Welcome to the blog of Daniel Walmer, a staff reporter with the Press And Journal. Prior to joining the Journal’s award-winning team in July 2012, I covered municipal government extensively as a freelance reporter for other newspapers in the area. I also interned at the Journal during my college days in 2009, and graduated summa cum laude from Lebanon Valley College with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2010. My blogging interests include politics, Philadelphia sports, and anything else on which I have an opinion worth reading. I once wrestled an alligator and a tiger underwater during a hurricane and emerged with minor scratches. Sorry, that was actually Chuck Norris—I often get the two of us confused.
Normally I defend the passionate Philadelphia sports fan against the hordes of critics who say we’re two cranky, too difficult, and even boo Santa Claus (it only happened once, and the Santa was terrible, so could y’all please stop bringing it up?).
But when it comes to the unwarranted disgust thrown the direction of Phillies third baseman Ryan Howard, I’ve had enough.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for frustration with Howard. The Phillies signed Howard to an absurdly expensive 5 year, $125 million contract extension through 2016, and the slugger has spent the first two years of that contract hobbled with left leg injuries that have cut down his production and his power.
No player has gotten more criticism from fans during the team’s disappointing 2012 and 2013 seasons than Howard, probably because no single weight has held down the team more than Howard’s contract. But the personal invective that’s been directed at Howard is usually reserved in Philadelphia for players who don’t appear to be trying hard or verbally attack the fans or in some way are actually at fault for the problems they’re causing.
In this case, however, the problems aren’t Howard’s fault. Nobody but Phillies management is to blame for giving an aging Howard such a silly contract (what was Howard supposed to do, not take the money?). And Howard’s no more at fault for the injuries that have cut down his production than former staff ace Roy Halladay or second baseman Chase Utley are for theirs.
Speaking of which, when healthy the last few seasons, Howard’s actually been pretty good offensively. He’s never going to post his 2006 MVP numbers again (.313 batting average, 58 home runs, 149 RBI) or improve his eye-popping career 134 OPS+ (OPS is on base percentage plus slugging percentage; OPS+ compares players OPSs with each other, with low numbers being bad, high numbers being good, and 100 as average. 134 is a really nice OPS). But in 2011, the first year he was hampered by leg injuries, Howard still hit 33 home runs with a 126 OPS+. This year, playing with a partially torn meniscus until recently gong on the disabled list, Howard still managed to hit for a 111 OPS+.
Sure, his defensive range, throwing accuracy, and speed are terrible. But a healthy Howard would still be an asset to the Phillies - and the fact that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy isn’t his fault.
This is a man who plays hard every time he’s on the field, works his hardest to get better, and handles himself with professionalism and class. Despite his decline in production, he deserves better than what he’s been getting from Phillies fans.
It was supposed to be Egypt’s America moment. Like the American colonists more than two hundred years before them - so the story goes - Egyptians were shaking off the bonds of tyranny, staging a coup against President Hosni Mubarak for the right to govern themselves.
Leaders on both sides of the American political spectrum had praised the 2011 Arab Spring populist movement that brought down dictators of several north African and middle eastern countries, including Egypt.
Neoconservative columnist Bill Kristol, for example, urged the United States to “to do the right thing, to stand with the opponents of tyranny.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed as recently as October: “we have to stand with those who are working every day to strengthen democratic institutions, defend universal rights, and drive inclusive economic growth,” she said, explaining America’s support of the Arab Spring.
In short, both conservatives and liberals agreed that the United States should be on the right side - the democratically elected side - of history.
In 2013, with hindsight, the Arab Spring seems far less glorious: Sudan has been torn apart by a civil war, radicals in Libya killed a U.S. ambassador, and Syria is mired in a humanitarian crisis, a bloody tug-of-war between the Scylla and Charybdis of warring radical Islamists. The promises of freedom ring particularly hollow in Egypt, where democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi was recently overthrown after consolidating power by “temporarily” nullifying the country’s legislative and judicial branches.
What went wrong? Was democracy a mistake?
I submit that democracy wasn’t the problem; we just have too simple an understanding of what democracy is. As I learned in high school civics class, majority rule is important to democracy, but so is minority rights.
It’s not enough at any level of government to say, “We won, so it doesn’t matter what the rest of you think any more.” That’s why the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights spends as much time saying what the majority-elected government can’t do to minorities as what it can do. You have a right to worship and assemble as you see fit, a right to speak out against a government that the majority elected, a right to due process if you’re accused of a crime-even if the majority, even if a super majority, doesn’t like the way you exercise those rights.
That’s what the ideal of democracy that we should support is all about: freedom for all, not just freedom for the majority.
No one knows if the next Egyptian government will be better or worse than the last. But we shouldn’t shed a tear for Morsi, an anti-Semitic president who actively persecuted non-Islamic faiths and refused to obey the Egyptian judiciary’s attempts to protect his opposition.
Morsi may have been popularly elected, but he wasn’t a democratic leader. Not at all.
The Phillies have reached the midway point of their season, and the overwhelming hot topic about the team is whether they should be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Rather than go on “gut reaction,” I’ve decided to list the areas of the Phillies team and season that are likely to be better, worse or stay the same in the second half. Given that the Phillies are currently 7.5 games out of a playoff spot, the improvements would have to largely outweigh the regressions for this team to have good reason to trade away prospects to make a playoff run.
Offense: The offense has been mediocre this year due to a lack of above-average young offensive talent and a plethora of old, injury-prone former stars. But they actually haven’t been as bad as people think, currently tied for 9th among the 15 National League teams with 320 runs scored (the same as the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have the best record in baseball). Injuries, particularly to Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Ryan Howard have played a role in their sputtering production—but, given their most competent hitters’ advanced ages, the Phillies will probably have more injuries in the second half of the season. Projection: same.
Defense: The Phils defense is primarily notable for its absolutely awful defense at third base (Michael Young), first base (Ryan Howard) and right field (Delmon Young). The Phillies should cut Delmon Young, who has also struggled at the plate until very recently. The rest of the defense ranges from above average when healthy (Jimmy Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, Freddy Galvis) to competent (Dominic Brown) to speedy but erratic (Ben Revere). None of this is likely to change. Projection: same, slightly better if the Phils cut Delmon Young.
Starting Pitching: Starting pitching is this team’s strength, and it stands to be a little better in the second half of the season for three reasons: John Lannan is now healthy, Cole Hamels is likely to pitch better than he has so far, and the Phillies don’t have to deal with an injured Roy Halladay start every fifth day anymore. Projection: better
Relief Pitching: This bullpen is what it is, and it stinks—their league-worst earned run average is the biggest contributor to the Phils’ tough fist half. With the exception of Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies relievers are a who’s who list of being erratic and inconsistent. Bullpens, unfortunately, are very difficult to improve mid-season. Projection: same.
Schedule: The Phillies have a tougher second half schedule than their first half schedule. In particular, they have to play the division-leading Atlanta Braves fifteen times in July-September, compared with three times in April-June. Projection: worse
Luck: The Phillies are just 5 games under .500 despite posting a -46 run differential. Given their weak bullpen, there’s no good reason for this except good luck, and it’s likely to even out in the second half. Projection: worse.
Intangibles: The team’s always had a professional clubhouse that won’t quit, and they still do. There’s also the team’s tendency to always play better in the second half of the season—and it’s happened enough years in a row, that it’s hard to discount that tendency. Projection: better
Emotionally, I would love to see the core of stars that led the Phillies run of success in 2007-2011 remain on the team. But, looking at the above projections, this team realistically projects to finishing the season slightly above or slightly below .500. Given their weak farm system, the Phillies should look to be sellers at the trade deadline and flip quality players like Papelbon, Utley (if healthy), Ruiz (if healthy) and perhaps even ace Cliff Lee for prospects.
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”
So the childhood saying goes, carrying with it the weight of inevitability - but is marriage really deserving of that landmark status?
Underlying the debate over the Supreme Court’s gay marriage cases - dominated by the usual shrill accusations of “heathen” and “homophobe” - is a persistent but much quieter national puzzle about the nature and value of marriage as such. And that’s why the popular analogy that equates the battle for gay rights with the battle for civil rights, recently argued before the Supreme Court, is simply too quick and too simple.
Gay marriage is not, as some conservatives suppose, the cause of a weakened institution of marriage, but there’s no doubting that such a weakening has occurred in our culture. For better or worse, an institution that began as a socially mandated blood covenant has fallen over the past fifty years from its pedestal at the top of society: just look at no-fault divorces, increased singleness and permanent cohabitation, and the social norm of cohabitation before marriage for a few examples.
So, if we as a society still value marriage, it would behoove us to figure out why. Consider the following rather specific definition: “Marriage is a permanent union of one man and one woman for the purpose of sexual relations and raising children.” Then consider this question: which elements of the definition are essential to the public good (whatever it is) served by recognizing marriage?
Certainly not the “permanent” part, society has decided by its acceptance of no-fault divorce. The “man/woman” part is of course central to the gay marriage argument. Polyamorous couples frequently object to the monogamy standard embodied in “one” by using arguments similar to those of gay rights activists. Sexual relations and raising children are socially accepted today outside of marriage, so perhaps the purpose clause is no longer essential.
If all those arguments are accepted, that leaves the following definition: “Marriage is a union.” Some would argue that’s all it should be: an opportunity for people to express their love for one another, nothing more. Some would scrap marriage altogether. And maybe they’re right.
But we shouldn’t dismiss those who would caution against such a significant societal change as simply redneck racists who hate anyone different than themselves - particularly given the centuries-long history of marriage as traditionally defined, and particularly given the importance of the family unit on the development of children.
To be sure, there are homophobes and fundamentalists who are more interested in shrill condemnation than reasoned dialogue. But to compare the more measured opponents of gay marriage with racists is to ignore the fact that there are larger and more complex issues at play here than simple Klan-like hatred and ignorance.
The analogy won’t work, and every time it’s used, it obscures the larger, important debate about the nature and necessity of a society centered around marriage.
You’re stupid. No, you’re stupid.
One of the biggest dangers of ad hominem political attacks is that personality politics obscure actual debate of complicated issues—with the result that people support a policy view because of the person or party espousing it, not the view itself.
Take, for example, some recent stats comparing national surveillance programs under President Bush and President Obama, courtesy of a the Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. Comparing 2013 with 2006, 18 percent more Democrats and 22 percent less Republicans now value fighting terrorism over protecting privacy; 27 percent more Democrats and 23 percent less Republicans support controversial surveillance measures; 12 percent more Democrats and 13 percent less Republicans support government monitoring of e-mails and online activities.
Partisans on both sides will quickly point out differences in the scope or nature Obama’s and Bush’s programs, but the central issue in both cases is the same—does fighting terrorism justify curtailing privacy rights? There are persuasive arguments to be made on both sides of this issue—but, to me, the polls show that many people aren’t paying any attention to them. They simply check to see what their political team supports, and that’s good enough for them.
There is no hope for public policy improvement in Washington - or in our local townships and boroughs - if analysis stops at “what do my friends think?” Thinking that people one disagrees with are either evil or stupid is a sign of intellectual laziness, and intellectual laziness always has consequences.
In a previous blog post, I chronicled my five worst Phillies memories. Now, as promised, it’s time for the good stuff—the five best Phillies memories of my young life.
#5: 1997: Curt Schilling gets 319 Ks
It took until the late 2000s for me to see what a great Phillies team looked like, but I got to see what a great Phillies player looked like in my childhood years thanks to elite pitcher Curt Schilling. The Phils had some very bad teams in the late 90s, so the games were much more exciting with Schilling on the mound, with the Schillometer fan group in the stands counting each strikeout with posters displaying the letter K (the abbreviation for strikeout). And Schilling got a lot of strikeouts, particularly in 1997, when his 319 Ks set a team record for a right-handed pitcher. Thanks, Curt, for keeping my childhood baseball memories from being completely miserable.
#4: 2008: Matt Stairs walk-off jack lifts Phils over Dodgers
There has always been bad blood and drama-filled pennant races between the Phillies and the Dodgers in their rivalry, dating all the way back to the 1950 Phillies Whiz Kids. But the 2008 league championship series took the animosity to a whole new level. Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda threw over the head of Phillies center-fielder Shane Victorino, prompting a benches-clearing fight that even featured a scrum between coaches Davey Lopes and Larry Bowa.
Back on the field, the teams were tied at 5 in the top of the eighth inning of Game 4, with the Dodgers threatening to even the series 2-2—when pinch-hitter Matt Stairs stepped to the plate. More the size of a lumberjack than a baseball player, Stairs only did one thing well—hit home runs—but he crushed a pitch off Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton deep into the stands, catapulting the Phillies into their first World Series in 15 years.
#3: 2010: Roy Halladay’s playoff no-hitter
Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins earlier in 2010 doesn’t make this list for the simple reason that I didn’t get to watch it, so it isn’t really a memory for me. But I was able to watch Halladay’s first career playoff game, the divisional series opener against the Cincinnati Reds. As the game progressed, it became clear that I was watching something even more special than a perfect game: Halladay’s no-hitter would be just the second no-hitter in baseball’s postseason history. It was so exciting that Phillies legend Mike Schmidt couldn’t sleep, calling up ESPN talk show hosts in the middle of the night to chat. Thank you, Roy, for one of baseball’s truly great performances.
#2: 2007: Phillies rally to make first playoffs in 14 years
As I said in a previous post, I could not remember seeing the Phillies in the postseason before 2007—and with the Phils seven games behind the Mets with 17 to play, it looked like I would have to wait until 2008. No team in baseball history had ever overcome such a large deficit. But then the Mets got cold, and the Phillies got hot, winning 12 of 16 games and entering the final day of the season tied for first place. The excitement at Citizens Bank Park that day was unforgettable, and it grew when the scoreboard announced that the Mets had lost, meaning the Phils just needed to complete the victory against Washington to win the division.
As closer Brett Myers prepared to record the final out, legendary announcer Harry Kalas gave one of his best calls: “Myers ... has the sign from Chris Coste ... curveball, struck him out! The Phillies are National League East champions! Look at the scene on the field! Look at the scene on the stands! This is incredible! The Phillies are the National League East champions and will go to the postseason for the first time since 1993! Wow!”
Even a three-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies didn’t put a damper on fans’ spirits that year—and fans were looking forward to what lay ahead in 2008.
#1: 2008: Phillies win the world series
Winning championships has never come easy to Philadelphia teams, so when the Phillies looked on the verge of a non-dramatic, 4-1 World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, perhaps it was fitting that the weather got involved. Tampa Bay tied Game 5 at 2-2 in the sixth inning off Phillies ace Cole Hamels in the midst of a driving rain, after which play was suspended—and wouldn’t be resumed for two days.
When it finally resumed, more drama ensued. The Phils took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth, but Tampa Bay answered with a Rocco Baldelli home run in the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the seventh, unfairly maligned outfielder Pat Burrell doubled, and Pedro Feliz drove in what turned out to be the winning run. The Phillies mobbed closer Brad Lidge on the mound after he recorded the final out, a scene of celebration and euphoria I will never forget.
Some recent national news that got me thinking: shield laws for journalists have become a topic of conversation lately after it was discovered that the United States justice department was snooping on the records of Associated Press reporters and Fox News’s James Rosen, looking to silence whistleblowers.
For me, unlike most political discussions, this one isn’t academic. I wonder what I would do if threatened with jail time for failing to reveal anonymous sources.
Discussions about strengthening the law (as the law currently stands, reporters don’t generally have legal confidentiality protections) have largely come as an attempt by the Obama administration to distract reporters from the AP/ Rosen scandal itself—and the first thing that should be noted is they’re really two separate issues.
In Rosen’s case, the United States justice department asked a judge for a criminal warrant, claiming Rosen was a co-conspirator in violating national defense law because he attempted to gain information for a story. It’s absolutely outrageous and terrifying that the government would actually criminalize investigative journalism, regardless of one’s views on the shield law. Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s outrage over the scandal seems hypocritical due to their relative silence in defending journalists attacked and jailed by the Bush administration.
But, politics aside, the discussion over shield laws to project journalists from revealing anonymous sources is still a valid one: do the advantages to democracy that are only obtained by a free and vigorous press outweigh the legitimate needs of government to keep some information confidential?
There’s actually another reason for opposing shield laws, this one made by First Amendment advocates: perhaps acknowledging the need for a shield law cedes too much to government. Given a properly expansive view of the First Amendment, they say, journalists already have all the protections they need—it’s not up to Congress to protect journalists, it’s up to the constitution.
The problem here is that it’s not at all clear that the First Amendment was ever intended to protect the anonymity of speech (the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against anonymous freedom of speech for political purposes a few years ago).
And, even as a journalist, I have mixed thoughts on anonymous sources. There are certainly legitimate uses for anonymous sources to combat an overbearing government, but too often, cowards just want to be anonymous so they can criticize somebody without being criticized back.
Ultimately, journalists probably shouldn’t expect a government interested in protecting secrets to protect them instead. Good investigative journalism requires the bravery to stand up to government and the honesty to protect sources after promising them anonymity, even if you’re threatened with legal consequences.
Bravery and honesty: journalists everywhere have always needed to be committed to those two qualities above all. Any journalist who complains about that fact should probably just look for another job.
As promised from yesterday's blog post, here's the conclusion of my trip down nightmare memory lane: the worst memories of my history as a Phillies fan. Stay tuned for the best Phillies moments over the past 15+ years sometime soon!
#2: 2005: Craig Biggio walks off the Phils’ playoff dreams
Not remembering the 1993 season, I had never seen the Phillies in the playoffs—but the 2005 team was on the brink. Early in September, they were on the thick of a playoff hunt and facing one of their biggest rivals for the wild card spot, the Houston Astros. After losing the first two games of the series, they had to win the third on Wednesday, September 7.
The game that followed seemed specifically designed to create maximum torture for Phillies fans. Trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies scored three runs to take the lead—and you could feel the excitement at the ballpark. But with two outs in the ninth inning, closer Billy Wagner allowed runners to reach base on an error and an infield single, and Astros star Craig Biggio hit a 3-run home run to give the Astros the win and dash the Phils playoff hopes.
#1: 2011: Cardinals bust Phillies title hopes, Howard busts Achilles
The Phillies had won a team record 102 games in the regular season, but were tied at two games apiece heading into a winner take all playoff game five against the St. Louis Cardinals. Phils ace Roy Halladay threw what may turn out to be his last big-stage masterpiece, holding the hot-hitting Cardinals to one run. But through a combination of bad luck, good pitching and bad hitting, the Phils were unable to score a single run.
Star Ryan Howard, who represented the Phillies last out, ended the game by hitting a weak groundball—and ruptured his Achillies tendon running toward first. Howard’s agonized cries rang throughout the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park as the Cardinals rushed the mound to celebrate, a surreal ending to what had been a great season.
To many longtime Phillies fans, I’m young—pathetically young, in fact. A late 80s baby, I don’t remember the heartache of the Phillies’ 1964 collapse, the joy of their first world series win in 1980, or even the quirky 1993 pennant winners. But I do have my baseball memories, so here goes my top five worst Phillies memories in my young life (I’ll present my five best memories in a later post).
#5: 2006: Phils trade Bobby Abreu for nothing
Bobby Abreu, acquired in a trade for washed-up shortstop Kevin Stocker, was one of the truly underappreciated players in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies, a consistent .300 hitter that fans criticized for occasional bad defensive plays. In July 2006, the Phillies traded him to the New York Yankees (of all teams, and adding in stating pitcher Cory Lidle to boot) in exchange for virtually nothing and for no apparent reason except cutting payroll. To make matters worse, the Phillies would miss the playoffs by just two games that season—if only…
#4: 1996: Lenny Dykstra gets hurt and doesn’t return
Too young to have eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, I loved Lenny Dykstra as a young child. A terrible human being by all accounts, Dykstra was enormously fun to watch run with full-out abandon for every ball in center field. I even have a baseball signed by Dykstra. In retrospect, his career being cut short abruptly by back injuries was probably a blessing in disguise, because I didn’t waste the rest of my childhood routing for a man who created a ponzi scheme and was one of baseball’s proudest steroid users. But the childhood disappointment of Dykstra’s retirement still stings.
#3: 2010: Ryan Howard’s strikeout ends hopes of pennant three-peat
After making the World Series two years in a row, it seemed like a sure think that the 97-win Phillies would beat the uninspiring 92-win Giants (who somehow went on to win the world series). But after an excruciatingly low-scoring series, Ryan Howard struck out looking with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 to seal the Phils’ fate. It was tough to take, and turned out to be foreshowing of 2011’s postseason for the Phillies.
Worst moments #2 and #1 will be revealed tomorrow!
I recently had the privilege to attend a presentation by Middletown Area Middle School students who participate in the anti-bullying Club Ophelia. I was impressed by the compassion, empathy and courage those students demonstrated in their stand against teenage bullying—a phenomenon that is frighteningly real, even in Middletown.
But sadly, bullying in Middletown isn’t limited to schools.
As a reporter, I follow what local political movements are saying—and I have to say that I’ve never seen a political campaign in a small town that was more vitriolic and personal than the one preceeding Middletown’s recent primary election.
While there are many examples, I’ll mention two that particularly stood out to me.
The website for Middletown Citizens for Responsible Government—a political action committee that mysteriously refuses to name what candidates it supports—posted an “Open letter to Mayor Robert Reid.” The letter snidely attacks Reid—widely respected, in my experience, as a humble man who truly cares about the town—for not endorsing council incumbents and saying the website took one of his quotes out of context. It calls the mayor names and sarcastically insults his intelligence and competence.
Contrast that with the respectful reaction of mayoral candidate James Curry to Reid’s endorsement of a different candidate: “Everybody's entitled to their own opinion, but I'm hoping that the people will look at it objectively and pick the candidate who's best suited for the job.” It still gets the point across, but without the rudeness.
The second example is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, a Facebook page that claims to belong to a Penn State Harrisburg student (although Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was the name of a character from the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The page, which drips with sarcasm, venom, and foul language, has consistently attacked candidates who disagree with council and their supporters. It’s accused people of allegedly abetting sex offenders, looking for personal monetary gain, and not paying taxes; called them names like the “secret squirrels” and “varmint”; and even created crass graphics to make people look foolish.
With attacks like that, what decent person would want to be involved in the public discussion to make Middletown better?
I’ve also seen childish attacks flung at the current borough officials—comments about someone’s appearance; claims that the a town leader is intentionally trying to bankrupt the town, like a comic book villain; rude, photoshopped images of borough officials.
If there is one thing that can definitely said about Middletown, it’s that the issues it faces are complex, and reasonable people can disagree without being stupid or dishonest.
As a reporter, I frequently get calls from people on both sides of issues—and, quite honestly, I’m often disappointed at the level of discourse. Most of the “tips” tend to focus on the legal records or other misdeeds of one person or another rather than actual policy issues.
Now, I do my due diligence to investigate the validity of these finger-pointing tips, but wouldn’t it be more useful to focus on the issues that will determine the town’s future?
At the end of the day, the negativity probably causes more problems than anything else, because it tarnishes Middletown’s reputation and discourages civic involvement.
Middletown is recovering from a brutally negative primary race, but the town’s political future still hangs in the balance in November’s general election.
As we approach that election, perhaps we should take the words of one Club Ophelia student to heart: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”