

Good things: Curt Schilling seems to be all the way back. He is 3-0 and has shown good command of all his pitches so far. Newcomer, and ace-in-waiting Josh Beckett is also showing Sox fans how good he is with his 3-0 start. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has been reliable (only one bad start, and his Saturday 3-0 loss was a tough, but effective start). Jonathan Papelbon has been ridiculous in his new role as closer. He is a perfect six-for six in save opportunities, and shows no fear at all on the mound. Keith Foulke, not withstanding today's performance, seems to have accepted his setup role, and is still available as an experienced closer should Papelbon falter. Mike Timlin, the veteran setup man, has had a couple of shaky appearances (and still has problems with inherited runners as shown in today's game), but is a battle tested veteran who is an anchor as a setup man.

Note: Pedro Martinez is shooting for his 200th career win tonight in Shea Stadium as the 9-2 Mets (!) take on the struggling Atlanta Braves. Right now the Mets lead 4-2 entering the top of the sixth...

Update (9:55 PM): Pedro won his 200th game a few minutes ago as the Mets outlasted the Braves 4-3 at Shea. Pedro went 6 2/3 innings allowing six hits, three runs (all earned, including a LONG solo homer to Andruw Jones, his fifth), two walks and eight strikeouts. Duaner Sanchez finished the seventh, and pitched a perfect 8th before yielding to closer Billy Wagner who nailed it down for his fourth save of the season as the Mets improve to 10-2. Note to Met fan Petey Gee, I may have to take you up on your bandwagon spot offer!

Pedro is now 3-0 on the season, and 200-84 lifetime (good for a .704 winning percentage). The only thing better would have been for him to have done this in a Red Sox uniform. I'll never forget the 1999-2000 seasons when Pedro went 41-10 with a 1.90 ERA in 430 1/3 innings. He surrendered a measly 288 hits (for an opponents batting average allowed of .186) and 69 walks while striking out 597 batters. His combined ERA for those seasons was nearly three full runs lower than the league ERA as a whole. Read that last sentence again. The wonder is that he managed to lose ten games! I think it is safe to say that we can start the design of Pedro's Hall of Fame plaque. But which hat will he wear? Anyway, congratulations to Pedro Martinez for having achieved this milestone.

Patriots Day Questions.

Hola Amigos,

Sorry for the lack of recent posts, but things have been hectic here at the Farm for the past several days. I have taken the time to respond to some of the recent comments (thanks for the clicks Ken!) and am ready to roll once again on this Boston Marathon Monday.

Here is a story that should make one think long and hard about joining the military. It seems that once again, Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy is sticking it to the very soldiers he claims to hold in such high esteem. excerpt:

Concerned that the Pentagon's plans to increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs would place financial burdens on military retirees, six senators have signed onto a bipartisan bill to curb the proposed fee hikes.

Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., introduced the legislation shortly before Congress began its spring recess late last week, despite repeated arguments from Pentagon officials that raising fees for military retirees under age 65, effective Oct. 1, would save $11 billion over the next five years. Under the legislation, the Pentagon could not raise fees for participants in its TRICARE military health system beyond the rate of growth in retiree pay.

A vocal coalition of military organizations opposing the Pentagon plan estimates it could cost some retirees an additional $100 a month. "Especially in a time of war, it is unthinkable that the administration would even consider dramatically increasing healthcare costs for those who have sacrificed for our country," Lautenberg said in a statement.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said on the floor last week that "it is essential that we honor our commitment and investigate all available options for funding our military health care system, rather than strap the bill on the backs of those who already have paid for their health insurance with their blood, sweat and tears."

The Senate bill differs slightly from legislation introduced in the House last month that would essentially thwart the Pentagon's plan to raise fees and require Capitol Hill's blessing before further increasing TRICARE costs. The House bill has 171 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors.

A Lautenberg aide called the Senate bill a more reasonable approach that would still help offset the military's burgeoning healthcare bills. But John Class, deputy director of government affairs at the Military Officers Association of America, said the Senate's measure "makes it a little too easy for DOD to go ahead and automatically raise [fees] each year."

Nonetheless, MOAA and three other organizations have written Lautenberg expressing their support for his bill. "We were extremely happy that at least there's something in both the House and Senate on this," said Class. The National Military Family Association wrote recently that: "The proposal to raise TRICARE fees by exorbitant amounts has resonated throughout the beneficiary population. Families see the proposals as a concentrated effort by DOD to change their earned entitlement of healthcare into an insurance plan."

But Pentagon officials have defended their TRICARE proposal at a slew of public hearings and in private meetings with lawmakers. The military has not raised TRICARE premiums and other fees in 11 years, despite hefty increases in healthcare costs.

How ironic it is for me to find this story on Patriots Day. Two questions come to mind. First, why does the President hate the troops? Second, shouldn't the men and women who have put their lives on the line, and who have been injured as a result of having done so be guaranteed that one, they will never have to pay another cent for their health care, and two that they should never, ever have to listen to the empty platitudes of a delusional, petty, vindictive little tyrant whose actions toward them demonstrate that he views them as simply another disposable resource for him to discard when his amusement is finished? Ken, what do you think?

Full Story

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Red Sox Win Home Opener. Beat Blue Jays 5-3.

After a rocky start in the first inning that saw Red Sox starting pitcher Josh Beckett walk in a run, the young righthander settled down nicely as the Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 at Fenway Park yesterday afternoon in their 2006 home opener.

The Sox, now 6-1, scored four runs in the second inning to take a lead they would never relinquish. Beckett won his second game in as many starts, and gave the Sox seven innings after his nervous first frame. Third baseman Mike Lowell had four hits, including three doubles to pace the attack. First baseman Kevin Youkilis added two hits and a double, and center fielder Adam Stern hit a double and stole a base. DH David Ortiz also had two hits, including his second home run of the season to cap the offense.

Keith Foulke surrendered a two-run homer in the 8th inning to Sox nemesis Frank Catalanotto (I swear, that little so-and-so must be hitting at least .450 in his career against the Sox) that went off of right fielder Wily Mo Pena's* glove as the big guy mis-timed his leap at the right field wall. The ball landed in the bullpen for the homer, but there was no further scoring as new closer Jonathan Papelbon closed the door in the ninth inning by getting the side in order with a strikeout and two harmless fly balls.

The now Sox and Jays do it again tonight at Fenway with portly lefthander David Wells toeing the rubber for the Sox in his first start of the season.

* Note: Bronson Arroyo, the pitcher the Sox traded to the Reds for Pena hit his second home run of the season in yesterday's Reds 9-2 ass-whipping of the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Arroyo, who pitched seven scoreless innings (lowering his ERA to 1.98) en route to his second win in as many starts for his new club, is now 2-for-4 (.500) at bat, with both hits being his first two major league homers. Arroyo was 4-for-55 as a hitter before the start of the season. Pena, on the other hand, is 1-for-5 (.200) with three strikeouts in the three games in which he has appeared.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Red Sox Sweep Orioles.

The Red Sox completed a weekend sweep of the Baltimore Orioles this afternoon with a 4-1 victory at Camden Yards.

The now 5-1 Red Sox struggled early against the deceptive pitching of nemesis Rodrigo Lopez, but broke through to take a 4-1 lead in the sixth inning. Sox starter, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield earned the win with a nice bounce-back performance after his rough outing last week against the Texas Rangers. Wake finished his six inning stint with a flourish by striking out the side before giving way to Mike Timlin, Keith Foulke and new closer Jonathan Papelbon, who earned his third save of the young season, and his second in as many days.

Adam Stern, playing center field in place of Coco Crisp, had two hits and two RBI to pace the Sox. Mark Loretta chipped in with the RBI single that drove Lopez from the game in the sixth inning. J.T. Snow also had two hits for the Red Sox.

The Sox have Monday off before playing their home opener on Tuesday afternoon when they welcome the revamped Toronto Blue Jays to Fenway Park.

Gospel of Judas Uncovered.

A document found in Egypt may be the Gospel of Judas, the infamous disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans, an act that led to the crucifixion. New York Times excerpt:

An early Christian manuscript, including the only known text of what is known as the Gospel of Judas, has surfaced after 1,700 years. The text gives new insights into the relationship of Jesus and the disciple who betrayed him, scholars reported today. In this version, Jesus asked Judas, as a close friend, to sell him out to the authorities, telling Judas he will "exceed" the other disciples by doing so.

Though some theologians have hypothesized this, scholars who have studied the new-found text said, this is the first time an ancient document defends the idea. The discovery in the desert of Egypt of the leather-bound papyrus manuscript, and now its translation, was announced by the National Geographic Society at a news conference in Washington. The 26-page Judas text is said to be a copy in Coptic, made around A. D. 300, of the original Gospel of Judas, written in Greek the century before.

Terry Garcia, an executive vice president of the geographic society, said the manuscript, or codex, is considered by scholars and scientists to be the most significant ancient, nonbiblical text to be found in the past 60 years.
"The codex has been authenticated as a genuine work of ancient Christian apocryphal literature," Mr. Garcia said, citing extensive tests of radiocarbon dating, ink analysis and multispectral imaging and studies of the script and linguistic style. The ink, for example, was consistent with ink of that era, and there was no evidence of multiple rewriting.

"This is absolutely typical of ancient Coptic manuscripts," said Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at the University of Munster in Germany. "I am completely convinced." The most revealing passages in the Judas manuscript begins, "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover."

The account goes on to relate that Jesus refers to the other disciples, telling Judas "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." By that, scholars familiar with Gnostic thinking said, Jesus meant that by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus.

Unlike the accounts in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the anonymous author of the Gospel of Judas believed that Judas Iscariot alone among the 12 disciples understood the meaning of Jesus' teachings and acceded to his will. In the diversity of early Christian thought, a group known as Gnostics believed in a secret knowledge of how people could escape the prisons of their material bodies and return to the spiritual realm from which they came.

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton
who specializes in studies of the Gnostics, said in a statement, "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was."

The Gospel of Judas is only one of many texts discovered in the last 65 years, including the gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene and Philip, believed to be written by Gnostics. The Gnostics' beliefs were often viewed by bishops and early church leaders as unorthodox, and they were frequently denounced as heretics. The discoveries of Gnostic texts have shaken up Biblical scholarship by revealing the diversity of beliefs and practices among early followers of Jesus.

As the findings have trickled down to churches and universities, they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out. For that reason, the discoveries have proved deeply troubling for many believers. The Gospel of Judas portrays Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus, but as his most favored disciple and willing collaborator.

Another piece of the puzzle that makes up the story of early Christianity seems to have been unveiled. As someone who can be called a skeptic, I have, in the course of my education, read many of the aforementioned Apochryphal Gospels. The Nag Hammadi Library and the Adventures Unlimited Press have been invaluable tools in what passes for my research into this shady realm. Most of these works were written long before the traditional Biblical Gospels, and they depict a movement that was very different from the one portrayed by the Catholic church. That is why they are regarded as heretical.

As a cynic, it would come as little surprise if the Catholic church either, A, spun this story the way they usually do when faced with inconvenient facts and inconsistent story lines. The church leaders play the "literal word of God" card one minute, then play the allegory card the next, so it will be interesting to see how they react to this news that the betrayal of Jesus was a planned job.

The other option, option B, would be for the church leaders to try to ignore this news altogether. I'd bet my chips on option A. The church has never been shy about speaking out about things like this, and I don't expect it to start slinking into the shadows now.

Full Story

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Mandatory Health Care Bill.

In a surprising and potentially historic move, the Massachusetts state legislature passed a bill that would guarantee all Massachusetts residents health care. The sound you heard in the distance was Deadeye Dick Cheney shitting a Pentagon-sized brick. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

BOSTON - Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that would make Massachusetts the first state to require that all its citizens have some form of health insurance.

The plan — approved just 24 hours after the final details were released — would use a combination of financial incentives and penalties to dramatically expand access to health care over the next three years and extend coverage to the state's estimated 500,000 uninsured.

If all goes as planned, poor people will be offered free or heavily subsidized coverage; those who can afford insurance but refuse to get it will face increasing tax penalties until they obtain coverage; and those already insured will see a modest drop in their premiums.

The measure does not call for new taxes but would require businesses that do not offer insurance to pay a $295 annual fee per employee. The cost was put at $316 million in the first year, and more than a $1 billion by the third year, with much of that money coming from federal reimbursements and existing state spending, officials said.
The House approved the bill on a 154-2 vote. The Senate endorsed it 37-0.

A final procedural vote is needed in both chambers of the Democratic-controlled legislature before the bill can head to the desk of Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2008. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said the governor would sign the bill but would make some changes that wouldn't "affect the main purpose of the bill."

Oh shit. I knew there was a catch. Please Mitt, don't fuck this up the way Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy fucked up with the "overhaul" of the Medicare prescription drug plan...

"It's only fitting that Massachusetts would set forward and produce the most comprehensive, all-encompassing health care reform bill in the country," said House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a Democrat. "Do we know whether this is perfect or not? No, because it's never been done before."

Yes, and part of the reason it's never been done before is because, on the Federal level, the Senate Democrats all fell in line with assholes like Newt Gingrich (R -Serial Matrimonist) when he screamed that Hillary was trying to force "socialized medicine" on America. Maybe the fact that the conservative remedy of HMOs, with their skyrocketing costs has caused enough legislators to awaken from their collective slumber to do something positive about health care for a change.

The only other state to come close to the Massachusetts plan is Maine, which passed a law in 2003 to dramatically expand health care. That plan relies largely on voluntary compliance.

The plan hinges in part on two key sections: the $295-per-employee business assessment and a so-called "individual mandate," requiring every citizen who can afford it to obtain health insurance or face increasing tax penalties.

Liberals typically support employer mandates, while conservatives generally back individual responsibility.

Translation: Liberals want everyone to help everyone. Conservatives want to let the poor eat shit and die if they get sick.

The state's poorest — single adults making $9,500 or less a year — will have access to health coverage with no premiums or deductibles. Those living at up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $48,000 for a family of three, will be able to get health coverage on a sliding scale, also with no deductibles.

The vast majority of Massachusetts residents who are already insured could see a modest easing of their premiums. Individuals deemed able but unwilling to purchase health care could face fines of more than $1,000 a year by the state if they don't get insurance.

Romney pushed vigorously for the individual mandate and called the legislation "something historic, truly landmark, a once-in-a-generation opportunity."

One goal of the bill is to protect $385 million pledged by the federal government over each of the next two years if the state can show it is on a path to reducing its number of uninsured. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has threatened to withhold the money if the state does not have a plan up and running by July 1.

Two points: One, Romney mistakenly thinks he has a chance at the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. The ironic thing for Romney is that the neocon sludgemongers who currently control the GOP never had any intention of endorsing him for a presidential run, but now they can point to his signing of this bill into law, now matter how flawed or compromised it becomes, as proof that Romney is "too liberal".

Second, as a victim of downsizing during Bush 41's economic disaster, I had a choice of keeping my company health insurance package for a mere $313.00 a month. That was back in 1991. Having spoken to some recently downsized folks, that figure has risen to more than 1.5 times that amount in 15 years. How the hell is someone without a job supposed to be able to afford that? Back in 1991 I was on the cusp of 30, so I rolled the dice and went without health insurance as I went through periods of unemployment and semi-employment until 1995 when I joined the company where I now work. These days, as I enter my mid-40s, I'd be crazy to repeat that pattern if I was laid off today.

A lot of people are confused by this issue, and I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I view this as a good positive first step because, as bad as things got for me economically in the early 1990s, I was never among the poorest residents of this Commonwealth. I can't even imagine what the truly poor have to endure under such conditions.

Full Story

Red Sox Win Opener. Tom DeLay Resigns!

Red Sox Win Opener Over Rangers

The Red Sox started the 2006 season well by beating the Texas Rangers yesterday afternoon in Arlington 7-3 behind the solid pitching of starter Curt Schilling and the bat of David "Big Papi" Ortiz. Schilling went seven innings and allowed two runs while striking out five.

Young Jonathan Papelbon pitched a strong 8th inning, but rebounding closer Keith Foulke threw a shaky 9th, allowing a run before getting the final out with some help from new center fielder Coco Crisp. Ortiz had three hits including his first homer of the season. Catcher Jason Varitek hit a two-run double, and new third baseman Mike Lowell launched his first homer to aid the offense. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield takes the hill tonight for the Sox.

Bye-Bye Tom DeLay!!!

By now you've probably heard the good news that Tom DeLay (R - Arrogant Shithead) is resigning his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here's my take, with the help of a convenient Yahoo News AFP excerpt:

, the Republican former strongman largely responsible for transforming his party into a juggernaut that dominates US politics, announced his resignation, as a criminal corruption probe presses in.

The flamboyant ex-House Republican leader -- whose strong-arm politics earned him the nickname "The Hammer" for his ability to push through President George W. Bush's legislative agenda in Congress -- announced that he will give up his US Congress seat and end his bid for reelection in November's mid-term congressional elections.

"It's time for me to go and do something else," he told Fox News Channel on Tuesday.

The former pest control expert had become one of the most polarizing figures in US politics in recent years, but he has also been wildly successful in instilling lock-step party discipline among Republicans and delivering votes on legislation critical to his party.

He was also valued for formidable skills raising funds from legions of well-heeled Washington partisans, and counted among his close associates disgrace former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now cooperating with prosecutors in several Capitol Hill corruption cases -- including against DeLay himself.

Why doesn't this arm of the "liberal press" refer to DeLay's behavior for what it is: extortion.

Bush told reporters Tuesday that after being informed late Monday of the DeLay's decision, he wished him well and said he was sure that the party would prove resilient in the face of the setback.

"My reaction was, it had to be a very difficult decision for someone who loved representing his district in the state of Texas. I wished him all the very best and I know he's looking to the future," the president said. "My own judgement is that our party will continue to succeed because we're the party of ideas," said Bush.

What DeLay loved was running his Congressional district as if it was his personal serfdom. And that quote from Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy about the Republican party being "the party of ideas" is a classic piece if unintentional comedy. That hollow little bastard never had an idea in his crooked life, other than those that were handed to him from his daddy and his daddy's cronies.

DeLay, 58, stepped down from his leadership post after a Texas grand jury indicted him for alleged campaign finance violations and his legal troubles mounted.

A pivotal figure in the Republican Party for a dozen years, he came into office with the when Republicans seized control of Congress in the historic mid-term elections of 1994. But his legal and ethical problems had begun to drag down his party, leaving it vulnerable to Democrats' charges that Republicans are plagued by a "culture of corruption."

Though he handily won a March 7 primary election in his home state with 62 percent of the vote, observers noted that the criminal probe was drawing closer to him with the plea deal reached last week by Tony Rudy, a close former aide.

DeLay said that despite his recent legal woes he believed he had a good chance of holding onto his seat representing a Texas district, but did not want the criminal case against him to become a dominant election-year issue nationally. He repeated his assertions of his innocence, telling Fox that he has served in Congress "honorably and ethically."

Bullshit. DeLay is so deep into this Abramoff mess that he'd have to be at least 27 feet tall for him to be in it up to his eyeballs. I caught a piece about DeLay on NPR on the drive home from my wage slavery containment facility, and he played the victim over the mess involving Mr. Rudy by claiming that "we trusted the wrong man." Wahhh! Boo-fucking-hoo! You aren't a victim here Tommy, you are a lying, thieving, backstabbing SOB of the first magnitude, and I can't wait for your sorry ass to step down. I just hope those steps lead you to the prison cell you so richly deserve.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Rice and Straw Visit Iraq...To Help???

The continuing disaster that is the new Iraqi government is now being pressured to "straighten shit out" with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paying a visit to the squabbling politicians in an effort to avoid a civil war. Google News UK Times excerpt:

JACK STRAW and Condoleezza Rice flew unexpectedly from Liverpool to Baghdad yesterday to try to break the deadlock in forming a government of national unity that could halt Iraq’s slide towards civil war.

The unprecedented joint visit of the British Foreign Secretary and US Secretary of State added to the pressure on Ibrahim Jaafari, Iraq’s Shia Prime Minister, to stand down. Kurdish and Sunni leaders have refused to join any cabinet he heads, and his position looked increasingly precarious as prominent Shias also began demanding his resignation over the weekend.

Mr Straw and Dr Rice’s intervention came after four months of fruitless negotiations between the political blocs elected to the Iraqi parliament last December, and with escalating sectarian violence filling the political vacuum.

“We’re going to urge that the negotiations be wrapped up,” Dr Rice told reporters during the flight. “The Iraqi people are losing patience . . . You can’t continue to leave a political vacuum.”

Neither she nor Mr Straw called openly for Mr Jaafari’s resignation, but neither did they offer support to a man regarded by Sunnis and Kurds as ineffective and too close to Shia militias.

Asked if they wanted Mr Jaafari to go, Dr Rice did not answer. Mr Straw responded: “We will recognise and respect whoever emerges as the leader.”

Dr Rice’s body language as she shared a photocall with Mr Jaafari was distinctly frosty, and she later lunched with the man most widely tipped as the alternative leader – Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Dr Rice was careful not to give the appearance of interfering in Iraqi politics, at least in public. She said (apparently with a straight face): “This is in many ways a time of testing for the Iraqi nation and for the Iraqi people and they need a government that can act on their behalf.” Western officials said nothing about what was discussed between the ministers and politicians in private, but insisted that decisions about Iraqi politics were only for Iraqis to take.

What an incredible crock of shit. Of course Rice wants Jaafari to go, because that is what Bush wants. Forget the idiotic notion that now that Saddam has been removed and the Iraqis had their famed elections, when the President of the United States can say "We support democracy, but that doesn't mean we have to support governments that get elected as a result of democracy", it means that we, as a democracy have jumped the shark. But then again, we shouldn't expect anything less from the man who also said "A dictatorship would be easier, as long as I'm the dictator."

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

First Anniversary Musings.

Hola amigos. I'm back after having had my arse kicked by a sudden and heavy dose of the flu. As such, I don't have much on which to report on this First Anniversary Post of this blog. I do know that Jack Abramoff has been sentenced to prison, and that reporter Jill Carroll has been released and is on her way home. The major league baseball schedule is about to begin as spring training comes to an end this weekend. Oh yes, we lose an hour of sleep tonight, just what my weakened body needs...

Anyway, I just wanted to check in to thank the people who posted comments, and to say hello to my new cyber-friends, Miss Templeton and Gypsy Queen for their hearty support. I look forward to another year of semi-regular posts about the sad political landscape in this country, the stars, various and sundry archeological and historical discoveries, occasional CD and concert reviews of my favorite obscure bands, and the most reliable baseball analysis to be found on these Internets. That's all for now.