Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rationality in action redux

A while back when tornadoes did a lot of damage to Mississippi I talked about how Haley Barbour was acting rationally when he criticized Eric Cantor for wanting to offset any relief funding with spending cuts elsewhere. Well, Cantor is saying the same thing about FEMA funding after the hurricane that hit the east coast. This time its Republican governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia that comes out against Cantor:
Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, breaking with Cantor, on Tuesday suggested that deficit-spending concerns should not be a factor as Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) respond to the hurricane.

“My concern is that we help people in need,” McDonnell said during his monthly radio show. “For the FEMA money that’s going to flow, it’s up to them on how they get it. I don’t think it’s the time to get into that [deficit] debate.”

When its your people and their votes on the line, you are less willing to compromise. In fact, even Cantor has previously asked for relief without offsets when his district needed it. He eventually even voted against offsetting the spending.

I think what this shows is that Cantor is more nationally inclined in his preferences. I've read speculation that he wants to be Speaker of the House. That makes sense given that he is already in a leadership position as current majority leader. Since he has higher goals beyond just being the representative of his district, the way he goes about achieving those goals changes. So even when you get people from the same party who are ideologically similar together on an issue, you can see them coming to different conclusions because its more efficient for them to do so based on their different goals. And that is what acting rationally is about.

Dick Cheney is right

He says that the torture he approved of was legal. Dahlia Litwick explains why he is right:

But the real lesson of In My Time is not that Cheney "got away with it," though I suppose he did. It's an admonishment to rest of us that the law really matters. The reason Cheney keeps saying that torture is "legal" is because he has a clutch of worthless legal memoranda saying so. Cheney gets away with saying torture is "legal" even though it isn't because if it were truly illegal, he and those who devised the torture regime would have faced legal consequences—somewhere, somehow. That's the meaning of the "rule of law." That, rather than whether America should torture people, is what we should glean from the Cheney book.

As long as he is not prosecuted for approving of torture his actions were, in effect, legal. This isn't as if someone killed another person and got away with it. When someone gets away with murder or some other crime its probably because there isn't enough evidence to determine who did it. Either the policy or a jury just don't have enough of the facts. Despite that, the crime is still illegal and people are held accountable for doing it. Cheney is different because we have all of the evidence. Not only that, he is admitting he did it.

Yet nothing happens to him or anyone else involved. And the reasons are almost completely political on the part of the Obama administration. Because of their decision to not enforce the law there is little deterrent for future administrations who want to torture people. All they have to do is draw up ridiculous "legal opinions" and then wait for their predecessors to declare they want to look forward instead of backward. Until someone attempts to prosecute these people Cheney will continue to openly mock and defile the principles this country is supposed to stand for.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Free money for the gov't

Ezra Klein explains:

The real yield on Treasury debt has, in recent months, turned negative. Sound impenetrably dull? Sure. But here’s what it means: free money!

Let’s start by defining some terms: The “yield” on Treasury debt is how much the government pays to borrow money. The “real yield” is how much it pays to borrow money after accounting for inflation. When the “real yield” turns negative, it means the government isn’t paying to borrow money anymore. Rather, the situation has flipped, and the government is getting paid to keep money safe.
Usually, the U.S. government has to pay quite a bit to borrow money. In January 2003, for instance, the interest rate on a seven-year Treasury was about 3.6 percent, which gave investors a yield of more than two percent after accounting for inflation. Right now, the interest rate is 1.52 percent, or minus-0.34 percent after accounting for inflation.

Here’s what this means: If we can think of any investments we can make over the next seven years that have a return of zero percent — yes, you read that right — or more, it would be foolish not to borrow this money and make them.

The case is even stronger with investments we know we will need to make over the next decade. The economy will get better, and as it gets better, the cost of borrowing will rise. The longer we wait, in other words, the more expensive those investments will become.

Why will we not take advantage of this situation?:

Everyone knows we have worthwhile investments to make. The real reason we won’t take advantage of this remarkable opportunity is ideology: Republicans argue that deficits are the only thing that matters for our recovery — unless anyone attempts to close them through tax increases, and then tax rates are the only thing that matters for our recovery. And Democrats have stopped even attempting to challenge them.

As an economic theory, that’s just dead wrong. Deficits matter, but in the long and medium term. What matters now is getting the unemployment rate down.

Need proof? Well, what’s worrisome about deficits? That high federal deficits will crowd out private borrowing. And how do we know if that’s happening? High interest rates. And where are interest rates now? They’re negative.

I understand believing in limited gov't. But this type of thing I just don't get. Its almost purely about being the minority party and not wanting to give Obama and Democrats a policy achievement. Either that or they truly buy into the ridiculous economic arguments they give in public. And that's problematic not only because it hampers growth right now, but also in that they probably won't be proven wrong because by the time they are in the majority again the economy will probably be growing faster and they will claim credit despite their obstruction. That is unless voters don't reward their behavior.

Where Chipper Jones ranks all time

Chipper is one of my favorite baseball players. He came up right when I was starting to pay attention to the game and following the Braves. So his career has pretty much exactly coincided with my relationship with the game. The same goes for my other favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr. But unlike Griffey, Chipper isn't widely considered to be a lock for the hall of fame. David Schoenfield gives us the numbers and ranks the top 3B:


"It helps that he has some ridiculous gifts. He was in a visiting clubhouse a while back, reading the crawl on a cable channel from about 30 feet away. A teammate said, 'You can read that?' Jones thought, You can't? He can remember hundreds, maybe thousands of at-bats, what he hit off whom. One night last week, after a game in which he saw two dozen pitches, he could remember in detail all but two or three of them: count, pitch, location, result. He watches game tape like a detective, and if a pitcher tends to slightly open his glove before throwing a curve, Jones knows it."
--Michael Bamberger, Sports Illustrated

Career: .305/.403/.533, 2359 G, 449 HR, 1549 RBI, 1550 R, 142 OPS+, 82.0 WAR
Best five seasons (2007, 1998, ’99, ’08, ’96): 34.9 WAR
Best 10 consecutive (1998-2007): 57.5 WAR
Best 10 hitting seasons: +444 runs above average

Chipper’s game was consistent excellence over a long time. His peak seasons may not quite match those of Brett or Mathews, but he’s never had a bad season. He’s had some injury issues later in his career, but through age 32 he averaged 153 games per season. Brett, meanwhile, battled injuries throughout his career (the turf in Kansas City didn't help); he played 140-plus games nine times, but four of those came after he moved to first base or DH. Considering Chipper’s adjusted OPS is actually greater than Brett’s and Brett moved to first base in his mid-30s, I give Chipper the slight edge.

The call over Mathews is a little tougher. Chipper had the weakest glove of the six, while Mathews was regarded a solid glove. (Baseball-Reference gives Mathews a five-win advantage over Chipper for defense over their careers.) Chipper’s adjusted OPS is actually nearly identical to Mathews’ and right now Baseball-Reference has Mathews as creating 550 runs above an average hitter of his era, Chipper at 549. Yes, Mathews has a good edge in career WAR. I think it’s close, and maybe I’m succumbing to era bias here, but I’m going Chipper by the length of a Louisville Slugger.

There seems to be little doubt that he is one of the top 5 best 3B ever. Once you accept that I'm not sure how you keep him out of the hall of fame. Even looking at his numbers without regard for position I think he has a strong case. All time, he is 51st in WAR, 35th in WAR for position players, 26th in offensive WAR, 49th in OBP, 46th in SLG, and 31st in OPS.

Aside from the numbers, I loved watching him play. I still do. He has such a pretty swing from the left side. And even though I'm not wild about his swing from the right its effective. The fact that he was a switch hitter made him unique. I can't think of a current switch hitter nearly as good as him. He could be the last great one. According to Schoenfield Chipper wants to play next year. I was skeptical that he could come back this year and bring value. But having seen him prove he can still play fairly well this year I will welcome him back.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fins vs Bucs, a sign of things to come?

Chad Henne and the rest of the starting offense looked pretty good in their preseason game against the Bucs the other night. I saw a lot of three and four wide formations along with a lot of shotgun. Henne was quoted as saying that he didn't like the shotgun because he had to take his eyes of coverage in order to get the ball. But it appears he is getting more comfortable with it.

I liked the formations because our offense the past few years has been very conservative, a lot of two TE, a fullback, and only two WR looks. That obviously limits what you can do passing the ball. And when you can't run it well out of those formations you aren't going to fool the defense when you decided to throw it. Using more three and four wide sets could mean that if you pass well out of them it could open up the running game using those sets.

What I most liked about the offense was how aggressive Henne was. On every drive he attempted at least an intermediate pass with the goal of getting a big play. The highlight of the game was a stutter and go route by Marshall along the sideline where Henne hit him with a pretty accurate pass. Marshall then did what he does about as well as anyone and broke a few tackles on the way to the endzone. What Henne saw was that Marshall had one on one coverage, meaning there was no safety deep to help the corner that was covering Marshall. When we get this coverage we need to be throwing Marshall the ball nearly 100% of the time.

Sparano talked during the offseason about big plays and their effect on the offense. He correctly concluded that we didn't have enough of them last season and that in order to win more we need to find ways to get more of them this season. So far it seems like the team has taken this to heart. I hope it continues into the regular season because its hard to have a good offense without passing the ball well. And its hard to pass the ball well if you don't threaten defenses deep.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Poverty and collective action

This post is in relation to an discussion about inequality. I'm not all that interested in it other than to say that taxes are only a part of that issue. Many more things are driving the vast inequality in the US. So I just want to highlight this stuff about taxes in relation to the libertarian view of gov't and not inequality. The first two paragraphs I quote are from Penn Jillette and the third one is from the author Timothy Sandefur

It's amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we're compassionate we'll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

Note also the typical fallacy that leftists always fall into: thinking that somehow government is morally superior or wiser than people, even though the government is made up of people. If it is true that people are selfish and short-sighted and “cannot be motivated” to address or mitigate serious problems—how can people be trusted to run other people’s lives?

To answer that question, in short, because the gov't can overcome the collective action problem by pulling together a large group's resources and doing the work that many don't do on their own. Its easy to think you can't do much to help the poor. And its true when you say "the poor" because that entails millions of people and the average person can't even begin to make a dent in the cause of helping that many people. Sure, we can help a few people here and there. And some do. But most can't and voting in order to make sure the collective revenue from taxes goes to help the poor is a more effective way to help.

Its not that the gov't is morally superior or wiser than people. As Timothy points out, the gov't is the people. Its that people on their own are limited in their ability to affect things. I guess you could argue that if gov't took less in taxes people would do more to help the poor. But if that's the case with the poor I wonder if he libertarians would argue that it could also be the case with every other thing the gov't spends money on, like public transportation and defense/security? If not, what is it about helping the poor that makes it different?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Should a pitcher be considered an MVP?

I don't feel like getting into the numbers yet. I just want to think about this theoretically for now. I had long held that pitchers shouldn't really be considered for the award of most valuable player. The standard logic behind that belief is that a pitcher only plays once every 5 days. While I don't find that argument to be as convincing as I used to, it still has some merit. But as with my other posts on this topic, it all depends on how you define value.

A pretty standard measure of value is how many runs you create or save, and then how that compares to the rest of the league. If you compare pitchers and position players without taking into account how often they appear a game there shouldn't be many reasons to say a position player is more valuable to a pitcher. The one thing I think you could say for the position player is that he is not only helping add runs, but with his defense he is helping prevent runs. And he is probably preventing more runs with his defense than a pitcher is with his offense.

But a position player's defense is dependent on the pitcher's performance. If you are an outfielder for the Braves and you have to play defense behind Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson 60 times a year you probably aren't going to get as many opportunities to prevent runs as those outfielders playing behind pitchers who induce fewer ground balls, and vice versa for infielders who would get more opportunities with ground ball pitchers. So without accounting for the frequency of appearances in games, we can probably give the slightest of edges to the position players in terms of their total contribution to value.

But before I get to the value a pitcher is adding I want to stay of the position player. While its true that he has the chance to add value in nearly every game a team plays, its not the case that he actually adds much value in every game. Take Albert Pujols as an example. I like to use him because I think most would agree that he is one of the best and most valuable players in the game. That makes it easier to conceptualize. Pujols can go 0-4 and not do anything defensively that an average defender couldn't do. What value did he add? The only place I can think off is his effect on the other batters in the lineup. Maybe Lance Berkman and Matt Holiday got better pitches because of Pujols' presence and they created runs from those pitches. That's something. But it was still up to Berkman and Holiday to follow through. So I'd say on Pujols' worst days he is only adding a little value.

Now let's look at a pitcher. When someone like Roy Halladay or Justin Verlander pitch they are adding a lot of value. They don't allow a lot of HRs, they strike out a lot of batters, and they pitch a lot of innings. During that game they pitch they are the player most responsible for preventing runs. Since that is half the equation to winning I'd say they are adding a lot of value by not giving up as many runs as nearly every other pitcher in the league. On an average day someone like Pujols is helping create a run or two. During that same game someone like Verlander or Halladay is helping prevent probably another run or two, maybe more depending on what the averages are. Like Pujols' effect on other players, the top pitchers are affecting other pitchers when they pitch well. They are keeping the bullpen from pitching more innings, which has the effect of having your better pitcher on the hill longer and having your best relievers available when your other starters aren't pitching well.

These indirect effects, Pujols on the rest of the lineup and the pitcher on the rest of the staff, are difficult to measure. So its difficult to say which one would bring more value. But I think I would give a slight edge to the position player on the basis of him having the effect more often. By the time you get to the 3rd and 4th starter in your rotation whatever effect your ace had is probably gone, or at least severely diminished. Meanwhile, even while Pujols was struggling early on this season, he was probably still positively affecting the rest of the lineup with his reputation every day.

It seems like so far I've convinced myself that on average a position player is a little more valuable than a pitcher. But the thing that I think makes it even closer is the concept behind WAR, wins above replacement. If you aren't familiar, WAR is trying to measure how many wins a player creates for his team compared to a replacement level player at his same position. There aren't many short stops that both hit and defend well. So when you find someone like A-Rod when he first came up that can do both of those things at a high level you have someone who has adds a lot of WAR. On the other hand there are generally a lot of first basemen who hit well and defend adequately. Since there are more of them available you aren't really adding much value to your team if you have an average first basemen compared to the rest of the league.

The reason I asked the question in the title is because pitchers like Verlander and Halladay are putting up some impressive WAR numbers. If they are adding a lot more wins that the average starting pitcher then they have a lot of value. I'm not sure what the actual numbers say about this season, but if Verlander and Halladay are pitching so much better than the rest of the league then I think they should be considered along side position players. If finding an elite pitcher is as hard as finding a SS like A-Rod then you are adding a lot of value to your team if you have one. So while on average a pitcher may not bring as much value in terms of creating and saving runs and thus winning games as a position player, he might be just as valuable to his team if he is pitching a lot better than the rest of the league.

Ron Paul and conservatism

Putting aside the fact that he won't win the Republican nomination and that he has a few good stances on issues, its often overlooked just how extreme some of what Ron Paul believes is. Here is Matt Ygelsias laying out Paul's view on abortion:

He has also stated “I believe beyond a doubt that a fetus is a human life deserving of legal protection, and that the right to life is the foundation of any moral society” and noted that his states’ rights take on abortion law is purely opportunistic “It is much more difficult for pro-life advocates to win politically at the federal level.” This makes perfect sense. If you believed, as Paul and other abortion criminalizers do, that legal abortion is a form of mass murder comparable to the Nazi genocide you obviously wouldn’t believe in any principled way that the mass murder is fine as long as the perpetrators have to drive from Idaho west to Oregon in order to perpetrate it.

This is perhaps the most distinct break with states' rights that you see conservatives take. On many issues they claim they would let states decide which way they want to legislate. But their anti-abortion stance is fundamentally about taking a life. So even they can't just leave that up to states to decide. And rightfully so as Matt points out. It would make no sense whatsoever to let a state kill a person simply because the state claims it has the right to do so. Here is more from Matt:

The “pro-life” position amounts to a conjunction of the proposition that a fetus is a moral person and that a pregnant woman has a strong legally enforceable rescue duty. But Paul doesn’t believe the state should tax people to feed the poor, or impose rescue duties in any other context. Rather, he simply seems to feel that pregnant women aren’t really people. Paul himself, I note, is a good deal clearer about his ideological positioning than are many of his friends on the Internet. He’s a social conservatives who sees his political views as an extension of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ running for president on a promise to “Restore America Now” to some past edenic state.

Another good point from Matt. He is really good at thinking through an argument and coming up with unique ways to understand things. Pregnancy is very much like rescuing a person. In fact its way beyond rescuing. The mother is vital to the life of the fetus. She spends around 8 months making sure the the fetus is healthy. That's so much more invasive, time consuming, and costly than cutting a check that gets thrown into a pot and doled out for welfare. Yet Paul thinks cutting that check is vastly more oppressive than forcing a woman to risk her life to carry a child.

In relation to Paul, here is Adam Serwer on how his conception of freedom is different than Paul's:

My conception of personal freedom involves not just the absence of government interference, but within reason, a certain amount of freedom from need--the elderly shouldn't live their twilight years in destitution, children should not lack for medical care because they were born into poverty, and getting cancer shouldn't mean that you lose everything you own to pay for medical bills. It also means you don't leave the states to dole out constitutional rights as they see fit. This is a profound philosophical difference that really can't be bridged through Paul's support for a less interventionist foreign policy and the rule of law.

That's one of the big ways in which I conceptualize freedom. Paul and many conservatives only view freedom as a one way street. Its only about what the gov't is doing to you that matters. And everything it does to you restricts your freedom, except when it protects you with the justice system, police, firefighters, and military.

I respect Ron Paul's views on foreign policy and drug policy. Liberals can agree with him on those issues because we have a more open and wide-ranging conception of freedom than mainstream conservatives. I think there is room for more liberals to agree with conservatives like Paul on other issues because liberals can embrace more limited gov't if it enhances freedom. What conservatives then have to choose what they value more, freedom or the strict belief in limited gov't as an end in itself.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I've got no motivation

I'm listening to Green Day right now. That's a line from one of their songs off Dookie. Its kind of how I feel right now. I haven't felt much like blogging lately. I've finally got some job stuff going on. So I've been focused mainly on that. Hopefully it results in making money soon. You don't really understand how expensive a college education is until you start getting the bills.

But hey, I guess its my fault that I took two years to find out what I wanted to do with my life. That resulted in me hitting the job market at the worst possible time to do so over the past 50 years. Though one of the reasons I blog is that our elected officials aren't doing nearly enough to help people out during this time. And that pisses me off because there are a ton of people out there a lot worse than me.

I wish I knew something about Libya. That's the big news story in politics right now. And I guess the other reason I haven't blogged much is because I don't have much to say about it. Its good that people have overthrown an oppressive dictator. But as we have seen in other instances, that doesn't immediately make things great for the country and its people. The one thing I do have to say is that I don't like the way Obama has handled the whole thing. He has basically ignored Congress and played semantics with the definition of words, i.e hostilities.

Not much else is going on in politics right now. The Republican primary process is underway. But the only thing I find compelling about that is the crazy shit they say. And even I get tired of pointing out how ridiculous they can be.

I don't even care much about what is going on in sports right now. Baseball is at the point where most of the playoff spots are set. So there isn't much drama there. And preseason football is annoying because its just a tease.

This post has gotten longer than I expected. Hopefully I get back to more regular posting soon. In the mean time, I'm off to watch some Community before I hit the sack. I can't get enough Alison Brie.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Japan, WWII, and nuclear deterrence

Gareth Cook has an article providing an argument that Japan surrendered to the US in WWII not after we dropped atomic bombs on two of their cites, but after Russia invaded Manchuria. Its an interesting theory. I'll get to the deterrence part in a bit. Here is more on what he thinks Japan really did:

On Aug. 6, the American bomber Enola Gay dropped its payload on Hiroshima, leaving the signature mushroom cloud and devastation on the ground, including something on the order of 100,000 killed. (The figures remain disputed, and depend on how the fatalities are counted.)

As Hasegawa writes in his book “Racing the Enemy,” the Japanese leadership reacted with concern, but not panic. On Aug. 7, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo sent an urgent coded telegram to his ambassador in Moscow, asking him to press for a response to the Japanese request for mediation, which the Soviets had yet to provide. The bombing added a “sense of urgency,” Hasegawa says, but the plan remained the same.

Very late the next night, however, something happened that did change the plan. The Soviet Union declared war and launched a broad surprise attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria. In that instant, Japan’s strategy was ruined. Stalin would not be extracting concessions from the Americans. And the approaching Red Army brought new concerns: The military position was more dire, and it was hard to imagine occupying communists allowing Japan’s traditional imperial system to continue. Better to surrender to Washington than to Moscow.

I don't know anything about this subject. It sounds plausible, I guess. I'll buy it for the sake of the deterrence part of the argument:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My first look at Austin Rivers as a Dukie

Duke is over in China playing some friendlies, kind of like soccer does I guess. This gave me the opportunity to get a look at the new team and its new additions. The main addition is Austin Rivers, the number 2 ranked freshman according to espn. His first game in a Duke uniform wasn't shown on tv. But he had 18 points and 5 assists. That's pretty solid. My first impression of him was ok.

He kind of looks like a tweener. He is a little taller than most point guards. But he seems a little less bulky than a lot of shooting guards. I don't think this will be a big deal for him in college. Nolan Smith did just fine playing both guard positions and he was about the same size, if not a bit shorter. Rivers also has an odd looking jump shot like Nolan did. Its hard to tell from far off, but I don't think its too much of a problem fundamental wise. Most of his shots were on line. He mostly had a problem with range.

The one thing that immediately jumps out about Rivers is his aggressiveness. Doug Gotlieb noted it as well. He isn't afraid to shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor. And he likes to attack the basket. Doug compared him to a cross between Dwayne Wade and Jay Williams. I'm not sure I see much Jay Williams in him. But I do see him as a poor man's Wade. He isn't as bulky as Wade. And he isn't as explosive athletically, which means he doesn't finish as well around the rim. But he likes to drive like he does.

I'm not sure how he will do defensively. But he seems to have decent lateral movement. So I would guess he shouldn't be much of a liability. Overall I think he will be good. He has pretty good skills and the mental makeup to be a good scorer. The key will be how efficiently he gets his points. Kyrie Irving was so good last year because he didn't have to take a ton of shots to score. If we can get that from Rivers we could be a very good team. If not I think we will struggle to score consistently. Though Ryan Kelly's performance today was encouraging. Him and the Plumlees really need to step up all aspects of their game if this team wants to be great.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tim Tebow and religion

Gregg Doyel's column on Tim Tebow has been getting some press. I watched it debated on 1st and 10 whether or not his column was fair or foul. Here is the Tebow quote Doyel criticizes:

"Others who say I won't make it are wrong," Tebow told the Denver Post on Thursday. "They don't know what I'm capable of and what's inside me. My family and my friends have been bothered by what's gone on, and I tell them to pay no attention to it. I'm relying as always on my faith."

Doyel drew that quote from this Woody Paige column. Doyel is quoting the whole quote that Paige got. The reason I went to the Paige column is that I don't think I can really asses what Tebow meant when he said he is "relying...on my faith". Does that mean he is relying on his faith in order to deal with the people who are saying he won't be a good player? Or does he mean, as Doyel suggests, that he will start because its god's plan for him to start and be a good player?

Here is another quote from Tebow that Doyel uses to come to the conclusion that Tebow thinks he will start because of god's plan:

"Faith is like a muscle," Tebow wrote in Through My Eyes. "You trust God for the small things and when He comes through, your muscle grows. This enables you to trust God for the bigger things, in fact, all things."

I agree with Doyel that this stuff is a little weird. As Doyel says, who really knows what god's plan is. Maybe his plan for Tebow is to be a backup. But I'm not sure we can assume that Tebow really feels this way, at least according to the first quote or even the one I just used. He could just as likely be relying on his faith to help himself and his family get through the criticisms. Even that is kind of weird to me. But its less weird than thinking god's plan for you is to be a starting Qb.

But I can see why that last quote would suggest Tebow might think that. He says he trusts god for all things. If he really believes that then it follows that he thinks it would apply to his football career. But I don't think you can automatically connect those two quotes to definitively say Tebow thinks it. So while I largely agree with the weirdness of Tebow's qutoe, I think someone should ask Tebow if that is really what he meant. I wouldn't be surprised if he does. And in that case Doyel would be 100% right. But until then I don't feel comfortable drawing those types of conclusions.

Plus its possible that if you asked Tebow and really pushed him on it he would say he doesn't believe god has a direct hand in him being a staring Qb. I think a lot of christians or religious people in general would concede that that kind of belief is a bit much. Though considering the things Tebow has said and done in his past, my money would be on him believing it. If he confirmed that I would love to ask him why he thinks that and really press him on the logic.

Why was he chosen to be a starting Qb in the NFL? Why not me? Why not you? What kind of a higher being would devise plans that give millions of people really crappy lives while millions of others have pretty darn good ones? I don't see much logic in that kind of thinking. Lucky for Tebow the only kind of logic he needs to understand is that of opposing defenses. If he puts his faith in that he might become a starting Qb.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ricky Perry is catching up on the crazy

The Texas governor has finally entered the presidential race. The other candidates have been campaigning for at least a few weeks now. So Perry is a little behind in getting people to pay attention and support him. Let's check in on how he is doing:
In response to a question from Danny Yadron of the Wall Street Journal, who asked Perry if he was suggesting that Obama didn’t love this country, Perry replied: ” I dunno, you need to ask him.”

We're out of the gates with suggesting the president doesn't really care about the country he is running. That's a familiar and safe one to go to first. But its a classic for a reason. Strong opening.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who entered the presidential campaign on Saturday, appeared to suggest a violent response would be warranted should Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke “print more money” between now and the election. Speaking just now in Iowa, Perry said, “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.”

The guy appointed by his predecessor is trying to help the economy grow and stop the suffering of the unemployed and Perry wants to treat him in an "ugly" manner. That's a pretty good follow up.

PERRY: I just think that new taxes are not the answer right now. If I had — I don’t know what he’s worth — $80 billion or $30 billion or whatever it is, he’s never going to spend all his money so taking money away from Warren Buffett isn’t going to affect anything. But, it’s the $250,000 folks who they’re trying to tax who’s the small businessman that’s getting devastated in this.

That's in a response to Warren Buffet saying we need to raise taxes on the rich. Notice Perry doesn't think raising taxes on Buffet would affect anything. That's a slip up. The proper Republican response to this should have been, "Tax increases kill jobs and puppies. We can't raise them on anyone ever, especially the rich." This mistake could just be him finding his bearings in a new forum. Let's see if he can regroup and finish strong.
We’re calling today on the president of the United States to put a moratorium on regulations across this country, because his regulations, his EPA regulations are killing jobs all across America.

Wow. He responds with an uppercut. No regulations across the country. That's bold. I guess he feels that with his experience governing a state bordering the Gulf of Mexico he can handle any sort of oil spill god throws at him. Let's wrap it up with this:

“We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax,” he said, “And you know the liberals out there are saying that we need to pay more.”

Back to the comfortable issue of taxes. Not the strongest finish. But a solid way to get the people going. He makes sure to not mention that most of those people who don't pay income taxes don't do so because they are old, and thus retired, or they are so poor they don't earn enough money. And he smartly leaves out the fact that Ronald Reagan signed a tax reform bill that dropped those people from income taxes. But the average Republican voter doesn't know that. They do know that liberals want more of their hard earned money. So score this one a win for Perry.

All in all I'd say Perry has had a pretty successful opening. He has assured Republican voters that he can run a state like Mitt Romeny did and he can bring the crazy like Michele Bachmann. That combination of experience and the willingness to endorse ridiculous policies should prove a tough combination to beat. My money is on the race coming down to Perry and Romney. And I think Romney is going to have his work cut out for him if he hopes to keep up with Perry in the more conservative states.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Where do rights come from?

I've been having this discussion on the Miami Dolphins message board and I wanted to expand on it some more here. First lets define what a right is. In an inadvertent way, one of the guys on the board did a good job. He said:
Now if anyone truly believes their rights are granted to them by man, then you're not a free man. You are nothing more than a slave whose granted privleges based on your behavior and conduct, nothing more.

Rights are privileges that are given to you based on how you act. The example I used in response to him was using the right to bear arms (more on this right later). If you kill someone you don't still have the right to bear arms. You are thrown in jail and stripped of that right, and others. You may even be stripped of the most fundamental right, that of life. That quote from him is the end of him saying that god gives people rights, he even quoted Jefferson in the DoI.

I quoted his post because it shows the opposing view to mine, which is that rights are bestowed onto us by god. And Jefferson's famous phrase in the DoI is supposed to prove this point. But that is hardly proof, and I don't see any other evidence being presented.

So Jefferson first. He is writing a propaganda piece in which he is quoting John Locke regarding what rights are unalienable. John Locke and the other thinkers who came up with the rights Jefferson quotes are men, not god. Jefferson and the other founders chose which privileges they thought people should have. Those rights weren't transcribed to them from god. Nor were they taken from the bible or any other divinely ordained thing.

And that gets me back to the right to bear arms. Why would god make that a right? Why would god make anything we in the US designate as a right a right? Its been a while since I read the bible. But I'm pretty sure I didn't skip over the part where god or Jesus discuss rights. The closest you could come is the ten commandments. But its pretty obvious that isn't the same thing as rights. The ten commandments and everything else in the bible is about what people should or shouldn't do to other people. Its not about politics or the gov't. And as conservatives would correctly point out, rights are very much about what the gov't can't do.

I'm sure the response to this will be, well, they don't discuss rights explicitly in the bible. But if you accept Jefferson's line of thinking, you would probably argue that even though god may not have bestowed rights directly, god created nature and that is where political thinkers like Locke and Jefferson are claiming rights come from. So when we say natural rights we are really just saying the rights god put here for us to discover.

But that is a cop out because it assumes the presence of a god in the first place. Not only that, it assumes that god had a direct hand in creating nature, that god shaped it in a particular way so that we would discover these things that we would identify as rights. And, it assumes that god shaped us in a way that would allow us to be able to discover rights.

That's what you have to believe in order to think rights come from god. And that's a ton of assuming you have to do. And even if you feel comfortable assuming all of that, I think you have to embrace some sort of divine plan, one in which humans aren't in a complete way in control of how they behave. If you embrace the belief that this was all ordained by god, why do we need the conception of rights to begin with? And why did it take so long for humans to discover them and force gov'ts and people to respect them?

I've raised a lot of questions without answering them. That's because I don't think there are good answers. Either that or the answer is simply that its silly to assume all of that. Unless you can provide a plausible answer to any of those questions I don't see how you can say rights come from god. On the other hand, it is plausible to say that they come from humans because we have proof that humans thought up the concept and decided what constituted a right and what doesn't. And I'm inclined to follow the evidence.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jose Constanza over Jason Heyward?

Is Fredi Gonzalez serious? I've watched a few Braves games on and off over the past week and I noticed Constanza getting a lot of playing time. I thought Fredi was just giving Heyward some more time off than usual since Heyward had been hurt. And that may the case and we just aren't aware of it. But Grant Brisbee shows that Constanza isn't just getting mop up time while Heyward recovers.

But there's a pretty good chance that Gonzalez is going down a dark path. Jason Heyward is in a pretty serious gutterfunk right now. He's hitting .222/.317/.403 for the season, and that's a pace he's sustained for the last couple of months. Jason Heyward is also certainly one of the three best outfielders the Braves can play. Those two points aren't mutually exclusive. It wasn't a question before the Braves acquired Michael Bourn or while Chipper Jones' injuries allowed Martin Prado to shift to third base, but now things are a little fuzzy.

Jones is back, Prado is in left, and Bourn is in center. And in right field ... well, that's up in the air. Heyward has started three of the last eight games in right, yielding significant time to Jose Constanza. Now, we can do this the stat way or the scout way. First, here's what Constanza has done in the minors:

Its great that Constanza is having a really good couple of weeks. And its fun that his name is close to Costanza, as in George from Seinfeld. But its hard to justify not giving Heyward the vast majority of at bats. Remember, Fredi had Jason hitting 6th in the lineup to start the year instead of 2nd where he put the very mediocre Nate McClouth. So its almost as if Fredi doesn't understand Heyard's value. Granted, he has had a bad season so far this year. But the guy got on base 39% of the time last year as a rookie. He has issues but he has a ton of potential. Surely enough that Constanza shouldn't be getting the significant amount of playing time he has over the past few weeks. Luckily for Fredi it has worked. But as Brisbee says, I'm not betting on Constanza being better in the long run.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The underpants gnome theory of American legislation

Step 1: The president makes an impassioned speech that both demolishes the argument of his opponents and calls for the nation to unite under his leadership in order to make the country better.

Step 2:

Step 3: The best possible legislation is passed with huge majorities in congress and our problems are solved.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Van Halen and brown M&Ms

I can't believe it took me this long to post about Van Halen. Van Halen is arguably the greatest hard rock band ever. I'd even say one of the greatest bands ever. Even if for some insane reason you don't like them, you can't deny that their influence is vast.

If I could only pick five songs to put on my ipod one of them would be Hot for Teacher (I'm not sure of the other three, the second song would be Detroit Rock City). And not only did they make great music, they were quintessential rock stars. They always looked like they were having fun and they were larger than life.

One of those infamous stories about their rockstar lifestyles was the fact that in their contract for concerts they put a clause in that required a bowl of M&Ms with all of the brown ones taken out be placed in their dressing room backstage. At first you think, that's kind of crazy. But here is why they did it:

At the heart of any major concert is the contract. Much of the text of these contracts is standard legal boilerplate, but each band may attach specific demands via something called a “rider”. Most of the contracts involving concerts at large venues are jam-packed with riders, most of which involve technical details specific to the band’s stage design. For instance, a rider might say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, spaced evenly, providing nineteen amperes total, on beams suspended from the ceiling of the venue, which shall be able to support a total gross weight of 5,600 pounds each, and be suspended no less than 30 feet, but no more than 37.5 feet, above the stage surface”. Van Halen’s concert contracts would have several hundred such demands, and their contracts ended up (in lead singer David Lee Roth’s words) looking “like a Chinese Yellow Pages”.

The staff at venues in large cities were used to technically-complex shows like Van Halen’s. The band played in venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden or Atlanta’s The Omni without incident. But the band kept noticing errors (sometimes significant errors) in the stage setup in smaller cities. The band needed a way to know that their contract had been read fully. And this is where the “no brown M&Ms” came in. The band put a clause smack dab in the middle of the technical jargon of other riders: “Article 126: There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation”. That way, the band could simply enter the arena and look for a bowl of M&Ms in the backstage area. No brown M&Ms? Someone read the contract fully, so there were probably no major mistakes with the equipment. A bowl of M&Ms with the brown candies? No bowl of M&Ms at all? Stop everyone and check every single thing, because someone didn’t bother to read the contract. Roth himself said:

“So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.”

Sounds reasonable to me. Plus, who likes the brown ones anyway?

Another story I've heard is that Dave wasn't happy that the crew would take so long to take down the stage and get all of the equipment packed up and back on the road. So he told the roadies that they could keep whatever backstage passes (the ones they gave to groupies who the band had sex with) they had left over after the shows. But they could only make use of them and the groupies after they had packed up everything. Dave said after that it took them about 45 minutes to do their job when before it took them a few hours. So not only were Van Halen music innovators, but motivational innovators as well.

Maternity leave

This issue came to my attention from a somewhat unlikely place, Megyn Kelly from FoxNews. Here she is reacting to some moron who criticized her maternity leave:

KELLY: What a moronic thing to say…Is maternity leave, according to you, a racket?

GALLAGHER: Well, do men get maternity leave? I can’t believe I’m asking you this, because you’re just going to kill me.

KELLY: Guess what honey? Yes, they do. It’s called the Family Medical Leave Act. If men would like to take three months off to take care of their newborn baby, they can. [...] Just in case you didn’t know, Mike, I want you to know that the United States is the only country in the advanced world that doesn’t require paid maternity leave. Now I happen to work for a nice employer that gave me paid leave. But the United States is the only advanced country that doesn’t require paid leave. If anything, the United States is in the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave. And what is it about getting pregnant and carrying a baby for nine months, that you don’t think deserves a few months off so bonding and recovery can take place, hmm?…You can’t answer the question because there is no answer, my friend.

She nails it. Kudos to her for standing strong on this. I'd add that men should get more time off as well. Aside from pumping milk from their breasts there isn't much a father can't do for his newborn. And since having a newborn is a very stressful thing it helps to have two people doing it. Its a shame Kelly is part of a party that doesn't really care about these issues. Hopefully people like her can try and change that.

While I'm on the subject of women's rights, I want to highlight this chart showing the pay men and women get. It would be difficult to sort out the exact reasons why women still get paid about 77 cents to a dollar that men make. But the fact that its still persistent shows how biased institutions have been for so long. That is also why we see less time for maternity and paternity leave.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Reaction to the Westen article

I've read a lot of bloggers reacting to Westen's article that I cited in my post entitled "What's wrong with Obama?". The consensus doesn't like it, mainly because he overstates the power of presidential rhetoric while not really addressing the institutional barriers in the way of the Obama getting the policies he wants. I think most of that criticism has been right. Westen does overstate it.

And I mentioned in the first paragraph of my post that probably the biggest problem with Obama passing more liberal policies has been the 60 vote barrier that you need to pass bills through the Senate. That is not something any other president has had to deal with on the type of consistent basis Obama has had. You could even argue that not many presidents have had to deal with such a combative House. Just look at what happened last week as evidence for that. So even before Obama got into office and had to deal with unique barriers, it was hard for presidents to get all of the policies they wanted.

I guess I didn't react as strongly against Westen's article is because I was looking at the rhetorical parts through the lens of what I wanted to hear from Obama, not necessarily how that rhetoric affected policy. And when I conceptualized rhetoric, I think I was throwing in the way Obama has negotiated in private and public with the people in congress. Even conceding his problems on these fronts, it doesn't go far in explaining the lack of strong liberal policies. But I don't think its completely insignificant. So perhaps Westen just needed to tone that part of the article down.

What I mostly focused on from the article was the end, in which Westen tried to explain why Obama has governed in the manner he has. I agreed with most of what he wrote, and it seems like most of the bloggers critical of him don't disagree with that section. All in all, I think the reaction to the article has been fair and mostly correct. But I give Westen credit for posing the questions he did and posing some plausible explanations. I guess next time I would advise downplaying (perhaps by a lot) the effects of rhetoric and speeches and spending more time on the structural barriers in the way of the president or really anyone in gov't getting what they want.

The Braves' new lineup

I watched the Braves play for the second time since the Michael Bourne trade and I liked what I saw. The lineup went: Bourne, Prado, Freeman, Uggla, Jones, Heyward, Gonzalez, and Ross. That's pretty solid even without the best catcher in the game, Brian McCann.

Bourne had an inning that typifies his value. He got on base, stole second, advanced to third on a bad throw to second, and then scored standing up on a sac fly from Uggla. Freeman walked in front of Uggla because there was one out and they didn't want to risk giving Freeman anything to hit. That speaks to how good Freeman has been because Uggla is absolutely on fire right now. And Prado grounded out before Freeman because he hit a hard grounder to short when the infield was in trying to keep Bourne at third.

So basically Bourne did about 75% of the legwork in creating that run. When McCann comes back I'm not sure who teams are going to want to pitch to when Bourne and Prado get on base. Freeman, McCann, Chipper, and Uggla can all hit for power. Even Heyward can be patient and hit for power when he is on. So there isn't much room to breathe if you're an opposing pitcher. I'm excited to see how this lineup can compliment the good pitching we have. I'm not sure we can catch the Phillies. But we should be able to get the wild card and make a playoff series at least competitive.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What's wrong with Obama?

From a liberal perspective its hard to definitively say. There are certainly many structural barriers that prevent a strong liberal agenda from being passed, perhaps the strongest since he came into office being the fact that you now have to get 60 votes to get anything passed in the Senate. But I think many political scientists who would first and foremost point to those types of structural things would also have to concede that there is something else going on with Obama that prevents him from being as liberal as liberals would like. Drew Westen has some thoughts. First the problem:

Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, one that weds “revenue enhancements” (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with “entitlement cuts” (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who’ve worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president’s storytelling.

I think that's a fair description of what has happened. And the waffling wasn't just when Republicans got the House. He conceded things to moderate democrats as well, stuff he said during the campaign he wanted. And let's not forget foreign policy and national security. He has done almost the complete opposite of nearly everything he said he wanted to do. And he has more control over policy in those areas than domestic policy. So I'm not sure how this analysis would fit into the non-domestic policy area:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Why I love Community

It was a rerun last night. But it contained one of my favorite lines of the show. Spoilers if you haven't seen it. Pierce is in the hospital. So the gang is sitting in the waiting area. The camera focuses on Annie who seems a little freaked out. She says she doesn't want to die in a place like this, that people shouldn't die where magazines go to die.

That prompts Shirley to say that she wants to die surrounded by her family. That prompts Jeff to say that is the only way he wants to be with his family. Then Troy chimes in with his plan that he and his friends have laid out if one of them dies.

When one of them dies, the others agreed to make it look like a suicide that was spurred on by the fact that Firefly has been canceled. I laughed just typing that. After he says that he leans over to look at Abed, who is running a camera for a documentary he is filming of the gang at the hospital, and tells him they are going to get the show back on the air someday.

Not only is it awesome that the writers love Firefly. But that is a really funny way to acknowledge the show and the way it was handled by the network. That type of dedication to awesome pop culture stuff is a big reason why I love Community. They don't just drop in a reference here and there like Big Bang Theory does sometimes (They also mentioned Firefly when Sheldon stipulates in the roommate contract that Friday night is reserved for watching Firefly. Leonard asks if that is necessary. And Sheldon says of course, it will be on for several years.) They go all out and weave the reference into the plot in a clever and funny way. I hope they keep it up.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pre-season college football rankings

I've come around to supporting the BCS. There are parts of the formula I don't agree with. But I don't think its a bad way to determine who plays in some bowl games and for the national title. Around the Horn just brought up one aspect of it that I absolutely disagree with.

The coaches rankings is part of the formula. I don't think using what coaches think of teams should count for 1/3 of the formula. But its not the worst measure they could have. However, the fact that the coaches rankings is done before a game is played is completely dumb. In theory, it is very difficult to know what teams are going to be good and which aren't before they play a game. Its even kind of difficult to know what teams are good after they have played a few games. Things like opponent strength and just luck in how well the team starts out the season can affect how good a team looks early on. So even having the rankings come out after a few games isn't really the best indication of how good teams are.

In reality, I'm sure the coaches aren't wildly off the mark with their rankings. Oklahoma is ranked #1 right now. I'm sure they will be a very good team, as will most of the teams in the top 25. But the problem is that once you deem a team as being good enough to be in these rankings, you are giving them an advantage over a team that isn't considered to be good enough to be in these rankings, and doing so without seeing them play a game.

This isn't a huge deal because coaches aren't completely stupid. They will adjust their rankings according to how teams perform. But given how close the final BCS rankings can be and all of the other variables that can affect the final score for a team, I don't think we should risk having something like a pre-season bias towards one team have a chance at affecting who plays for the national title. Using Duke basketball as a comparison since I don't strongly care for a college football team, I love that Duke is highly regarded each season. But I don't want them to get a one seed in the NCAA tournament based on their tradition of being an elite program. I want them to earn it by winning games. Crazy as it sounds, winning games is what its about, not perceptions.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why wasn't the stimulus bigger?

That's a question not many seem to want to ask. That's especially the case for many conservatives who think the federal gov't is the same as an ordinary household, or even states. To them there shouldn't have been any stimulus at all. Now that a liberal is in the white house, deficits are the worst thing ever and the reason for our economic troubles.

But the current deficit is just a symptom of our economic problems, not the cause. And the stimulus Obama signed off on is a significant chunk of the deficit. Yet we still have a really crappy economy with 9% unemployment. The stimulus was supposed to stall the decline and even add jobs. It didn't happen the way the administration said it would. Here is why:

Output in the third and fourth quarters fell by 3.7% and 8.9%, respectively, not at 0.5% and 3.8% as believed at the time. Employment was also falling much faster than estimated. Some 820,000 jobs were lost in January, rather than the 598,000 then reported. In the three months prior to the passage of stimulus, the economy cut loose 2.2m workers, not 1.8m. In January, total employment was already 1m workers below the level shown in the official data.

We can't know exactly how things would have played out in a world in which key policymakers had better data. If the true scope of the economic disaster in the fourth quarter had been clear, however, it seems certain that Ms Romer's models would have shown a need for more stimulus, that the White House would have agreed to push for more (and perhaps a lot more), and that Congress would have been much more receptive to a bigger bill. A drop of 8.9% does seem much more terrifying, after all, than a 3.8% decline. Bigger stimulus would have reduced the economic deterioration in subsequent months. The Fed might also have been more aggressive.

I encourage you to read the whole thing because it gives a good timeline. But basically, the economic models that determined how much money would be in the stimulus were going off of numbers that severely underestimated how many jobs were lost and how much the economy contracted. As the author says, its hard to know exactly how much more money the administration would have called for if they were working with the actual numbers. And we don't know if congress would have passed more.

But its important to know what happened because many people look at the situation without this context and jump to the conclusion that the stimulus did nothing and deficit spending is not the solution to recessions like the one we had. They even take the opposite view and say we need to cut spending. But in reality, we should have spent more. And we should be spending more right now. The other thing we should take away from this context is how important accurate information is. If we can't know how bad economic situations are while they are happening its extremely difficult to expect the people in charge of policy to be able to get the right policy enacted. I think Matt Yglesias' suggest of more automatic stabilizers is probably the best solution to that problem.

As for the effects of all of this (the actual stimulus and a hypothetically bigger one) on the deficit, it doesn't matter right now. Or if you insist it does, it surely doesn't matter more than the millions of people unemployed right now. What the hysteria over the deficit really is about is people not understand economics. They view the deficit as the cause of the problem instead of the symptom. So they think that cutting it will improve the economy. What we need to do is better inform people that this is the opposite of what we should be doing. And its certainly something Obama and Democrats should have done a better job of explaining. Because from now on it will probably be more difficult to enact stimulus spending when we need it. And that will just prolong economic suffering.

Which team got the better deal?

The Phillies getting Hunter Pence or the Braves getting Michael Bourne. This article lays out the argument for Pence. and calculate WAR in different ways, but both rate Bourn as the more valuable player since 2009:

FanGraphs WAR, 2009-2011
Bourn: 13.3
Pence: 9.9

Baseball-Reference WAR, 2009-2011
Bourn: 11.8
Pence: 6.4

The differences in value primarily come from different methods in evaluating fielding (FanGraphs likes both players' defense better than B-R).

You don't have to agree with or even like the WAR statistic. It's just a tool -- a very good one, in my opinion -- in evaluating player performance. I think the main confusion or disagreement comes in understanding the position importance. Bourn is compared to other center fielders; Pence to other right fielders.

Honestly, I wouldn't have guessed Bourne was the more valuable player. So as a Braves fan I'm happy the numbers bear that out. We desperately needed a center fielder and a guy that can get on base and run well when he does. The Phillies needed some power in their lineup. But when you also consider what they gave up compared to what the Braves gave up I think the Braves got the better deal.

This analysis makes me think of Dan Uggla, the Braves second baseman who was traded for and given a big contract. Uggla's value was that he provided a lot of power from a position that usually didn't come with a lot of power. Though he trades that power for below average defense. But the Braves needed power. And he should have provided enough of it to be a valuable second baseman like he was in Florida (averaged 3.9 WAR in his five years there).

The problem is that Uggla was terrible for the first half of the year. From getting on base (which is something he has never done all that well) to hitting for power, he was bad. But luckily the Braves' pitching was so good that it didn't hurt the team too much. Since around the all-star break Uggla has turned it around and is hitting more like the player he was in Florida. He has a long way to go if he wants to make up for his first half of the season. Actually, he would have to add about 3.5 WAR to do that, which would probably entail Bond's like numbers for the rest of the season. But as long as he keeps up his career average pace he should be of good value for the Braves. That is, unless we have to keep playing the Nationals. Because we just can't seem to beat them and I have no idea why.

Mila Kunis speaking Russian

I'll be in my bunk.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A completely non-political post

Two of my all-time favorite movies were on today. One you will certain know and the other you might not. Its mob week on AMC and you can't have mob week without The Godfather. And rightfully so, it leads off the week. I can watch Brando and Pacino in this movie on a continuous feedback loop. They are just awesome. And the rest of the movie is just beautifully done. I've seen it and part II at least ten times and I'll continue to tune in. It kind of goes without saying that if you haven't seen this classic you should watch it. The only complaint I've consistently heard is that its long, which it is. But its well worth your time.

The other movie was Serenity. It was on one of the few channels that would show a sci-fi western. With Cowboys and Aliens getting poor reviews and not making much money, it seems like the mesh up of genres doesn't appeal to large audiences. Serenity also didn't do all that well at the box office. But I have yet to hear of someone who has seen Serenity and hasn't liked it, or even thought it was fantastic. I don't think you have to like either the sci-fi or the western genre in order to enjoy it. Joss Whedon's writing and directing make it accessable to anyone who likes witty dialogue and good looking people speaking that dialogue. You owe it to yourself to watch Serenity, and the tv show Firefly that it was based off of. And you don't necessarily have to watch the show before the movie. It would help. But I watched the movie first and loved it despite not seeing the show. Go watch it now so you can start being psyched about Joss Whedon's next movie, The Avengers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What will come of the debt ceiling deal

I've done a lot of reading and thinking about the deal and while I maintain that Obama has embraced governing to the right of most liberal's preferences and I don't trust him to deliver many more good liberal policies, I do think this deal isn't terrible when you consider all of the circumstances. I mentioned the fact that the spending cuts come a little later down the road, thus not hurting the economy too much right now. The other big thing is that defense spending is part of the automatic trigger that gets cut if the plan that comes out of the committee isn't agreed upon.

I also said earlier that my money is on Obama and Dems agreeing to a bad deal. I should expand on this because there is a lot of context and I'm not so sure they will be as eager to embrace a bad deal as they were this time. This thing with having to agree on whatever plan the committee comes up with or else spending cuts are automatically triggered is important. Both parties wouldn't have agreed on putting this in the deal if they didn't think it was an acceptable outcome. So that tells me that at some point they are willing to let it happen. The defense cuts would be great. But the domestic cuts would be bad. But given how crazy Republicans are and the fact that they control the House, overall this isn't a bad option.

How likely that happens depends on what comes out of the committee. I'm not sure how it will be much different than the Simpson-Bowels committee. Basically, since at least a few level headed people from both sides will be on the committee, it will probably entail small tax increases (probably through closing loopsholes), fairly small cuts to defense spending, and fairly big cuts to entitlements like SS and Medicare. Given the consensus in DC, those cuts to entitlements will probably come in the form of raising the retirement age for SS and raising the eligibility age for Medicare (which is what Obama was proposing for the debt ceiling deal).

Faith no more

Not the band with that one famous song. Rather, my feelings about Obama's ability to govern effectively as a liberal president. I've written a lot about rationality in politicians. I'm pretty certain that when Obama orders his preferences, reelection is higher on his list than advancing a liberal policy agenda. This debt ceiling crap has gone on for so long that I don't remember if I actually believed he would reach a "good" deal. But given what I've read about what has been agreed upon, I'm not going to bother thinking he can get a good deal on anything while Republicans control at least a chamber of congress.

According to most, this deal is bad. Here are two different accounts of how bad it is. Here is Jon Chait:

The debt ceiling agreement is a horrible piece of legislation. It ratchets down already too-low domestic discretionary spending caps and imposes painful sacrifice on the middle class with little asked of the rich. Obviously, though, you can’t assess any deal without asking “compared to what?” Did President Obama get a worse deal than he had to, given the circumstances? And the answer to that question, in turn, depends on when you start the clock, and more importantly, when you stop it. Let me explain.

He runs through the three mistakes Obama made leading up to the current negotiations. That leads him to conclude that this is a good deal given the circumstances:

Once it had agreed to negotiate a ransom payment, the administration was left with a series of bad options. I think the current deal on offer is about as non-bad as it could have gotten. It managed to backload the timing of spending cuts to minimize damage to the recovery and protect programs for the most vulnerable beneficiaries (which also happen to be the most vulnerable programs.) I’ve argued that Obama should give up on trying to get Republicans to accept higher revenue and just sign an all-cuts agreement.

Backloading cuts is a silver lining of the deal. Better to cut spending later than now while the economy still needs demand and people still need help. Chait goes on to argue that the lack of revenue increases isn't a big deal because Obama has the leverage on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. He wasn't going to get revenue in this deal. So all in all this was about the best deal he could get. Kevin Drum disagrees. First what the deal entails: