Friday, December 30, 2011

It's hard to defend Rick Perry

Not that I felt the need to defend him. But before clicking on this link that was preempted by Andrew Sullivan asking how dumb Perry is, I wanted to give Perry the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't dumb so much as he may have misspoken. Andrew probably wasn't being hyperbolic:

When told that the Supreme Court case struck down the Texas sodomy law, Perry said, “My position on traditional marriage is clear and I don’t know need a law. I don’t need a federal law case to explain it to me.”

The Texas governor referenced Lawrence v. Texas in his 2010 book Fed Up!, calling it one of the court cases in which “Texans have a different view of the world than do the nine oligarchs in robes.”

This was in response to being asked his opinion on the SC case that struck down anti-sodomy laws. He says he doesn't know the case, and that he shouldn't know it because he isn't a lawyer nor is trying to be one. Yeah, why would the president need to know the law in some capacity? It's not like the president is part of the legislative process or anything.

If that's not bad enough, he goes on to conflate gay marriage with sodomy. The case he was asked about wasn't about gay marriage. It was about whether the state has the right to keep people from partaking in certain sexual activities. Gay marriage is about whether the state should recognize the relationship of gay couples. So not only does he not care about the law despite wanting to be president, he doesn't understand policy issues.

But if that wasn't bad enough, it turns out that he criticized the case in his book. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he actually read about the case himself in the process or writing his book, that would mean he doesn't remember these types of things well. He could have had a brain fart, but to still play ignorant after being told what the case was about after you had previously written about it in your book isn't the most comforting trait in a presidential candidate, much less a governor.

Not giving him the benefit of the doubt, he had someone else write that for his book, and possibly more for the book. And that would mean he is a hack that just wanted to make money off of his position in public office. That's probably commonplace. But at least familiarize yourself with the content of the book you're attaching your name to.

The worst part about that last paragraph is the comment about the SC justices being oligarchs. Again Perry fundamentally doesn't understand the nature of our system of gov't. The Constitution, that document conservatives like Perry say they value so much, says that the job of those oligarch is black robes is to interpret the law. It's their job to say whether Texas can outlaw sodomy. Just because you don't like what they decide doesn't mean they are oligarchs and thus somehow illegitimate.

At best Perry is playing extremely ignorant here. If he understands the basic structure of our gov't he sure doesn't display that understanding here. If he understands important policy questions and what role the president plays in making laws he doesn't display that here. At worst Perry is what Andrew suggests, dumb. I won't go so far as to agree with Andrew because I can't see inside Perry's mind. But it's really difficult to continue to defend Perry and excuse these types of comments as just strategic ignorance.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Memphis Grizzlies home opener

It was a rematch of the fantastic playoff series from last year. And it almost lived up to those games. OKC comes into this season as a favorite of many to reach the finals. I can certainly see that given that they have three guys (Durant, Westbrook, Harden) who can consistently get their own shot and two good post defenders.

The Grizzlies enter this season with high expectations, at least for this franchise. Rudy Gay returns from a shoulder injury that prevented him from playing in the playoffs. Adding Gay's ability to a very good inside game has fans thinking the team could contend with OKC for the West.

The game opened on a downer for the Griz. On the first possession Mike Conley stepped on Perkins' foot and twisted his ankle. He didn't play the rest of the game. But the backup PG, Pargo, stepped in and played very well. Though initially this seemed to hurt the offense as they went 0 for their first 12 shots. But eventually Gay, Randolph and Gasol got going. The one place I think they missed Conley was 3 point shooting. The Griz didn't take too many 3 pointers. But they were terrible from 3.

That turned out to be a problem since OKC took a lot more and thus made more. Plus Kevin Durant showed why he is arguably the best player in the game. Rudy Gay hung in there most of the time. But Durant consistently hit tough shots that kept the Griz from taking the lead. But just like last year this team kept fighting and made it close at the end. I would have liked win this game against a very good team at home. But given Conley's injury and the adjustment of Gay back in the lineup I think they fared well. If they consistently play hard I think they can meet expectations and be a middle-seeded playoff team.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Summing up Obama's national security policy

Glenn Greenwald tweeted a link to this article from Michael Hirsh that discusses Obama's use of the CIA. This paragraph jumped out to me and I think one phrase in it sums up the way Obama has handled foreign policy and national security issues:

One senior official inside the CIA is forthright about the issue, at least when speaking anonymously. "It's a lot simpler and easier for a sniper to shoot or to use a Predator to launch a lawful attack than to detain and interrogate prisoners," he says. "Once they're dead, then Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International doesn't bring a habeas [corpus] case for them. If we're not going to hold them, we're 'pure.' We may not have information or intelligence, but we do ensure that no one in the human-rights community is yelling and screaming at us." In addition, the official says, not dealing with detainees has freed up the agency's resources to focus on the hunt for more terrorists.

It's a lot simpler to say we should look forward instead of launching a real investigation to try and gather all the facts and prosecute those responsible for torture and other unlawful acts. It's a lot simpler to bow to Congress's demands for military tribunals instead of trials in US courts. It's a lot simpler to keep Gitmo open and not release innocent prisoners.

Doing the right thing in politics is often not the more simple option. Often times you are putting your job and possibly career on the line, even those careers of people you know. Put the courage it takes to make the less simple and right decisions is what Obama sold us on. That's what I expected of him when he got my vote. That doesn't appear to be what we got.

I also found this interesting, whether killing terror suspects is not just legal, but an effective policy:

In the case of Nabhan, the Qaida leader in Somalia, U.S. special-operations forces apparently had the option to take him prisoner but were told to shoot, sacrificing not just a life but also a source of potentially valuable intelligence.

In the torture debates you often get the ticking time bomb scenarios or just the fact that we must get info at any costs because the consequences are too horrible. These people we are killing might have important info that we could use. What if they know the whereabouts of their terrorist friends? What if they know about some plot we don't know about yet? Surely if we think info like this is important enough to break the law and torture people we should also be not killing them in order to at least try and interrogate them.

Of course that's only after you decide whether it's legal. And that goes back to the idea of universal right's that I've discussed recently. I won't get into that in detail here. I'll just say that unless you think being a US citizen makes you a better human being than everyone else in the world, I'm not sure there is a strong case for it being legal. Anyway, the whole article is good. Check it out.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Awards time at the Dish

Andrew Sullivan is giving out his year end awards. Go here to vote for each of them. I'll post the ones I voted for. Here is my Malkin Award Nominee courtesy of Rand Paul. My Moore Award from Orlando Jones. My vote for the Yglesias award to Lindsay Graham. I was about to give Andrew himself the Van Hoffmann Award. But I went with Jennifer Rubin instead. Here is my vote for chart of the year. My Hathos Alert vote goes to this couple's first kiss. My vote for Mental Health Break goes to the release of a seal into the wild. Adorable. And finally, my vote for face of the day is this photo of a boy killed by a drone strike.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Late anniversary

I missed my one year anniversary by a few weeks, well, more like three weeks. At that time I was busy thinking about the job interview I had coming up. That went well but didn't end up in me being employed. And my internship is done. So I'm back to being a bum and looking for a job. At least that should give me more time to blog.

I've enjoyed the past year of doing this blog. Its at least a little therapeutic to write down my thoughts, especially when something irritates me. And while they don't actually read what I write, I like interacting with the rest of the blogging community by responding to their posts and hopefully adding something to the discussion. I appreciate anyone who has stumbled across this place and taken the time to read something. Here is the shameless self promotion segment where I tell you to tell someone about this blog if you like what you read.

Its probably a safe assumption that if you are a conservative you might not enjoy what I write. I'm very liberal and enjoy trying to pick apart conservative logic. But I also try to hold liberals accountable when I think they are using poor logic. I'm partisan but I hope I give good reasons for being so. I'd appreciate any feedback telling me what I don't.

Special thanks to Jonathan Bernstein for giving me my biggest recognition. He linked to this post I wrote about Buffy and Sarah Michelle Gellar on his link roundup on The Washington Post. If I do nothing else with this blog I will consider it at least a minor success that I got to write about Sarah Michelle Gellar and have it linked to on a major newspaper's website. It was an honor. So thanks again Jonathan. And check out his blog A Plain Blog About Politics (on the right side of the page). He does a great job discussing politics from a political scientist's perspective.

And here's to another year of blogging. Hopefully by the time the next anniversary rolls around I have a decent job and the economy has improved significantly. Until then, stick around. Be safe and awesome.

The Ron Paul newsletters

I think Conor Friedersdorf nails it:

For me, the disconnect between the Ron Paul newsletters, which make me sick, and Paul's words and actions in public life, which I often admire, put me in mind of the way I reacted when candidate Barack Obama was found to associate with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, both of whom had said execrable things. I couldn't defend any of it. But I could never get exercised about the association in exactly the way that writers like Victor Davis Hanson wanted, because it seemed totally implausible that if Obama was elected he would turn out to secretly share the convictions of the Weather Underground, or hope for God to damn America. It always seemed to me that those relationships were the unsavory product of personal ambition. I don't mean to suggest that the two circumstances are entirely analogous, but I do find it hard to believe that if Paul were elected, he'd turn out to be a secret racist, implement policies that targeted minorities, or drum up support by giving speeches with hateful rhetoric.

If those ugly impulses didn't emerge after 9/11, when xenophobia was rewarded, or during the ascent to the presidency of Barack Obama, whose victory stoked racial paranoia in so many Americans prone to that disease, when would they emerge in Paul? The post 9/11 decade has been one of attacks on minority groups and pandering to Birthers. In some quarters, Paul is accused of pandering to Truthers. Is there an instance aside from the one at issue when he has pandered to racists?

If these newsletters didn't exist I would have never even considered whether Ron Paul was a racist. Given his stances on civil liberties I would have thought the complete opposite. So like Conor I think the most I can say about this is that he was complicit in the profiting off of racist ideas. That makes me respect him less, and makes me question his integrity. But I don't think that rises to the level of being a racist. As Conor says, I don't think Obama hates America because his pastor did.

But what if Paul secretly is racist? Well, I'm not sure it would matter much. He seems pretty firm in his libertarian ideas. I have a hard time seeing him changing his stated opinion on civil liberties in order to implement racist policy. It would immediately raise a red flag and cause the kind of discontent among his supporters that Obama is experiencing now. So even if he is a racist I don't think it would mean anything other than he personally dislikes black people. I'm not saying that is good. It's not. But I don't think it would hurt public policy. If he is racist he seems to hold his libertarianism in higher regard.

Still, that's pretty faint praise for a presidential candidate. And it again shows how ridiculously bad the rest of the GOP candidates are.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises prologue

Here is a link to it. Check it out because I wanted to talk about what I think Nolan wanted to get across with it.

The prologue is centered around Bane. He has himself get captured as part of a plan to kidnap some guy on the plane. Along with his henchmen he grabs the guy and escapes from a plane in midair. This is very similar to a scene in The Dark Knight where Batman jumps off of a building, flies into another building that is holding the accountant employed by the mob in Gotham City. Batman grabs the guy and escapes the building by latching himself onto a plane flying by.

I think what Nolan is doing is showing that Bane is a badass and very much on par with the level of badass that Batman is on. To pull off a plan like that is hard enough for Batman. But its made easier since he is a billionaire who has easy access to the tools you need. Bane, for all we know, isn't wealthy and thus needs to be resourceful. He has help from his henchmen. But it still takes a lot of planning and actual physical capability to pull off his plan the way he does.

So I think this scene is purposely juxtaposed with the one in The Dark Knight. We are supposed to see the similarities and realize that Bane is meant to be the ultimate test for Batman, both physically and mentally. The Joker tested the idea of Batman. Bane will test the incarnation of Batman as a man, the very core of who he is.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Republicans in House oppose tax cut

I'm a bit stumped by this one:

Moments ago, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 229-193 to walk away from a bipartisan compromise that would have extended for two months both the payroll tax cut for 160 million working Americans and long-term unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans, as well as stopped automatic cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors that are scheduled for Jan. 1, 2012. Seven Republicans joined every Democrat in opposing the motion to abandon the Senate’s compromise plan and instead move to a House-Senate conference committee.

As TP notes, this already passed the Senate 89-10. So this is something a lot of Republicans in the Senate want. And word is that Speaker Boehner gave Mitch McConnell the go ahead to negotiate a deal with Dems with the assumption Boehner would get it through the House. But the tea partiers don't want it so Boehner backed down. I can think of a few reasons why this happened.

One is the uncertainty argument. Matt Yglesias addressed this concern voiced by a Republican. Its plausible. But I'm not buying it. Since when has uncertainty ever prevented Republicans from supporting a tax cut? And what about the uncertainty generated by people's taxes going up and the prospects of a new administration coming to power in the next year? I just pointed out why the uncertainty argument is largely overblown to begin with. But still, if this is their reason its pretty weak and probably just an excuse to oppose Obama and Dems simply for the sake of doing so.

And that is another reason, obstruction simply for the sake of obstruction. These people haven't been very interested in governing from day 1. They hate Obama, Dems, and the idea that gov't should do anything constructive aside from shooting and bombing people. So even though they are similar to more mainstream Republicans in their love of tax cuts, this hostility towards governing trumps that goal. I think this is part of it. But I'm not sure its all of it because I'm sure there is an example of this group voting for something half way constructive.

Yet another reason could be that this is just the wrong type of tax cut, one that isn't aimed at the rich, those real Americans who work hard to generate all of the jobs for the rest of us and generate the wealth that trickles down for the rest of us to enjoy. Maybe they really just don't understand or care about the reason behind extending these tax cuts. IIRC, they did also threaten to not extend the Bush tax cuts unless the top rates were included in the extension. And just think if income tax rates for the rich were part of this extension. Could you see them blocking it in the same manner they are now? I think its a lot less likely they would.

But I still don't know if they would or not. That just speaks to how out there this group of Republicans are. Its bad enough they endorse ridiculous policies. But now that they have some influence we don't know what to expect. They can't even be counted on to do participate in basic governance. Frankly, I'm surprised we haven't come closer to shutting down the gov't. And I don't think I'm the only one who is stumped by these Republicans. Andrew Sullivan has a post on how Congress is polling and it basically shows that this is the least popular Congress in recorded history. But people trust the Democrats and Obama more than Republicans. And its the higher income people who still trust Republicans. With actions like the one they took today its no wonder the polling says what it does.

Update: Ezra Klein explains the situation. He says House Republicans want more in exchange for agreeing to the deal, meaning something about the Keystone pipeline and other things. I think this is the most plausible explanation. Its not that House Republicans don't want to govern, like I suggested. Its that they want every single policy passed that they support. And they will hijack any bill regardless of what it has to do with the policies that are on their agenda.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The postmodern campaign

Kevin Drum thinks we are headed toward it, if not in it right now. Here is the quote from Mitt Romney that led him to that conclusion:

This is a president who fundamentally believes that the next century is the post-American century. Perhaps it will be the Chinese century. He is wrong.

A few things. What makes him think Obama thinks that? Where did he say that or what action demonstrates that belief? Notice the second sentence. That strongly suggests he just pulled that first sentence out of his ass. If Obama actually said something or did something he wouldn't say "perhaps" and then suggest a country. But Romney and pretty much every Republican since Obama was elected knows they can say what they want while rarely being called on their lies.

This is in big part because the press doesn't hold them accountable enough. Reporters should be asking the questions I just asked in the paragraph above. And if he doesn't have either a quote or can explain an action by Obama they should call it what it is, a lie. But too often the press just lets them say this crap and doesn't forcefully explain what the truth is. They just present two arguments and don't make clear what the truth is. If Romney and others were loudly and consistently called liars when they lie you would think they would stop doing it.

The other thing is something Matt Yglesias said, which is that how can Romney be so sure the next century will be one where the US continues to dominate? Again, Romney has no idea. This is that firmly held thought on the right that the US is the greatest thing ever and just because they think that it will continue to be true no matter how much they screw things up. Like most things with Republicans, its pure tribalism. Its all about how great they are and anything that is different than them is bad. That's why they can so flippantly lie about things. And the only way to combat that is to just as ferociously call them on it.

A matter of degree

A great point by Derek Thompson via Andrew Sullivan. Here is Thompson discussing Obama's socialist credentials, which he describes as not very good:

He signed a law expanding the health care regulations and requiring Americans to buy medical insurance, which I suppose you could classify as socialism-lite; although public decency and child abuse laws already require families to buy clothes and food, and nobody complains much about those. But when it comes to tax policy and redistribution, a not-insignificant part of modern democratic socialism, it's fair to say that President Obama is in the running for worst socialist in history.

I bolded what I thought was the great point. The gov't forces everyone to do all sorts of things. The ones he mentions is one of the more important ones. A few other off the top of my head are; you also have to send your kids to school, you have to drive at certain speeds, not kill or harm other people, pay even 1% of taxes, and any number of things that no one really complains about.

So when people say they oppose the mandate because the gov't can't force them to do something they are just factually wrong. What they mean to say is that the gov't can't force them to do this specific thing because it crosses some sort of line. And once you acknowledge that we are just arguing over differences in degree. We aren't arguing over the difference between freedom and tyranny. I get that people use inflamed rhetoric in order to try and make their point more effectively. But the reality is much different than the rhetoric. And if that was acknowledged perhaps more constructive policies would get passed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Assessing the Broncos

Aka, the most talked about 8-5 team with a negative point differential in team history. I'm doing this post because I was talking about Tebow and Cam Newton over at the Stadium Rejects forum and thought I would put my thoughts down here.

The first thing that jumps out to me is the number of pass attempts Tebow has, 198, which is the 32nd most in the league. That's a big reason he is 6th in TD% and 1st in INT%. I say that because the more you throw the ball the more likely you are to throw an INT. But he just isn't throwing the ball that much. And when he does its mostly going for an incomplete pass, as seen from his 48% completion %. That's also why is YPA is 27th. Though his AYPA is 12th because of the aforementioned TD and INT rates.

He is averaging 117 passing yards per game. That's unbelievably horrible. Though he does run more than many QBs. So you have to add that in. But that only adds another 47 yards per game. So in total he is barely over 150 yards gained per game. Again, horrible.

Taking sacks into account, his NYPA is 29th. But his ANYPA is 18th, again because of his great TD and INT rates. And using stats from AdvancedNFLstats.com, he is still in the negative in WPA and EPA. So what's the picture these numbers are painting?

The Broncos are 31st in passing yards gained. That's not a surprise considering Tebow isn't completing even half of his passes. I'm actually surprised they aren't the worst in the league. But at least he isn't throwing the ball to the other team. Though I think part of that is due to his running ability, Willis McGahee, and the Broncos defense.

The Broncos don't have to throw the ball much to keep games close. In fact, they are last in pass attempts. But they are 2nd in rush attempts and 1st in rush yards. Tebow has given them 500 rushing yards and McGahee has about 900. The Broncos defense has had a few terrible games since Tebow took over, Detroit and Minnesota. But aside from those games they have given up on average about 14 points. Even with those two bad ones they are averaging about 20.2. And they were 1-1 in those games because Tebow threw the ball well, they got a pick 6, and the Vikings threw an INT in their own territory in OT.

Basically I'm seeing a team that runs the ball great, throws the ball horribly, and plays good enough defense most of the time to keep it close. And through a lot of luck, they win the games they keep close. In today's NFL where passing is so easy this is an unusual way to play. But as we have seen, it can work in spurts. I'm extremely skeptical this can work over the long term. And at some point Tebow will regress to the mean during the 4th quarter. Broncos fans better hope that when that happens he has improved his performance during the rest of the game.

Universal rights

I wanted to talk a bit about the concept of universal rights in relation to Obama's decision to not veto a bill that said law enforcement agencies can hold terrorist suspects in military detention indefinitely. Before Obama's veto threat, the bill was going to force the law enforcement agencies to place even suspects captured on American soil in military detention. Thankfully Obama cares about executive power enough to have them get rid of that. What a disgrace that he didn't care about the actual violation of rights of people it would have violated.

The reason the other part of the bill is still in there is basically because a majority in Congress and Obama don't believe the rest of the world enjoys the same rights as US citizens do. Both Obama and Republicans like to say otherwise. And when it comes to some rights they probably do. But at best they are wildly inconsistent in actually enforcing or respecting the concept of universal rights; something that great document they all like to talk about, the Declaration of Independence, at least hints at.

I don't think many liberals have trouble with universal rights. I think if you go down a list of every right Americans have they would agree that everyone in the world should have them as well. I think the reason some may not agree in this instance is because they have a blind deference to Obama, they are Islamaphobic, or are too uninformed to understand the debate between safety and rights. They hear politicians talk about threats and just assume rights need to be restricted in order to dispel those threats. I wish more liberals would care more about civil liberties so that Obama and Democrats would be more compelled to do the right thing.

Many conservatives believe rights, the ones put forth in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, come from god. I suppose some believe that god only gave Americans rights. But the logic used to get to that conclusion is even more stretched than the logic to conclude that rights come from god. If you believe a person has the right to due process in the US, why don't they have the same right in Paris, Russia, Iraq, or Afghanistan? Why is god making a distinction between Americans and those people? So assuming most believe that god gives rights to everyone simply by way of them being human and made by god, its then unclear to me how they can say that just because you aren't a US citizen you can't enjoy the same rights that we have.

I presume the reasons conservatives wouldn't extend rights to every in this instance are the same they were for liberals; they are either blindly partisan, Islamaphobic, or uninformed regarding the issue. Still, you would think that deeply religious conservatives and empathetic, bleeding heart liberals would be more concerned for everyone's rights. But its a stark reminder of how fragile rights are when people are so willing to give them up or deny them for some when told they should be afraid of something. Its also worrying and disgraceful that the people we elected to protect those rights are so willing to take them away.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Dolphins look for a new coach

I was a little surprised at the timing of it. But I fully support the firing of Tony Sparano. He was a good ole boy from the Parcells tree. I'm sure he is fine with the motivation stuff. But strategically I don't think he is up to the task. It took the owner trying to get Jim Harbaugh while he was still the coach to open up the offense a bit and get it out of deadball era. That doesn't win consistently in the modern NFL. That first year with Pennington as Qb was an aberration, which is why the team has been bad to mediocre each year since.

So now the search begins. I doubt we are going to look to the hot college coach, mostly because I don't think there is one like a Harbaugh out there. So that leaves NFL retreats and young coordinators. The retreads are easy rumor fodder since they are the easy story for the lazy writer. That's not to say its automatically wrong to speculate on that front or that it would be a bad idea. But unless that ex-coach can explain in detail what he learned from his previous work, what he learned from being fired, and how he will perform the job better this time around, I'm not really in favor of going after someone like Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, or Jon Gruden. And this quote from Gruden makes me even more weary of the idea of him taking over:

But Gruden abhors the “stats sluts” who try to replace the judgments of a trained eye with mathematical formulas. He says, “You know what I hate, man? Guys that you know haven’t seen the film: they just quote a bunch of statistical bullshit.” Of course, there’s something absurd about a man who loves data railing against “statistical bullshit.” As Gruden demonstrates every Monday night, it’s not possible to assess football without statistics. If anything, his voluminous appetite for game film suggests that football needs more and better statistics: a way to measure all the things that Gruden notices when he is watching and rewatching plays. But coaches, no less than fans, like to believe that there will always be a role in the game for spirit and determination—and, by extension, for coaches and for fans.

The only bullshit I see here is his unwillingness to understand the game beyond his preconceived beliefs. If I were Ross and I saw this, the first thing I would ask during an interview is to give him a situation like Falcons faced a few weeks ago and tell him to explain what he would do and why he would do it. If he didn't give me at least some statistical evidence in favor of his decision I would probably pass right then and there.

There is no excuse for, at the very least, having a statistical analyst on your staff that can explain the probabilities behind every situation in a game. You don't have to fully understand everything yourself. But you should at least be aware of them and take them into consideration. If you don't you are setting yourself up for failure. And in relation to film and rating players, you are making your job harder for no reason. I want a coach that is willing to learn and adapt. And I have a hard time seeing that in Gruden and the other retreads out there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Slow blogging

I haven't posted in a while. I've been traveling. And then I got sick. So I haven't had the time and then wasn't in the mood. I started catching up on politics last night. Jon Stewart was good on the ridiculous yet predictable criticism of a show about Muslims on TLC. Some guy FoxNews had on actually said that the show should be taken off because it challenged his beliefs about Muslims. Seriously, with a straight face. What a piece of shit.

I'm way tired of the Republican presidential nominating process. They are all either crazy or too cowardly to make sense. Hey conservatives, just nominate Newt already so you can spend another 4 years screaming socialism and claiming you need to take your country back.

Will someone play a decent game and beat the freaking Broncos so that we can have at least one week of lesser Tebow mania. Jeez. Is that too much to ask, that someone scores more than 13 points against their defense? Seriously, 14 points. That will likely get you a win. That's not too difficult in today's NFL. Even the horrible Jaguars offense scores 12.5 points per game. And for you Tebow fans, I have four words for you, regression to the mean.

Hopefully I start feeling better and things start to pick up. Though I wouldn't be surprised if things continue to be slow through the holiday season. If that's the case, just know that I'm probably off fighting the good fight in the war on christmas. Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Obama restricts emergency contraception

Scott Lemieux sums up the decision:

The Food and Drug Administration was on the verge of approving the emergency contraceptive known as "Plan B One Step." Access to emergency contraceptives is important to the reproductive freedom of women, and having to obtain a prescription or get past a pharmacist with reactionary moral beliefs can be a substantial burden on women.

As the FDA's decision reflected, denying over-the-counter access to emergency contraception increased unwanted pregnancies without any good medical reason. The two-tiered system that required young women under the age of 17 to obtain a prescription was also determined to increase unwanted pregnancies in the for whom they are most burdensome.

But in a decision that RH Reality Check's Jodi Jacobson calls "astounding," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has overruled her own medical experts and denied American women over-the-counter access to Plan B. This action is, quite simply, a disgrace. It's awful on the merits, and politically involves attacking a core constituency of the Democratic Party for no obvious benefit. Overriding professional FDA scientists in order to advance an agenda hostile to reproductive freedom and the equality of women is not what most Democrats believed they were voting for. And let's not forget that the cossacks work for the czar; the responsibility for this decision rests with President Obama. This isn't an issue where compromise was compelled by the need to appease conservatives in Congress; Obama and Sebelius could have done the right thing and didn't.

I don't have much to add to that. I agree that there doesn't seem to be any benefit to doing this. Not that an electoral gain would make it better, but do you really think a significant number of voters would have not voted for Obama if he would have allowed this? Do you really think any right leaning person is going to see this and change their opinion about Obama and democrats on the subject of abortion/contraception/women's rights? I don't think so. Plus we are about 11 months from the next election. The type of people on the fence about who to vote for won't remember this.

The people who might remember this are liberals like me who will add this to a long list of things that Obama and democrats have done that goes against our policy preferences. And in this case they can't use republicans in congress as an excuse. There is no excuse. And while my vote won't matter in a red state like TN I am increasingly likely to vote independent based on principle because I just don't understand why they would do something like this. Let's urge our representatives to encourage the Obama administration to change their mind.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How I Met Your Mother

I haven't written about the show in a while. That's probably because its been solid, or average, yet unspectacular. Tonight's episode wasn't quite great. But it was really good because they actually advanced a plot. And it was about my favorite character, Robin. Spoilers ahead for those who are behind in watching.

Last week's episode ended with Robin telling Barney she is pregnant. Tonight's episode picks up at that moment, with Robin being worried and Barney being excited. What I like about the story is they didn't change who Robin has been from the start of the show. As previously stated, I like Robin because he is a beautiful, smart, motivated, and confidant woman who knows what she wants out of her life and doesn't define herself purely by her relationships with other people.

She broke up with Ted because she didn't want to get married. She broke up with Barney because the relationship changed who she was. And tonight she is worried because she doesn't want children. The writers do this episode in the style that they do with Ted, but with Robin telling her kids how they came about. So we are led to believe that she goes through with the pregnancy even thought we are familiar with her objections, not to mention that Barney is the father.

To take up the flag that Alysa Rosenberg is flying about getting better abortion stories in tv, I wish they would have touched on this. It turns out that Robin wasn't actually pregnant. So that conversation wasn't necessary. But if she were it would have probably been something she thought about. Beyond that, she is told she can't have children at all. And even though she doesn't want kids, this news troubles her throughout most of the episode. Given the narrative they were using and her sadness I was expecting them to make her have a change of heart. But they came through and let Robin be Robin by showing that she actually doesn't have kids and turns out to do the other things she wanted to do with her life.

The best part was the end where Robin comes back to the apartment after doing a soul-searching walk through the city. Earlier we had seen her tell Ted that it wasn't his job to make her feel better. We finally got a reminder of why Ted is a good guy when he sets up a Christmas lights theme set to AC/DC in the apartment to try and make her feel better. It was a really sweet moment for them, which I really like to see because their relationship is a big part of why I loved the show. So more of Robin being her awesome self and more sweet Ted.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

TDKR, with a Robin appearance?

I'm kind of stealing this idea from Jett over at batmanonfilm.com. Its a great site for fans of the caped crusader. In this article, he talks about the end of Nolan's Batman trilogy and whether or not it will be considered the "definitive" Batman story.

I already consider it so. I was a huge fan of the Burton films. And I've read many of the classic comics. The comics are great. But its hard to beat experiencing it on film. And while Burton's films were fun, they don't stack up to Nolan's. So when I think Batman I think Nolan, Bale and co. And TDKR would have to be a catastrophic letdown in order for me to not see the Nolan trilogy as THE Batman story.

But Jett has a really interesting question. How can a Batman story be definitive without Robin? He doesn't get into the meat of his answer in that article. He is saving it for part 2. But I wanted to be a dick and take the idea and tackle it myself. The reason you don't hear people clamoring for Robin in TDKR like they do for certain villains is the Schumaker films are still fairly fresh in people's memories. And Robin was just not a good character in those films. Many people thought he was a big contributor to the lack of effectiveness of the films. And beyond those films, people don't really have a good grasp of who Robin is and why he important to the Batman universe.

But as Jett points out, Robin is a huge part of Batman. He has been around for a really long time. So if a filmmaker were setting out to make a definitive Batman, Robin would have to be strongly considered. The obvious question then would be, is this Nolan's goal. We don't know. But I would guess that its not his explicit goal. I think he is first and foremost concerned with telling a compelling story centered around Bruce Wayne and Batman. That doesn't mean the story can't include Robin. But I don't think it would be necessary.

If Nolan were to include Robin in TDKR I don't think it will be in an explicit manner. Meaning, I don't think we will see a young man in red and yellow tights fighting alongside Batman. If we do see Robin, I think it will be him as just another young man who happens to come into contact with Batman or one of the villains in some manner. And I think the most that will be mentioned of him is something in passing, kind of like how Fox mentioned cats when talking about the new armor in TDK.

Or another way I can see it is him being part of that group of guys who dressed as Batman early in TDK to try and help the real Batman, those guys in the hockey pads. Perhaps they make another appearance and instead of sucking one of them is really good at fighting the bad guys. And perhaps Batman takes notice and says something like, "Not bad kid. Maybe you should be my sidekick." after the young man takes out a villain before Batman can get to him.

I think that would be a fun way of acknowledging the character without disturbing the plot in order to force in a cameo of sorts. And it would be a nice way to leave something open for whoever takes the reigns of the franchise after Nolan is finished. But even if Nolan decides not to include Robin or some of the more well known villains I think he will succeed in making this the definitive Batman story. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Community

I got to enjoy two of my favorite things Thursday night; Community and Batman. In true Abed fashion, he buys an exclusively exclusive edition of The Dark Knight which is signed by Christian Bale saying, "Abed is now Batman". It also contains commentary by Christian Bale. So needless to say, this is an awesomely special dvd.

Annie was being Annie when she accidentally stepped on the dvd and destroyed it. She tries to cover it up by saying someone broke in and stole it. So in true Abed fashion, he put on his Batman outfit and set out to solve the crime. I love Abed not just because he knows about geeky stuff like Batman, but also because he actually does things people who love that stuff want to do, like dress as Batman and try to solve a crime. He gets to live out geek fantasies.

The funniest parts to me were Annie doing the Bale Batman voice. And then when Abed jumps out the window, with Annie following him, Troy saying that Annie living with them was supposed to real them in and keep them from doing so many crazy things. For the sake of the awesomeness of the show I hope Annie doesn't tone them down. Though at some point, for the sake of the growth of them as characters they can't keep playing Batman and living in pillow forts. I think I died a little inside when I wrote that previous sentence.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Duke v Ohio State

It was like the Arizona game in last year's NCAA tournament. They are more athletic than us and that gave us problems on offense. Curry, Dawkins, and Kelly were basically invisible. They couldn't get their shots off and when they did they weren't going in. I'm not sure that is the sole reason Coach K benched them for most of the second half. But that was a big reason we lost.

The only two starters that played fairly well were Rivers and Mason Plumlee. Rivers was his usual self, getting into the lane when he wanted and making a few contested layups. It was a typical game for Rivers. But he scored more because he took more shots. He still needs to develop a better jump shot and make better decisions. Mason did a decent job on Sullinger. He wasn't great defensively and he didn't convert the shots he got on the offensive end. The rest of the team, which consisted of a lot of bench players, didn't really add much. It was mostly Rivers and Plumlee. And they weren't nearly enough to keep up with OSU.

And it wasn't just Sullinger that made it difficult for Duke to keep up with. The rest of the team shot lights out. They moved the ball well and knocked down their open looks. Combine that with the good defense they played and that is why the margin of victory was so large. OSU is probably the better team. I'd give them a slight edge on a neutral court. But like Arizona, they combined a good matchup with a really good performance. Luckily for Duke this wasn't the tournament. They have time to learn from this and figure out what to do next time.

On a side note, Coach K actually went to a zone for a few possessions. This is something I always call for when we play more athletic teams. But because we play man about 99% of the time, we looked really uncomfortable playing zone and it didn't have the intended effect. I don't know how much time they spend practicing zone defenses. But I think it would be smart to try and implement it in games more often. We are extremely likely to see a more athletic team in the tournament at some point. And it would be nice to be able to counteract them if they have a great shooting night like OSU did tonight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Congressional oversight

Ezra Klein has a nice chart up showing how, since the 80s, the number of hearings in Congress has steadily declined. Ezra interprets this as a decline in Congressional oversight of federal agencies.

The political science research that I'm familiar with says that Congress generally takes a non-aggressive approach to oversight. Attention is called to an agency and a hearing is called when something grabs their attention, such as a big mistake or a scandal. So we might assume, like Ezra does, that because Congress isn't calling as many hearings they aren't overseeing agencies as much as they should be.

Given the conservatives in charge during big chunks of this period, I think that's probably correct. But I'm not sure simply the number of committee hearings shows that point. I want to point out other political science research regarding the nature of committee hearings in Congress. The data shows that most hearings feature people who agree with the majority party that makes up the committee. So if most hearings are telling a majority party what they already agree with, is this really a form of Congressional oversight?

In instances like the gulf oil spill or the solar panel company that recently went bankrupt, I think its safe to say that hearings are a form of Congressional oversight. But I think its less the case that other types of hearings really qualify as oversight, or at least the most effective way to provide oversight. And I think the drop in the number of hearings could be due to reasons other than lack of oversight.

With advanced communications, it could be possible that hearings are not as necessary in order for interest groups to provide Congress with information and for Congress to know what kind of policies interest groups want. So those types of hearings could be in decline because they just aren't as necessary. In order to find out if that is the case someone would have to sort out the nature of the hearings and label them according to whether they were for oversight purposes or others. Then I think we could get a more clear answer as to whether Congress was engaging in less oversight.

Monday, November 28, 2011

BSG

Poor Dee. She really gets the emotional shaft throughout the series. First Billy is killed right in front of her. Then she marries the guy she was kind of cheating on Billy with and he proceeds to go from a ripped, good looking guy to a overweight guy who isn't the soldier he once was. Now we find out that Lee cheated on Dee with Starbuck when they were on New Caprica. And now that they are back on Galactica and blowing off steam during a boxing tournament, we find out that Lee and Starbuck still have feelings for each other. Emotions can be complicated enough under normal circumstances. Being on Galactica must make them even more complicated. I hope Dee finds some stability. And I hope Lee and Starbuck finally sort out their feelings for each other.

Speaking of the boxing tourney, Adama uses it to send a message to the crew, which basically sounded like he got soft on them and didn't want it to happen again. This was played out by showing a lot of flashbacks to the crew on New Caprica before the Cylon occupation. I really like the show's use of flashbacks. I think, if handled correctly, flashbacks are a good and efficient way of giving us important backstory and developing characters. And as I think about it, most of my favorite shows use the technique to varying extents: Buffy, Angel, Firefly, West Wing. Many of the best episodes from those series involve flashbacks. In fact, I just watched "Out of Gas" from Firefly over the weekend. Its great, and mainly because we see Wash with a mustache.

The biggest thing that happened during the two episodes this weekend was the black ops mission that Adama led before the Cylons attacked. It turns out that the mission ventured across the armistice line set up with the Cylons. And to try and cover up that fact, Adama blew up the ship that his pilot was in. That pilot was captured by the Cylons and held for three years until he escaped and found Galactica. Adama admits that he had a hand in provoking the Cylon attack, something that for two and a half seasons we were led to believe was an unprovoked attack. This was very surprising. I'm not really sure what to think. I've come to admire Adama and think of him as a great leader. But now we see that he was just as susceptible to bad decisions made by the top of a hierarchy. And that decision not only betrayed a soldier's life, but very likely led the the near destruction of the human race on Caprica. Perhaps I'm having a hard time reacting to this because they didn't spend a lot of time with it. So I hope they address it more in the near future.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Firefly: the Tams

I touched on this on twitter but I wanted to flesh it out a little more. I was watching the episode "Safe". The crew is taking some cattle to a far off planet. They get there and the non-muscle part of the crew go into town so Mal and the muscle part of the crew can make a deal for the cattle. Shepard Book gets shot and Simon and River get kidnapped. Mal decides to leave so that they can get Book some help, leaving Simon and River for the time being.

Throughout the episode we are shown flashbacks of Simon and River. In one they are kids. Simon is doing his homework. River is correcting the math in the textbook. Their dad gives Simon some computer type thing in exchange for him becoming a brilliant doctor. Another one is Simon telling his parents something is wrong with River. They brush it off as River playing a game and warn Simon about hurting his career by interfering. Basically they want to show how much Simon has given up in order to save River.

I'm not sure if it was this episode or another one. But there is also a scene where Simon's father has to give up something in order to get him out of jail. The Tams are high society people who have reputations. So this was part of why their parents were hesitant to help. But seeing these scenes with their parents made me wonder what happened to them after Simon broke River out of the "school" she was in and went on the run.

It seems well known that Simon and River are wanted fugitives throughout the 'verse. So I think its reasonable to assume their parents know this. At the very least they know Simon is gone and he left because of River. So they should be pretty worried. If they know their kids are fugitives wanted by the Alliance they should extremely worried. And given their wealth you would think they would be searching for them. Surely they trust that their kids aren't criminals and think the Alliance is doing something wrong. So perhaps they could use their status to find some information or to lobby their case to important officials within the gov't.

Perhaps the show didn't have enough time to touch on this issue with the parents. Or maybe they just forgot. I'd lean towards not having enough time. And Serenity wasn't really the place for it. Though since the events in Serenity, you would think their parents could play an important role in using their wealth and influence for gathering support for overthrowing the Alliance.

Another angle I wanted to touch on was how the Alliance would use their parents. Once they knew Simon took River, would they bring in the parents for questioning? It would be reasonable for them to think they had something to do with Simon getting access to their facilities. And beyond questioning their role in it all, it would be smart to try and find out if they knew where their children are hiding. They could either blackmail them or negotiate a deal that would bring Simon and River back safely. Or being the evil gov't entity it is, the Alliance could just throw the Tams in prison and somehow let Simon and River know that they will be left there/tortured/killed unless they turn themselves in.

Like I said, there probably just wasn't enough time to address these issues. And after Serenity, Simon and River seem fairly content to be part of Mal's crew. Not to mention they could still be in danger. I think that's all I have. If you have anything else post it in the comments.

Obama's Thanksgiving speech

I didn't see it because who really cares. But someone saw it and is mad:

Critics of President Obama felt little holiday cheer after the president did not thank God in his Thanksgiving-themed weekly Internet address. They immediately took to Twitter and the Internet to voice anger and disbelief.

"Somebody ought to remind Obama (and his speechwriter) that when Americans sit down around a meal today and give thanks, they give thanks to God."

Someone ought to remind that person that not all Americans sit down and give thanks to god. Millions don't for one reason or another; whether they don't believe in a god or don't have the means to eat a nice Thanksgiving meal. And the president is under no obligation to acknowledge god in a speech. In fact, I'd argue that if he is obliged to do anything, he is obliged to leave religion out of the political arena.

What we, the president and these critics, ought to be thankful for is that we all live in a free country where we aren't forced to believe certain things. We are free to think what we want and to largely do what we want. That is what in part makes America great. It has nothing to do with thanking god. And its not the presidents job to do that for you if you believe we should. You are free to do that on your own. So stop trying to force it on the rest of us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why people don't like Obama

Andrew Sullivan ponders that question today. I'm feeling link lazy. So go to the Beast if you want to read it in full. Basically he makes the reasonable points that he helped keep the economy from being worse than it was, passed a form of universal healthcare, oversaw the ousting of bin Laden and Qadaffi, and has conducted himself in a more or less presidential manner. That's all true. And of course that hasn't prevented the right from completely freaking out over everything he has done.

But more than the outrage from the right, Andrew has a harder time pinning down why liberals aren't happy with Obama. I think a big part of the problem for liberals were our expectations for Obama coming into office. We had just suffered through 8 years of the ridiculous Bush administration. And at the end of that we suffered a big recession. On top of that Obama came in with the uplifting and hopeful rhetoric that suggested that he wanted to change things and implement strongly liberal policies. And after the election, he looked to have enough votes in congress that would allow him to do that.

But starting with the very first thing he did, the stimulus, we didn't get exactly what we wanted. Looking at the data now, we know that things were much worse than we thought and we were therefore expecting unreasonable results. We also saw the beginnings of slight dissent from moderate Dems who, even if Obama would have pushed for more stimulus, would have been hesitant. When Obama took on his next issue, we saw those moderate Dems gum up the works again when it came to things like the public option in the ACA. Then you had the failure of a carbon tax and an extension of all the Bush tax cuts.

Maybe Andrew is right that its a bit unfair to be mad at Obama for not getting all of that. But that is only part of the problem. Andrew doesn't even mention national security and foreign policy. At least for me, this is the biggest reason liberals have been mad or disappointed with Obama. He has ended the torture policies of the Bush administration. But he didn't hold any of them accountable for what they did. He hasn't shut down Gitmo, balked at trying terrorists in the US, killed American citizens without due process, and to my knowledge done nothing about warrantless surveillance or the bloated anti-terrorism bureaucracy. Plus he escalated things in Afghanistan, hasn't done much in Iraq, and started a war with Libya without going to congress and trying to say it wasn't actually a war.

For the most part he has been barely distinguishable from Bush on the foreign policy and national security fronts. And up until the great recession, those issues were the most important for liberals. By not changing the course Bush set out Obama has made it more difficult for future presidents to do the right things.

I think Andrew is probably hearing from the loudest and most boisterous opinions from liberals. Most of us are a bit disappointed. But we aren't all that angry with Obama. And certainly nowhere close to how the right feels about him. What I hope these past few years will teach liberals is that we have to temper our expectations for presidents. Much of what they do is tied to the situation with congress and other structural factors throughout the country. And because of that, we need to spend more time focussing on congress and how we can positively affect those forces.

Devils and Dolphins

I was kind of looking forward to Duke playing Memphis in the Maui Invitational. Duke held up its end of the bargain by beating Tennessee fairly handily tonight. But Memphis lost to Michigan. I didn't see that game. But it looked like Michigan beat Memphis at its own game, using their athleticism to play up tempo. That could be a problem for Duke because we aren't that athletic at guard and struggle to keep athletic teams out of the lane, which happened tonight against UT.

The Dolphins put a beating on the Bills Sunday. The defense has been playing like I thought they could before the season. They haven't allowed a TD in 3 games and they are finally forcing turnovers. They did such a good job against the Bills that the offense didn't have to do much in order to score. But unlike the first seven games of the year, the offense took advantage of being in the red zone and scored more than enough to win.

Basically everyone is playing better. Both lines are doing well. Dansby and Burnett are playing well at LB. And the secondary is actually catching the ball when its dropped in its lap. Reggie Bush has been good. Brandon Marshall is catching more passes. And Matt Moore is playing very well. I'm also fairly impressed that the team hasn't quit on Sparano. Its just a shame they couldn't play this well at the beginning of the year. Hopefully they keep it up agains Dallas on Thanksgiving. And I'd like to see Duke get a chance to play Georgetown in the Maui finals. I want revenge from a few years ago.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The super committee: I called it, kind of

It appears the 'super committee' didn't reach a deal for deficit reduction. So now the spending cuts are supposed to be triggered. And the Dems seem to be on board with letting them go through. Here is what I said when they cut this deal:

So the more I think through this the more inclined I am to agree with Kevin Drum (who I cited in my previous post) that its unlikely whatever comes out of the committee will be agreed upon. The interests competing against each other are strong and have leverage within this divided gov't. Given that and an already agreed upon solution if they don't sign off on the committee's plan, I think it will be very difficult to avoid the trigger. And because Obama and Democrats didn't do too bad of a job in the debt ceiling deal, that trigger will actually cut stuff that needs to be cut.

I wasn't completely right. A lot of people have come out since then and said that it will be difficult to really cut certain things in the automatic trigger. And I thought there was a chance that the committee would actually agree on a plan and present it to congress. They couldn't even get that far. And its obviously all about taxes. Republicans continue to propose massive spending cuts and basically no revenue increases. Same old story.

Matt Yglesias, now at Slate instead of ThinkProgress, has been reminding people on Twitter that all congress has to do is sit back and do nothing in order to make substantial progress on deficit reduction. As a reminder, that means letting the Bush tax cuts expire. They have to hold a vote in order to extend them. So it will be up to Dems in the Senate and Obama to actually do something to decrease the deficit, which would be to do nothing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Authority in the US

What is the deal with authority in this country? It seems like across the country there are people in power who are using force to try and harm the Occupy movements. Here is one example that seems to be similar to others I've heard reported:

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

What was the need for that? What was the need for Bloomberg to break up the OWS movement in the park near WS? These people are just sitting/standing around and peacefully (for the most part) protesting. Its not like they are doing what Penn State students did and rioted. That was against the law. What OWS and other Occupy movements are doing is legal. Yet they are being punished for it.

I have to agree with Glenn Greenwald that this is a systematic thing going on with this country. Politicians, apparently even Deans of colleges, and the police forces they control have little regard for normal people who want to exercise their rights to speech and assembly. Those are fundamental rights for a democracy. And ours shouldn't be any different. Yet it is. Just imagine if the same things would have happened to tea party protests. The right would have completely flipped their shit. Why? Because well off, older, white people would have been the victims. Not younger people and those who range from fairly well off to poor.

I think those characteristics of the people of the Occupy movements is the reason these things are happening. These are people who don't have much political clout. If they did they wouldn't need to be protesting. And since their only real political power is to use their numbers advantage, the politicians are threatened and try to put it down because they know if they can get rid of it there are few other course of action for the people to exert political influence. But if it were people like the tea partiers, they are hesitant because they rely on their campaign donations. Though with Bloomberg that doesn't even matter because of his vast wealth, which is probably another reason he ordered the police to shake things up.

I hope the protesters are strengthened by these acts of violence against themselves. Because those acts are just another example of how backwards our justice system is and how our entire system is geared towards a few at the expense of the many. And we won't change that unless the protestors stick together and people like us support them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Balanced Budget nonsense

The House debated the Republican proposed Balance Budget amendment to the Constitution. And I had to listen to the nonsense for most of the day. Basically, its a bad idea because it would require ridiculous majorities in order to increase taxes. So bringing in the proper amount of revenue in order to balance the budget would be very difficult and would force huge cuts in spending. And they are trying to implement this while arguing for more tax cuts.

That's ridiculous in its own right. But even more so is the fact that Republicans believe they have to change the Constitution, that sacred document they value and claim we must strictly adhere to, in order to get the budget under control. Putting aside the merits of balancing the budget, why do they feel its necessary to amend the Constitution to do it? For most of the post war period the budget hasn't been balanced. Even during the great conservative utopia that was the Reagan administration there was a big deficit. Yet there was also decent economic growth. During the entire Bush administration there was a huge deficit which we are still dealing with. Yet they did nothing about it.

And at the end of the Clinton administration the budget was balanced. There was even a surplus for a while. And it didn't require amending the Constitution in order to do it. It just required good economic growth, higher taxes, and a Congress that acted responsibly. So what Republicans are doing by introducing this amendment is acknowledging that they don't trust themselves to act responsibly. And even though they are trying to force responsible budget making, they are doing a really crappy job of trying to force it. This thankfully won't pass the Senate. But it just continues to show how completely uninterested Republicans are in seriously governing.

Community

In case you haven't heard, NBC has left Community off its spring schedule. Apparently that doesn't mean its cancelled. Its just getting some time off. Still, that doesn't seem like a good thing. I understand it doesn't get good ratings. For some reason mass audiences don't like smart tv. That or NBC hasn't used Alison Brie enough in its advertising. Suffice to say, I'm extremely disappointed by this news. I love the show. Despite its uneven season thus far, its still my favorite show on tv. I hope it gets a chance to continue its run.

On to tonight's episode. This episode was right up the show's alley. They have Abed do another documentary, this time in the mold of Heart of Darkness, which is the documentary of the filming of Apocalypse Now. Jim Rash (the Dean) and Joel McHale were really great. The Dean takes on the role of directing a commercial for the school. And Jeff plays the Dean. I've heard a lot of people complain that Jeff never grows. And I echo many of those criticisms. So I was glad to see him not completely blow off the Dean and actually embrace him.

The only other characters that had a seemingly meaningful and forward looking plot were Britta and Troy. They are acting really uncomfortable around each other, which usually means there is sexual tension between the two. And the show has previously hinted at something there between them. But you can't assume Dan Harmon will bring them closer together. He likes to dangle relationships out there and buck the conventional Sam and Diane thing. Though the other characters didn't have significant plots they were still pretty funny. There were a lot of funny one liners.

Overall I liked the episode. I think this makes three in a row, which is a nice run for this season. I'm not sure how many episodes are left until the show "takes a break". But hopefully we get at least of few more of this quality. And as a quick aside, I haven't posted much on Parks and Recreation. But I've started watching it recently and I'm enjoying it. It had my favorite line of the night when Ron Swanson said to a woman's studies professor, "For what its worth, you would look great as a brunette, Ron Swanson." The delivery was awesome. If you watch Community stick around right after and give Parks and Rec a shot.

Congress' unpopularity

A lot of posts are making the rounds on blogs regarding the extremely low approval rating for Congress. This one in particular from Ezra Klein is amusing. The polls are telling us something important. But I'm not sure its as simple as Congress is doing a really crappy job right now.

Though that is true. Congress is at a very partisan and deadlocked point. The Republicans in the House are really far out to the right. Thus the Democrats in the Senate won't pass their extreme bills. And the Republicans in the Senate are taking advantage of the rules of the Senate in order to prevent anything Democrats wants from getting passed. This is certainly part of why its doing a bad job and thus why people don't approve.

But Congressional approval ratings are rarely very high. I think its important to keep that context in mind because I think it helps explain whey they are so pathetically low right now. Even if the economy was growing quickly and we were clearly on track almost half the country still wouldn't approve. Why? Because almost half the country is of the opposing party and they don't like to see members of Congress from the other party doing well. When you add that constant to the bad economic situation you are almost assured nearly every Republican will disapprove of Congress.

You also have a substantial number of people disliking almost everything the minority party is doing based on their partisanship. Democrats don't like the Republicans members of Congress because they think they are blocking Democrats from solving problems. Even during good times when a person's party is doing things they aren't going to like the minority party because they are still trying to block things.

Basically, I think when people are asked if they approve of Congress they are thinking of a few things: Is the economy doing well? Are we at war, and how well is it going? Is my party in power? Is the other party keeping them from passing things? And is my party doing enough to pass things? The reason Congressional approval ratings are so low is because people have a negative response to all of those questions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Life has meaning because its meaningless

Andrew Sullivan recently posted something from a reader who was a former atheist who converted to christianity. Most of the time I enjoy when Andrew posts things along these lines. He makes it no secret that he is a catholic. But he also presents all different kinds of opinions. One such opinion in response to the converted person was this from Will Wilkinson. First the person's reason for converting:

If everything that we call heroism and glory, and all the significance of all great human achievements, can be reduced to some neurons firing in the human brain, then it's all destined to be extinguished at death. And considering that the entire span of homo sapiens' existence on earth wouldn't even amount to a blip on the radar screen of a 5-billion-year-old universe, it seemed silly to pretend like the 60-odd-year life of some random organism on one of trillions of planets was something special. (I was a blast at parties.) By simply living my life, I felt like I was living a lie. I acknowledged the truth that life was meaningless, and yet I kept acting as if my own life had meaning, as if all the hope and love and joy I'd experienced was something real, something more than a mirage produced by the chemicals in my brain.

Will's response:

If you ask me, the best reason to think "life is meaningful" is because one's life seems meaningful. If you can't stop "acting as if my own life had meaning," it's probably because it does have meaning. Indeed, not being able to stop acting as if one's life is meaningful is probably what it means for life to be meaningful. But why think this has any logical or causal relationship to the scientific facts about our brains or lifespans? The truth of the proposition "life has meaning" is more evident and secure than any proposition about what must be true if life is to have meaning. Epistemic best practices recommend treating "life has meaning" as a more-or-less self-evident, non-conditional proposition. Once we've got that squared away, we can go ahead and take the facts about the world as they come. It turns out our lives are infinitesimally short on the scale of cosmic time. We know that to be true. Interesting! So now we know two things: that life has meaning and that our lives are just a blip in the history of the universe.

Another way to put it is how Angel does when he uses the Wolfram and Hart elevator to go to hell and it takes him right back to the spot he was on earth. I can't remember exactly how he puts it. But after some typical Angel brooding, he comes to the conclusion that if nothing we do matters, then all that matters are the things we do. I think that is basically that is what Will is saying.

We don't have any evidence that there is a god and a heaven and thus what we do will have meaning beyond our lives and our universe. And what we do know is that we are just a bunch of electrons bouncing around. But the fact that we know this and are self aware is why we seek meaning. And the fact that we want our lives to have meaning bestows meaning onto them. If that person who converted is more at peace with herself that's great. But a belief in god is not necessary in order to find meaning in life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A serious conversation about Iran

That's what John Johns wants from Republican presidential candidates. Here are some of the issues he raises:

The problem with these arguments is that they flatly ignore or reject outright the best advice of America’s national security leadership. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, former congressman Admiral Joe Sestak and former CENTCOM Commander General Anthony Zinni are only a few of the many who have warned us to think carefully about the repercussions of attacking Iran. Two months ago, Sestak put it bluntly: “A military strike, whether it’s by land or air, against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States’ national security.”

Meir Dagan, the recently retired chief of Israel’s Mossad, shares the assessment of the Americans cited above. He noted earlier this year that attacking Iran “would mean regional war” and went on to say that arguments for military strikes were “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

I've posted quite a bit on this issue before. But I just wanted to highlight this because he actually quotes officials confirming some of the arguments against striking Iran. I also wanted to point out a question that doesn't get asked of these candidates, which is simply, why.

Why is it "unacceptable" that Iran obtain nuclear weapons? I mostly agree that it would be a bad thing if they did. But I want them to spell out exactly why they think it would be unacceptable. Just claiming it is doesn't make you right. You actually have to give a reason why you support a certain position. You especially need to give reasons when you are proposing that we should bomb a country. You need to be able to give a response to a military official who says that could create huge blow back in the region and possibly to our national security.

I haven't heard any serious answers to these questions. And I highly doubt many of the Republican candidates have serious answers. That's a problem when they are trying to be commander in chief. The lack of knowledge they have displayed is similar to that of the Bush administration. And that didn't work out well.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Coach K on Paterno

As a Duke fan I obviously love Coach K. He is kind of the Paterno of basketball, or was until the whole Penn St thing blew up. But while I think his talents can be applied outside of basketball, I don't worship the guy as a person and think he is some Ghandi-like human being. Here is proof that he has his own biases and shouldn't be worshiped as someone above the rest of us:

“Well, I think, unless you’re there, it’s tough to comment about everything,’’ Krzyzewski said. “I just feel badly for him and whatever he is responsible for, it’ll come out and hopefully it’ll come out from him.

“I think one thing you have to understand is that Coach Paterno’s 84 years old. I’m not saying that for an excuse or whatever. The cultures that he’s been involved in both football-wise and socially, have been immense changes and how social issues are handled in those generations are quite different.

“But as we judge, remember that there’s just a lot there. There’s a lot,lot there. I think he’s a great man and it’s a horrific situation.”

Technically, he has a point. We probably don't know every single fact. But there seems to be a lot of evidence. And as for Paterno specifically, which is what he is talking about, we certainly can and should comment.

What is there to feel badly about Paterno for? I assume he is saying this as a friend who feels bad for him. But who gives a shit about how a rich and powerful man feels when numerous children are claiming they were raped? I get you would feel bad for your friend. But that doesn't really matter in a situation like this, especially when his inaction is part of the problem.

He's right that the culture is different. And again, that is a big part of the problem. When you put yourself at the top of a hierarchy whose purpose is to, in part, establish morals for a group of young adults, you become morally responsible for what goes on within that hierarchy to some degree. And regardless of the specifics or how old he was, Paterno doesn't seem to have fulfilled his obligations as the leader.

He may have been a great man in every facet other than the Sandusky situation. But that's a pretty big fuck up. And I think it seriously calls into question his "great" status. In fact, I think it automatically disqualifies him from that status. And I think Coach K might realize that if he stepped away from the situation and looked at it from a perspective not so focused on his friend.

I"m disappointed in these remarks. They are too deferential to a friend while not being mindful enough of how badly Paterno likely fucked up. Yes we don't have every shred of evidence available. And Coach K has a point there. But we seem to have a lot to go on. And it wouldn't have been difficult to make that point while not appearing insensitive to the victims. Confirmation bias exists everywhere. But my love of Duke and Coach K isn't enough to cloud my judgement on this situation.

BSG

Its a little weird how relevant this show still is to current politics. I just watched the scene where they are about to execute Gaida for helping the cylons but found out at the last second that he was actually helping the rebels on New Caprica. The small group that was putting people on "trial" let him go. And the next scene was Adama and Roslin being told about the group and objecting because everyone has the right to a trial with representation.

That was just minutes after I posted on Michele Bachmann, many in the GOP, and Obama not upholding the rule of law in much the same way they weren't on BSG. What I didn't mention that was said during the debate by some candidates was that they supported Obama's death panels and their decision to kill an American citizen living in Yemen, not to mention his 16 year old child. This is basically what they were doing on the show. On the show they are literally fighting for their survival. And even then it isn't right.

On a lighter note, it was great to see Col. Tigh and the rest of the people that were on New Caprica back on Galactica. The show is always filled with tension. But they recognize that you need to break that tension and give the audience some emotionally satisfying breaks from that tension. And when they decide to do that they deliver. Not many shows outside of the Whedonverse can get me teary-eyed. But BSG can, and on a fairly consistent basis. That's part of why I've come to love the show.

Just making things up

Not that I would have expected anything less from Michele Bachmann. But its still something to behold when a person running for president just flat out lies, or is so delusional that they can convince themselves of this kind of crap:

"[Obama] is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA" Bachmann asserted. "We have decided we are going to lose the war on terror under Obama." The ACLU, which issued a scathing report on Obama's civil liberties record earlier this year, would probably disagree. The ACLU concluded that "most [Bush-era] policies...remain core elements of our national security strategy today." Bachmann also said the CIA was no longer interrogating anyone, which is false. The CIA is part of the interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG. Also, prior to 9/11, the CIA didn't actually have an interrogation program.

As Adam Serwer points out, if the ACLU really ran the CIA things would be a lot different. The ACLU actually values the rule of law, the law set out in the Bill of Rights. And its purpose is to fight to uphold those laws. What Obama has done is continue the Bush policies of ignoring the law or having their cronies draw up bullshit legal advice to justify their actions.

What this is really about is the hatred of the ACLU from the right. I'm not sure when it started. But for as long as I can remember they have not liked the fact that the ACLU fights to uphold the Bill of Rights. Criticizing an organization that does so is a bit crazy, especially when the party doing the criticizing claims to value the Constitution. So all Bachmann was doing was playing on this irrational hatred of the ACLU in order to score cheap political points. If she or most of the GOP cared at all about the Constitution and keeping this country safe they would be begging for the ACLU to run the CIA and would themselves be card carrying members. But they have no idea what it means to uphold the Constitution. And I'm sorry to say that the president doesn't seem to fully comprehend that either.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Duke vs Belmont

That was a lot closer than I would have liked. But everyone insists Belmont is a good team. And for the most part I agree. Not many teams can go into Cameron and consistently come back from double digit deficits and make it a single FG possession at the end. Not only that, they did so with Duke playing fairly well. So I think its safe to say that Belmont isn't just a cake walk of a team. We'll see that more definitively when they play Memphis next.

As for Duke, I think everyone expected things to be a bit rough. Finding a new point guard is tough. Seth Curry is naturally a two guard, or a scoring point guard. Now he has to balance running the offense for the benefit of everyone else and finding ways to get his own shot. Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith had to make this transition the past two years. I'm not sure Seth is quite as good as they are. But given time I think he can make it work. He did so fairly well tonight.

Perhaps the biggest question mark coming into the season was freshman Austin Rivers. In preseason games overseas he looked very raw. He would either jack up difficult shots or drive recklessly to the goal. And he would get frustrated easily. Tonight he looked pretty good. He was under control for the most part. And he showed why he was regarded as such a high recruit with his explosive athletic ability. I've said he is kind of a poor man's Dwayne Wade. And I maintain that with the way he can beat someone off the dribble and get to the basket. Coach K said his biggest problem tonight was not passing when he got into the lane. Hopefully he matures to the point where he can balance getting his shot and creating for others. So far I like what I see.

Mason Plumlee might have had the best game. He was aggressive, too aggressive sometimes. And he played tough. I'm not sure he can average 14 rebounds a night. But we need him to provide the inside presence that he did tonight. Miles started but didn't play much. Kelly, who was great during the preseason, was ok. Even though Dawkins hit the big shot he didn't play very well. The big surprise was how well Tyler Thorton played. He shot the ball well and played very good defense. Not even counting Thorton, I thought we had too many guards. Now with him playing well, we have even more. I guess that's better than not having enough. Hopefully we can work out a consistent rotation before we start playing ranked teams.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Community

Tonight's episode, Annie's Move, continued the somewhat seesaw tendencies of this season. The previous episode, Advanced Gay, fell a bit flat. But just like Remedial Chaos Theory, this episode got things back on track in an awesome way. I'll try not to give away spoilers by recapping everything that happened.

The focus is Annie's move to live with Troy and Abed. Its hard to go wrong with those three. Annie was her typical sweet and adorable self. Troy and Abed were slightly less awesome than usual, but effective. The rest of the characters were used effectively, specifically the Dean and Jeff. They were the funniest parts of the episode. And after Advanced Gay it was nice to see the show move away from lazy stereotypes (which Dan Harmon apologized for) when doing a story about a gay person.

It was also nice to see Britta provide a counterpoint to Shirley's religious evangelization, which she didn't do last week. One thing I miss from the first season is Britta playing a bigger role. I understand they have moved past the Sam and Diane thing with Jeff and Britta. And that's fine. I just wish Britta was used in more ways than as a punch line, which admittedly is pretty funny most of the time. All in all, I really enjoyed this episode. It was funny, sweet, and had a plot that went somewhere. Nice bounce back. Hopefully we can string together a few really good episodes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The ACA gotcha question

Adam Serwer spells it out:

What the law's critics will seize on, however, is Silberman's observation that although the government argues that "the Government does stress that the health care market is factually unique," it "concedes the novelty of the mandate and the lack of any doctrinal limiting principles."

While "novelty" isn't inherently an issue when it comes to the constitutionality of a given law, the "lack of any doctrinal limiting principles" is the most powerful argument critics of the ACA have, the idea that if the government can force you to buy health care, it can force you to do anything. Silberman describes this argument as "troubling, but not fatal," because of prior legal precedent supporting the ACA. The law's defenders unquestionably have legal precedent on their side. But its opponents have an incredibly effective political argument based on constitutional first principles.

More importantly, although the Supreme Court has only rarely favored those seeking to limit the government's power under the Commerce Clause, it has done so recently when government lawyers were unable to articulate any "doctrinal limiting principles" on the government's authority. UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler refers to this as the "gotcha question," essentially arguing that the government's inability to "articulate meaningful limits on Congress' power" may prove to be the law's undoing.

I'm not sure there is a gotcha question. The only thing the ACA is mandating is that people buy health insurance. That's power that is being questioned. No one is questioning whether Congress can force insurers to cover people pre-existing conditions. And despite what some conservatives want to argue, Congress is not trying to force anyone to eat broccoli.

Congress is merely trying to regulate the health insurance market. Its not trying to force people to be healthy. Its acknowledging that regardless of ones health, at some point they will need to enter the health care market. And given the high costs of health care and the fact that the law requires the uninsured to be given medical treatment, not insuring yourself affects the market. So the ACA is saying that in order to try and solve a problem with the health insurance market, which is part of interstate commerce, it can force people to buy health insurance. That's it. What more is it mandating?

If that's all its mandating why is there a question of doctrinal limiting principles? Perhaps since I'm not a lawyer I'm missing something or not understanding doctrinal limiting principles. But if all the argument for the ACA is that Congress can mandate that people buy health insurance why is it necessary that the ACA supporters spell out other things Congress might or might not have the power to mandate?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons

Andrew Sullivan has a post on the argument for and against Israel attacking Iran. There is sufficient reason for Israel to feel threatened by Iran, and Iran's allies that border Israel. And for some reason, Iran feels threatened, or maybe just doesn't like Iran. Israel has nuclear weapons and the support of the biggest military in the world. So it never made sense that Iran would directly attack Israel.

But Iran seems dedicated to obtain nuclear weapons. And Israel seems to be firm in the belief that it would be very bad if Iran did so, which is why there is so much speculation on whether Israel will attack them. But is Israel correct to assume that it would be a bad thing? I don't think the answer is clear.

If you side with Israel, your thinking is either that Iran will use nuclear weapons or they will use the increase of power the weapons would give them in order to be more aggressive in the region. If you think Iran will actually use its nuclear weapons, give them to terrorists, or not guard them enough so as to keep them away from terrorists, you basically think Iran is so fanatic that it doesn't care about its own wellbeing and will commit suicide. Israel probably has a sufficient stockpile in order to ensure mutually assured destruction. And the US would surely retaliate if something happened. I don't think Iran is that crazy. So I think the latter is more likely.

Though even then I don't think its certain Iran would become more aggressive and seek to start destructive conflicts. I think it could be just as easily the case that obtaining nuclear weapons moderates Iran's militaristic efforts. If they aren't willing to use their nuclear weapons to directly strike Israel, then that suggests they don't want to risk being attacked themselves. The same logic of not wanting to risk nuclear destruction would arise if Iran started a conventional war with Israel. And the political science literature shows that when two nuclear powers engage in conflict with each other they are very cautious to escalate things. Two examples off the top of my head are the US/Soviet conflict and the India/Pakistan conflict.

Andrew does a good job of pointing out the likely problems with Israel preemptively striking Iran in order to prevent them from obtaining nukes. What he doesn't mention is that I think a Israeli strike would further embolden Iran and make them want nuclear weapons even more. What better way to keep Israel at bay than to get nukes? All in all, I don't think a preemptive strike would be a completely terrible deal. If it worked, and that's a big if, it could keep Iran from getting nukes for quite a while. But it could probably just as easily backfire. And I think other options could work just as well.

Rick Santorum on gay marriage

I normally wouldn't give Santorum the time of day. But he was on CSPAN for a while today and I had no choice but to hear some of it. And while his position is not surprising, I wanted to talk about his logic. When asked about his opposition to gay marriage, he talked about how its best to raise kids in a traditional male/female household. So because its probably favorable to raise a kid in a heterosexual household, Santorum wants to deny marriage to gay people.

The topic of what type of household environment is best for children is a separate issue from gay marriage. I've talked about this before but I wanted to drive home the point again. Marriage is simply a social contract between two adults. And aside from the declaration the contract entails, there are some fairly minor legal implications that go along with it. That's all marriage is. It has nothing to do with having and raising kids. You don't have to get married in order to have kids. Nor do you have to have kids if you get married.

So Santorum's point is meaningless. It only belongs in the debate about whether gay people should be allowed to adopt kids. And as far as I know, they on a pretty extensive basis. And I'm sure there are at least a few studies out there that show its not a problem for the child having homosexual parents. In fact, I would guess that even if that isn't ideal, its better than having kids in foster homes. I don't think there is a good argument against gay marriage. But if Santorum is going to be against it he needs to come up with a reason that actually has something to do with the issue.

BSG

I haven't posted on the show since the end of season 2 and the beginning of the cylon occupation on New Caprica. As always, the show tackled difficult issues head on. They went from abortion to voter fraud. Baltar goes against his scientific opinion and calls to occupy New Caprica for the sake of getting public opinion on his side and thus win the election. Roslin sticks to her principles and doesn't pander to the masses.

Baltar gains in the polls and looks to have won the election. Roslin calls her contacts within the military, which is an odd choice to oversee an election (which is addressed), and gets them to alter votes. Roslin then tells Odama what she did and explains that she thinks Baltar is working for the cylons. Oddly its Odama who rejects the fraud for the sake of democratic principles. I forget his exact reason, though do remember that he doesn't want Baltar to win. Perhaps his experience and endearment to Roslin has shaped his views and values the importance of politics with regard to sustaining the human race. What's funny is that a few episodes into season 3, which jumps a year into the future, Baltar's political advisor (the accused terrorist in the first season) says that he wishes Roslin would have stuck to the fraud.

Baltar's decision to lead the people to New Caprica has lead to a really crappy existence on the cylon run planet. As if Baltar wasn't a little off his rocker before, he has fallen even deeper over the edge as a result of the guilt he feels for his part in this situation. The situation is so bad that the chief and the guy Starbuck was dating are the leaders of a resistance that is resorting to terrorism. The show has previously shown a terrorist in poor light. But now that the humans are basically being held captive, the terrorists are viewed more as freedom fighters, though not without dissenting views (notably from Roslin).

The main point regarding terrorism seems to be that it depends on the cause and the circumstances. If you hold a minority view within a stable political system that guarantees you essentially the same freedoms as everyone else, its not a good moral decisions to kill innocent people in order to advance your cause. And its probably not a good strategical decision either. But when faced with the situation the humans have on New Caprica, its probably a better strategical decision and is slightly more morally acceptable. Though even then, I don't think its right to kill innocent people, even those humans who have joined the cylon police force.

Aside from the main plot, the sub plots have been interesting. Starbuck might be getting the worse of the cylon occupation by being forced to stay with the cylon that she interrogated earlier in the show. He loves her and has now introduced a child that he claims is Starbuck's in order to gain her favor. Starbuck denies the girl, but then seems to take to her after the girl injures herself by falling down stairs. Though I wonder, was it really an accident or was that part of the child's programming? And does Starbuck really care or is she doing it to gain the cylon's favor?

Apollo and Dee got married at some point between seasons 2 and 3. But apparently without any life and death circumstances to worry about, Apollo has gained a bunch of weight and isn't the fighter he used to be. And that's a shame because Dee still looks great. I feel bad for her. Admiral Odama is still being friendly with Sharon. He even sends her on the rescue mission to New Caprica. But that friendship along with his decision to fake her baby's death may backfire if Sharon keeps questioning what happened. In relation to that, its weird how the woman cylon had a dream that led her to someone who knew Sharon's baby was still alive. I guess this is to drive home the point that cylons have a similar type consciousness that humans have. I think that speaks to why the cylons believe in god. Though its also odd that they seem to believe in a god, which humans believe in multiple gods. I'm still not sure what the show is trying to get across with that. But its interesting.