Friday, November 30, 2007

Hot Damn! It's Hot Stove time! Not a moment too soon. The Nats strike while the iron is still cold....Getting super-prospect Lastings Milledge, for the streaky Ryan Church, and the anemic-hitting Brian Schneider.

What's NOT to like, or love, about this deal? Except that I'm a life-long Mets fan, and still a little conflicted when the Nats go up against them.

Church was never going to be given the chance to be a regular with the Nats, for whatever reason. On the other hand, Church killed the Mets this year -- his performance up in Shea, in September, took the division crown away from the New Yorkers. No doubt, this influenced the Mets greatly. Maybe he'll flourish up there, though he will surely still continue to strike out in many clutch situations. And maybe Schneider will regain some of the promise he had when he was picked for the USA roster at the World Baseball Classic. Mets' fans can only hope.

For the Nats, losing Schneider puts the team a little bit behind the eight-ball. He played quite nicely down the stretch -- showed off a laser rifle of an arm, and hit some, too. This deal means that Flores will stay up with the big club in '08, but it also means the Nats need to find someone else who can split the catching duties with Jesus. On the other hand, the Nats aren't going to win games without some more offense at the position than Schneider could give -- and the Nats need to be focused on 2009, and 2010, anyway.

In the meantime, as for Milledge, I see two possibilities. The Milledge trade could be preliminary to another deal -- possibly for the A's Danny Haren (the A's have been trying to pry Milledge from the Mets for years, but the teams couldn't swing the deal. If they do deal Milledge, then the Nats would continue to pursue that Japanese centerfielder. However, it's a mixed bag when you bring over a Japanese player -- you don't know what you'll be getting, especially in the beginning. Just ask the Metropolitans about Kaz Matsui. The Nats do (or did) need to find a major league centerfielder. As much as I love the idea of J-Max (Justin Maxwell), the local boy doing good, he's not ready for the bigs, yet.

So, the Nats just might hang on to Milledge. He'll flash a little leather, and bring the crowd to its feet with a few triples. Even if he takes some more time to develop his raw ability, he can contribute some excitement right away. Right now, they've got the prospect that Alex Escobar was supposed to be when he came up with the Mets...and they've got him young and healthy. So, we can forget about Escobar, let J-Max get some polish at Columbus, and focus on getting another backstop and pitching.

Forget about the stuff about Milledge's supposed character issues. In the words of Warren Zevon, he's just an excitable boy. When he started high-fiving the crowd? That was brilliant. I wish that happened more.

In two years, the Nats will be picking between Milledge, Pena, Kearns, J-Max and maybe Marrero (I guess we can't rule out Casto, either). I'd say they will be able to put together a pretty good outfield by then...and maybe, a lot sooner. If management can shape the rest of the team with the same kind of promise, the Nats will in pretty good shape.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Announcing: The Armistice Project -- In the United States, we're celebrating Veterans Day. There are ceremonies on the National Mall, most notably at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. Across the country, there are the usual parades, and the television has the usual bevy of films celebrating heroic battles, like "The Longest Day" and "We Were Soldiers." While Americans honor a holiday, American troops are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, facing the twin dangers of IEDs and ambush.

The rest of the world remembers this date in history a little differently. Across Europe, in Australia, in many other countries, today is Armistice Day. Eighty-nine years ago, the great Western powers -- the allied Entente armies of the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France, reached agreement to stop fighting with the Central powers, consisting of the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman Empires. The agreed cease-fire wasn't immediate - it was scheduled to take place on this day, 89 years ago. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, the slaughter that was once called the Great War came to an end. That is the Armistice which the world remembers this day.

Eleven years from now, we will commemorate the centennial -- the 100th anniversary of that most famous cease-fire. Of course, that Armistice ended a war we now know as the First World War. At the time, the fight was described as "The War to End All Wars." Obviously, that proved to be an overly optimistic prediction, as various conflicts erupted in the late 1930s, and eventually turned into the still greater conflagration of the Second World War. Much effort has been put into avoiding a Third World War, but there have been literally hundreds of other regional conflicts in the years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to that most terrible of wars.

We are still, as the NGO calls it, a World at War. By this group's count, there have been 1883 separate conflicts -- separate either in time, geography, combatants or events, just in the years since WWII ended in 1945.

Currently, according to another NGO, Ploughshares, there are currently 29 ongoing conflicts. That count is likely to hit 30 in the coming weeks, if, as expected, Ethiopia and Eritrea go to war. Even as I write this, armies are massing in that border region.

Concern about the carnage and death toll from mankind's seemingly endless series of armed conflicts is hardly a new phenomenon. As long as there has been recorded history, humans have longed for peace. The Bible speaks of a day when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares." Even governments have tried to end all war. In 1928, many nations signed on to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which called for "the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy."

As discouraging as our history of violence can be, it is important to remember that, except for those 29 conflicts (some of which are in a state of cease-fire, including most obviously, the Israel-Hezbollah war in the Lebanon border region), every war that was ever started eventually ended. From that hopeful realization, comes the dream that a global peace is possible.

Numerous organizations have dedicated themselves to the promotion of peaceful resolution of conflicts. There are so many groups, small and large in number and focus, that it is impossible to compile a comprehensive list. Notable ones include the above-mentioned Ploughshares, the Centre for Conflict Resolution, and The International Institute for Strategic Studies . Leading American groups include The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for Strategic and International Studies , and the U.S. gov't-created United States Institute of Peace.

While the above-mentioned groups represent only a small sample of NGOs focused on conflict resolution and education, any such enumeration must include the largest organization or body contributing to the furtherance and maintenance of a peaceful globe: the United Nations' Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). There are currently 20 peacekeeping operations supported by the DPKO.

The United Nations itself is actually the preeminent organization in this arena -- the promotion of peaceful diplomacy and international relations. The organization was founded in the aftermath of WWII, by the nations of a war-weary world. The very first line in the U.N. Charter declares the nations' determination "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

Of course, the U.N. has had very mixed results in pursuing that end. In Korea and in the first Gulf War, the organization acted to authorize the member states to conduct military operations, in response to significant breaches of the peace. Sometimes, it seems, conflict is unavoidable, or at least, justified. Article I of the U.N. Charter declares the organization's purpose to "maintain international peace and security." It is understood that to achieve "that end" it is necessary "to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace."

Any advocate of peace must understand that it the first principle of international law is the right of self-defense. With the advent of U.N., that right has been expanded to include the right of the organization to authorize actions in collective defense -- that is the right of nations to intervene and protect other nations, or even threatened peoples within nations. That latter principle is understood as the right of Humanitarian Intervention. However, these rights stand as exceptions to the overarching principle established with the Nuremberg War Crimes trials, that it is a grave breach of peace and a crime to wage aggressive war.

Peace is, clearly, a complicated business, and has always been achieved on a piecemeal basis. In recent years, the United Nations has been the focus of efforts to go beyond piecemeal conflict resolution. In 1981, the United Nations created a yearly event designated as International Peace Day. The UN's resolution declared
"that the third Tuesday of September, the opening day of the regular session of the General Assembly, shall be officially dedicated and observed as the International Day of Peace and shall be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples." The general concept was "to devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as of the whole of mankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways."

Twenty years after that resolution was first adopted, the UN amended the original resolution, by declaring that the International Day of Peace would always be September 21. The original "Third Tuesday in September" was meant to commemorate the opening of the first UN General Assembly. It was decided to fix a permanent date, rather than continue the third Tuesday tradition. Somewhat ironically, this resolution was adopted less than three weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The 2001 resolution also included an "invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day."

To date, not one nation or combatant militia group has accepted that invitation.

I believe what is lacking in this effort is the symbolism needed to coalesce vague aspirations into a concerted effort to bring about a world-wide cease-fire. I believe that the coming 100th anniversary -- the centennial observation -- of the original WWI Armistice offers the necessary symbolism. I propose an effort to call for a new United Nations' resolution, and a global coalition of committed NGOS and governments, that would call for a universal cessation of hostilities on November 11th, 2018.

It is with that belief that I have begun to organize a new NGO dedicated solely to this effort. I have dubbed the effort "The Armistice Project." Because of admittedly halted efforts, the website, and the project itself, is still very much a work in progress. I am just laying the foundations, but I am using this moment to fully dedicate myself to the realization of the project goals. I ask all those interested in getting involved to contact me. I haven't worked out all the bugs yet. There is a contact link at the project website (the link is above). However, for now, you can also write me at

Why today? It is 11 years until the centennial day. 11 years, until the world observes the 100th anniversary of the the cease-fire that began on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Today, I announce an 11 year campaign. The goals are still a bit undefined, We can work for a day-long cessation of hostilities, as the U.N. has tried to do in the past. Or we can use that day as the platform for a greater effort aimed at ending all, or as many of the ongoing conflicts, as possible. The original International Day of Peace resolution called for the U.N's Economic and Social Committee to investigate "the possibility of declaring an International Year of Peace at the first practicable opportunity." The UN's ECOSOC has not followed through on that, and the realization of that directive could also be a goal for the Project. I invite you to look at the materials on the website, Additional materials will be posted in coming days or weeks. I invite you to offer your own ideas, and to get involved.

As a species, we have scuttled the dreams of 1918. It is time to dream once again. We've got eleven years to do something really incredible. Hope you can help.

Friday, November 02, 2007

United's Future -- Now that D.C. United is out of the playoffs, it's time to ask: What's in store for this club? What goodies should we ask Santa to bring for D.C. United's fans? It is obvious that United needs to get someone up top to pair with Emilio. It would be nice to see Jaime Moreno stay on as a sub, if he is willing to take that role. Moreno would be a good late-game extra attacker, but he can no longer be one of the featured attractions.

In his Soccer Insider blog for the Washington Post, the paper's United beat reporter, Steven Goff has hinted that there are a couple of significant rumors about, which may impact the club. I would guess that one of those rumors he is hinting at is that Juan Sebastian Veron will finally sign with United, after ditching them at the altar last Spring. Given his credentials, I imagine that would be a nice addition. I think Veron and Gomez would make a nice center midfield.

Of course, that assumes Gomez stays. I am guessing the other rumor will be a loosening up of the roster rules -- either raising the cap, or allowing for two Designated Players -- so, United will be able to give Gomez the money he wants. I have read some harsh feelings here toward Gomez. I have been sharply critical all season of his effort -- and his condition. I do not think he was in shape this year. Ran out of gas almost every game. Not tonight, though. Gomez put his heart and soul in that last flurry of action. He won me back over. His free kicks weren't very good tonight, but I still hope they keep him.

D.C. United has won the Supporters Shield in two straight years, but winning the regular season doesn't really get recognized here. So, United hasn't really won anything. Still, they do have one of the best teams in the league, if not the very best. That said, there will be some changes -- because some players may want to go, and others need to be replaced. Hopefully, we will see some upgrades in the defense, and another capable striker. And maybe, Juan Sebastian Veron.

This has been...The Fisch Fry. Over and out?
Once Again, United Flops in Playoffs -- This time was a little different, though. This time, United saved its best for last, even if the team came up just short. After a ghastly defensive performance over the first 60 minutes, United put on the most furious comeback tonight. It just wasn't enough.

D.C. came into tonight's game needing to win by two goals, because they'd lost 1-0 in Chicago last week (on a boneheaded defensive play). Tonight, they couldn't finish their chances early on. Emilio floated a ball to the keeper from the top of the six. Simms somehow failed to score when the ball came to right at the doorstep. Pretty soon, United's attack started to bog down in the midfield.

You could feel the game was about to go south, when Chicago got a breakaway and a goal that nearly sank any chance of a D.C. rally. Then, a couple of minutes later, another defensive breakdown, and it was suddenly 2-0 Chicago (3-0 in the aggregate). At halftime, the small, but vocal Chicago Fire fan contingent was singing "Our House, in the middle of D.C." We were dead on our feet.

But....then like a prayer was being answered, D.C. turned it on. They'd played scared and not exactly vigorously for 60-some odd minutes. Like a switch coming on, United starting playing like a team on the brink, because they were. They got one goal, and then another. The crowd was going wild -- never has 22,000 people made so much noise. And the team was playing with more energy and abandon than I've seen in a long while. Suddenly it was 2-2, and D.C. needed just one more goal to tie the series and force an overtime period.

United almost got it, too. There was such an explosion of disbelieving joy when, over a minute into the extra time added for stoppages (the ref added four minutes), Christian Gomez ran onto a ball in the box, got around his man, and buried his shot in the corner of the goal!!! Incredibly, United had come back to force the overtime. Or had they?

For two seconds, RFK stadium was the epicenter of an earthquake -- then the referee came up and started pointing to the spot where Gomez played the ball, indicating a foul. Seems ol' Christian hit the ball with his left arm as he raced the defender for control.

There is no joy in Mudville, or Bethesda, for D.C. United, mighty, mighty D.C., two years in a row the team with the best record in the league, has once again bowed out...of the playoffs.

Now, I'm stuck with two tickets to the final here in 17 days...and it won't be United in it... I was thrilled by the comeback attempt, and United players can be proud of the way they finished -- perhaps this ending will leave a slightly better taste in their mouths than the last couple of years. Still, I am deeply disappointed that United is out of the playoffs.

The disappointment, for me, is that United won't be playing in the MLS Cup. There may be other MLS Cup finals for the club, but there will likely never be another played in RFK. Even if United is able to someday play a final at home, it will be in a much smaller facility. This was an irreplaceable moment in time, and it ends up being wasted.

My overall impressions? I only got a quick look at the play on the Jumbotron, to see if I could figure out why the goal was being waved off. By that time, I was sitting to the right of La Norte (crowd was seriously into it) -- meaning that I was about 125 yards away from the screen. Still, it looked like a handball to me -- at least enough so that I realized instantly that was the call. I didn't have a chance to determine if Gomez intentionally handled the ball or not.

Of course, goalie Troy Perkins should have been called for a penalty earlier. Fortunately, the referee ruled the foul was committed just outside the box, but the replay I saw apperaed to show it happened just inside the box. I don't know from where Perkins has suddenly picked up this habit of these half-assed challenges at the top of the box, but it is no way to play goalie. If you're going to do that stuff, you damn well better get the ball -- otherwise, get set and make yourself big. He's done this quite a bit recently, and he's getting burned more often than not.

In the end, I do not know how to feel about this game. United blew an extraordinary opportunity that may never come again for the franchise -- at least not like this -- to play in the final, in front of a huge, sellout home crowd, in the year people are actually paying a little attention. I guess the league has some integrity, because I am sure the league wanted United in the final...very, very badly.

Of course, United played like dogs for much of the first half -- after missing some good opportunities earlier, you could feel that it was about to turn ugly...and then it did.

Still, United gave us twenty of the most thrilling minutes in the history of the franchise. I do not know if they will ever match the excitement and intensity of that burst. The crowd -- no crowd has ever been louder -- we could have outshouted a full house at Wembley. I just wish the team had that intensity throughout. It's been missing for a month.

There were odd personnel moves. I don't know why Bobby Boswell was in there to start. He's been terrible all year, and tonight was no exception. I'm not clear why Marc Burch came out just before halftime. Was he beat on the goals? After the goals, he made a sparkling defensive tackle -- the first sign of life for the defense. Then, suddenly he was out, and he didn't appear injured. Without the benefit of the TV cameras and replay it's not always possible to see everything.

I guess Luciano Emilio was struggling with his injury. It seemed like coach Tommy Soehn was throwing in the towel, when he subbed out Emilio, the only guy who can score with any regularity -- even though United needed to score three goals in the last half hour. In fact, United was able to pick up its pace at that point, and began the comeback. So, that was a good move. One can't fault Soehn for giving Emilio a chance. I'm not so sure I feel the same about the Boswell start, and the Burch exit.

Oh well. I guess it's Hot Stove League time.