Centers' Little Helper

Dennis Hans, unrenowned former adjunct professor of mass comm and American foreign policy, relentlessly exposed the Bush administration’s “techniques of deceit” BEFORE the Iraq war, when it could have made a difference (see links). For decades he has fought baseball’s discrimination against lefthanded infielders and promoted his ingenious clockwise solution. A lifelong advocate for a flowing, non-brutal, flop-free NBA, he now champions the cause of its second-class citizens: the centers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Old lie won’t die if news media don’t brand it a lie

At his March 21 news conference, Bush repeated one of his favorite whoppers in the middle of this statement about why he invaded Iraq: "I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences. And therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.”

In the real world in the months preceding the invasion, Saddam accurately disclosed that he had no WMD or active WMD programs. UN inspectors went wherever they wanted whenever they wanted and inspected every suspicious site. They were hitting all the places recommended by US and British intelligence, and if they had been allowed to complete the job (the option of taking Saddam at his word was, quite correctly, not on the table), within a few months Iraq would have gotten a clean bill of health. There would have been no legit cause for war. UN inspectors would have continued to inspect, monitor and verify Iraq's ongoing compliance INDEFINITELY, as mandated by the Security Council. That mandate would have remained in place as long as the US so desired, because as a permanent member of the Security Council it could veto any resolution calling for the lifting of the OMV (Ongoing Monitoring and Verification) program. On-site inspections and the ban on importing WMD-related materials would have continued for as long as the Bush administration and its successors wanted.

One of the first times (maybe the first) that Bush offered this bizarre explanation came on July 14, 2003, when he took a few questions from the press after a meeting at the White House with Kofi Annan. Bush said
that US forces removed Saddam Hussein from power after “we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in.”

I wrote about it at the time, to no avail. (See my article ”Undeleted Uranium and the ‘Highest Standard’", which examines the incredibly lax truth-telling standards in the Bush administration.) July 14, 2003 should have been the last time Bush offered such an explanation, because in a sane world the major media would have called him on it. He would have been forced to explain himself, which he wouldn’t be able to do, at which point he would have to admit that he had lied or was confused to the point of being delusional. Whichever the case, it should have placed him in seriously hot water for a prolonged period, and been one more reminder that the man simply cannot be trusted.

It’s impossible to overstate the ignorance, incompetence and cowardice of the White House press corps and the top dogs at our major “news” organizations. For reasons only each of them can explain, they, with few exceptions, let this howler stand. In one mild exception, Dana Milbank and Dana Priest noted gently in the Washington Post that Bush's statement “appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.”

That's better than nothing, but Milbank and Priest have no way of knowing what Bush did or did not "believe" in the pre-war period. He might have regarded the inspections as quite effective in demonstrating that there was no sign of WMD activity and no WMD residue in the soil at countless sites that US and Brit intelligence asserted were hotbeds of WMD activity. Bush might have regarded the inspections as quite effective in persuading fair-minded people that Iraq did not have an active nuclear-weapons program, despite contrary claims from unscrupulous characters named Bush, Cheney, Powell and Tenet. Maybe what Bush actually "believed" is that the inspections were effective but not helpful: the longer the process went, the more obvious it was becoming that Iraq was not a WMD threat. The inspections were effective, all right — effective in robbing Bush of his pretext for war. Maybe that's what Bush believed.

A few days after co-writing the July 2003 story with Priest, the excessively blasé Milbank explained on CNN why the news media either ignored Bush's howler or treated it as no big deal. He told Howard Kurtz (his Post colleague and the host of CNN’s incredibly lame media-analysis show “Reliable Sources"), “I think what people basically decided was this is just the President being the President. Occasionally he plays the wrong track and something comes out quite wrong. He is under a great deal of pressure."

Well, nearly three years later the wrong track is still playing in Bush’s head. I surfed around the evening news shows last night and saw no mention of it, including on shows that referenced Bush’s exchange with Helen Thomas that included his ludicrous statement. From the little I’ve seen of today’s print media — including a Milbank column — Bush is getting away with it again.

So here’s a reminder to Milbank — who clearly knows the truth, having reported it in the Post — and to countless other Washington-based journalists who are far more pathetic than he: The Iraqi government correctly said it no longer possessed WMD or WMD programs, and unimpeded UN inspectors were in the process of confirming that very fact when our president aborted the process by launching a war of aggression. When Bush makes an absurdly false statement that absolves him of responsibility for the war and its aftermath, it is your DUTY to tell your readers or viewers what the truth is, and to force the president to PUBLICLY set the record straight. This should happen EVERY TIME he does this. The president should not be allowed to get away with saying that up is down and black is white. Ever.

As for Bush’s war of choice, it has led to the death of tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 2000 Americans — and there’s no end in sight.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I’ve solved Duncan’s free-throw dilemma

The Spurs’ graceful center-forward is at .635 from the stripe with a month to go in the season; four years ago he shot .799, followed by .822 in the playoffs. In a matter of hours I could get him squared away. The honcho in San Antone, Gregg Popovich, recently said he’s learned valuable insights into coaching tactics, techniques and philosophy from coaches in foreign lands. Now if we can just get him to open his mind to teaching methods from non-coaches in domestic lands!

The difference between a title and a close-but-no-cigar finish could be Duncan’s performance at the stripe. Will Popovich stick to the head-in-the-sand approach currently utilized by Pat Riley with regard to Shaq, or will Pop open his mind? That’s the question.

UPDATE March 30: I first wrote about Duncan's yo-yo free-throw career during the 2005 playoffs, in this Inside Hoops essay. It was chock full of insights, as usual, but I wrote it from an erroneous premise: that Duncan was shooting in 2005 with the same basic delivery as in his banner 2001-02 season. A few weeks ago I learned that that was not the case. I've alerted the Spurs' braintrust to the differences, and time will tell if they heed my advice. The Spurs have more smart, open-minded people in their organization than your typical NBA franchise, so there's a decent chance they'll do some heeding.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Krugman and I expose McCain’s warts

Paul Krugman of the New York Times seems to me the sharpest establishment columnist going today. Way back in 2000 the Princeton economist documented time and again the essential dishonesty of candidate George W. Bush, with particular emphasis on Bush’s economic and social-security proposals. Krugman carefully showed how Bush’s numbers didn’t add up, and he showed how Bush repeatedly fudged yet paid no penalty for the fudging. Why? Because Krugman was a lone voice challenging Bush’s integrity, while the media chorus was lauding him as a plain-spoken Texas “straight shooter.”

Today Krugman takes down someone who’s even more beloved by the mainstream media than Bush had been until a few months ago: John McCain. Krugman shows that McCain is a cave-in artist rather than The Man Who Stands Tall, and that he’s far more conservative — and hawkish — than his reputation. He’s not a moderate, and to be fair to McCain, he routinely and accurately describes himself as a “proud Reagan Republican.”

Anyway, I’m glad Krugman has finally gotten around to puncturing the McCain myth. Granted, I beat him to the punch by six years, focusing on McCain’s belligerent, neanderthal approach to foreign policy, which echoed Reagan in its fondness for rightwing dictatorships and insurgent/terrorist groups that slaughtered and tortured with impunity. Perhaps the most amazing thing about my McCain takedown is that the Miami Herald published it. The Herald link for that Feb. 25, 2000 column, “A Foreign-Policy Quiz For McCain,” no longer exists, but this one does.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How I’ll (again) help Shaq at the stripe

That’s the title of my latest essay on Shaq’s ongoing free-throw woes, posted March 12 at

As I’ve told the Miami Heat repeatedly for the past two seasons, Shaq cannot “repetition” his way out of his trouble at the stripe, for his current delivery is the problem rather than the solution. He entered the NBA in 1993 with a fairly conventional grip and stroke that produced a nice arc and ball rotation. But he abandoned or lost the hang of that delivery within a year or so. Eight years later he had some success with a completely different and decidedly unconventional — but compact and pressure-proof — delivery. He lost that, too.

There are a variety of ways he can get back on track, and I propose one such path in the essay. Feel free to pass it along to Shaq or his coach, Pat Riley. As I explain, things worked out pretty well two years ago when Shaq’s coach in L.A. paid heed to my advice and passed it on to Shaq. Alas, that Laker team blew up before I could be of even greater help.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Amare should skip back-to-backs upon return

Charles Barkley is at his best at getting to the heart of the matter and dispensing tough love to players and teams. He’s at his worst in examining complex questions with several variables. His advice to Amare Stoudemire not to return to action this season from preseason microfracture knee surgery is indicative of Barkley’s inability to make subtle distinctions.

For Barkley, all knees and microfracture surgeries are created equal. But they’re not. His favorite example, Chris Webber, wasn’t ready after 10 months. He, like Penny Hardaway, had a really bad knee. Jason Kidd, on the other hand, had a defect to a part of the knee that doesn’t bear weight. He returned after about 6 months and looked very much like his old self. He played limited minutes for the first month or so, but was soon playing his regular quota. That was last season. This season has been more of the same. He hasn’t missed a game and looks exactly like Jason Kidd.

Like Kidd, Amare’s knee had a minor defect, albeit one that can only be corrected through surgery. The Suns don’t seem to be pushing him to return prematurely, and Amare is the rare player who won’t let himself be pushed and knows just how risky and stupid it is to come back too soon or play too many minutes too soon after surgery.

It looks like he will indeed be ready for NBA action later this month, if his rehab continues on schedule with no setbacks. To reduce the likelihood of a setback after he returns, my advice to the Suns is to not play him on consecutive nights. From March 20 to the end of the season they have only four sets of back-to-backs, and there’s absolutely no reason to find out now if his knee can handle back-to-backs; that can wait till next season. Any unnecessary duress that could lead to swelling and/or pain should be avoided. There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs, when the games really count. The objective is to get his mind, body and game ready for those widely spaced postseason games.

The wise course when he returns to action within the next few weeks is to start him out at about 20 minutes, with the goal of progressing to 32 or so by the end of the regular season, assuming he encounters no physical problems. I expect Amare to be a dynamic contributor this postseason as the Suns win their first NBA crown.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Baseball continues to discriminate against lefthanders

With another baseball season about to begin, I thought I’d share with you an essay of mine that appeared in the New York Times in 1998, explaining how baseball could modify the rule that effectively bars lefthanders from half of the everyday positions. My solution allows those lefties whose body frame and athletic attributes make them naturals for second base, shortstop, third base or catcher to garner their fair share of jobs at those posts.

Alas, I discovered that the influence of the Times — or at least its sports section — was far less than I had imagined. The anticipated groundswell never materialized. As for the title “Really Radical Realignment,” that’s a play on the term “radical realignment,” which referred to contemporaneous proposals to move various teams to new divisions or from the American or National League.

New York Times
March 29, 1998

Really Radical Realignment
A Lefty Demands That First Base Be Switched With Third

By Dennis Hans

You want “radical realignment”? Put first base down the left field line.

We lefties are 15 percent of the population, and we’re sick and tired of living in your world.

We don’t like driving on your side of the road. We’re not amused when your scissors and can openers don’t work. We don’t appreciate the crippling arthritis we develop writing from left to right — writing your way.

Most of all, we don’t enjoy watching you play second base, shortstop, third base and catcher.

Four positions. Half of the everyday jobs in baseball. Excluded. Locked out. Left out.

The so-called “national pastime” tells us, “Go home, Lefty. Buy an outfielder’s glove and maybe we’ll talk. Got a great arm? Then maybe we’ll hire you to strike out a lefty slugger with the game on the line. (Lord knows our righties can’t.) We don’t care if you’ve got Ozzie-like skills, there’s no room at the in(field).”

Physics is the surface explanation for our plight, discrimination the deep-rooted one. First, the physics.

Only a righty second baseman can turn a double play in one fluid motion. Only a righty shortstop can range deep in the hole, backhand a ground ball, plant and fire to first. Only a righty third baseman can charge down the line, barehand a bunt and sling it to first on the dead run. Lefties, on the other hand, must go through time-consuming 180-degree turns to complete these routine plays. Their throws reach first too late to nab the runner. From behind the plate, a lefty catcher’s throws to second tail away from the advancing base stealer.

Managers should pass us by, because a so-so righty at any of these positions is more effective than a superbly skilled lefty.

Now for the discrimination. Where is it written in stone that baseball can only be played with first base down the right field line and the bases run exclusively in a counterclockwise direction? A cavalier decision 151 years ago by the fallible humans of the Knickerbocker Club should not be confused with a writ from on high. The placement of first base could just have easily been down the left field line, left to the discretion of the home team or, as I shall advocate, left to the discretion of the defensive team.

Two hundred years ago, Americans amended the Constitution to guarantee freedom of assembly. Surely we can amend baseball’s constitution to extend that right to the infield diamond: “freedom to assemble regardless of handedness.”

Ask yourself these questions (I’ll provide the answers):

Q. Would righty infielders have the advantage if first base were down the left field line?
A. No. All the advantages they presently hold would fall to the lefties; we would prevail at 2B, SS, 3B and C.
Q. Would baseball be different in any significant way if the bases were run in a clockwise direction?
A. No. Still three strikes and you’re out, three outs in an inning, a tie goes to the runner, and so on.
Q. Wouldn’t it be simple — and fair — to let the team in the field dictate the direction its opponent runs the bases?
A. Yes.
Q. If this were the case, how would a team decide whether to play Lefty Defense?
A. By putting its players through infielding drills. If the team has an abundance of slick-picking southpaws, it would play Lefty Defense.
The transition period may be bumpy, but within a few years about 15 percent of teams will have converted to Lefty Defense. Those teams will recruit lefty infielders exclusively, just as the other 85 percent of teams will recruit only righty infielders. Of course, the pitching staff and other position players will be a mixture of lefties and righties on both types of teams. A Lefty Defense squad might well have an all-righty outfield and a predominately righty staff. Not a thing wrong with that.
Q. Can we really expect players to make the physical and mental switch to clockwise running when they face Lefty Defense?
A. Please, you’re insulting the intelligence of baseballers. Are football players confused after the quarter break, when they change ends? Do basketball players freak out at the start of the third quarter when they fastbreak toward the very goal they were defending in the second quarter? The football and basketball players change direction during games; baseballers will know before the game starts the direction they’ll run for the entire game. The batter facing Lefty Defense will receive signs from his third base coach down the right field line. He’ll note the first baseman’s glove on the lanky dude standing 100 feet from the plate down the left field line. Switching back and forth will soon be second nature; and kids, of course, will grow up running both ways.

We’re willing to forgive the 150 years of pain and suffering baseball has inflicted on us if baseball is willing to accept and promote Lefty Defense. If baseball drags its feet, we’ll take our struggle to the streets and the courts — protests in the former and multi-billion-dollar class-action suits in the latter. One way or the other, baseball will become an inclusive national pastime. We won’t be left out.

Dennis Hans is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.