Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Christianity and Conservatism in the US

Andrew Sullivan posted this picture of a bumper sticker a reader sent in:







That prompted me to ask what those two people have in common? Or, what is the point in comparing the two? Jesus was a moral philosopher. He didn't speak on political issues such as gov't spending (news flash, every politician spends). Obama on the other hand obviously is a politician who only deals with moral issues some of the time. And he does so in a way that is different than someone like Jesus or other religious leaders do.

So aside from the two subjects not being all that related I'm not sure how being a Christian coincides with being a conservative. Jesus was very much about helping people. Not only that, he was about helping the people that need it the most, and those who were not generally being helped; think leapers and prostitutes. And he was very much against violence.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Obama administration's lack of scandals

Brendan Nyhan says that in the post-Watergate era the Obama administration is on an long stretch without having any scandals.
Obama has been extremely fortunate: My research (PDF) on presidential scandals shows that few presidents avoid scandal for as long as he has. In the 1977-2008 period, the longest that a president has gone without having a scandal featured in a front-page Washington Post article is 34 months – the period between when President Bush took office in January 2001 and the Valerie Plame scandal in October 2003. Obama has already made it almost as long despite the lack of a comparable event to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Why?
In Obama’s case, it is clear that external events have consumed much of the news agenda over the last eighteen months, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Arab Spring revolts, the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the killing of Osama bin Laden. The saturation coverage that these stories received left little room for scandal, particularly given the volume of debate over the merits of the president’s legislative agenda and his confrontation with the new Republican majority in the House.

Other, less quantifiable factors seem to have also played an important role. As the first black president, Obama may be treated less harshly by the press than some of his predecessors. In addition, the birther movement diverted a great deal of conservative time and energy into the false claim that Obama was not eligible to hold office, generating a controversy that received a great deal of media attention but which never made the transition into a full-blown scandal.

That makes sense to me. Though its not like news organizations have to devote every single reporter to these big news stories. I guess they could be putting their best reporters on those stories and thus leaving the scandal investigating to the lesser of the crop. But still, its a big country with a big gov't. You would think a decent reporter could find something.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My reply from Senator Corker

It took a while but one my senators responded to my criticism of his stance to not vote for a clean debt ceiling bill. Here is what I said in my post last month.

Not surprisingly, I didn't change his mind. As I said before, I'm a Democrat in a Republican leaning state. So he doesn't really have much incentive to cater to my view. But what is interesting about the exchange is that it displays this ridiculous worrying about the deficit that pervades Washington. Here is why he said he couldn't vote for a clean debt ceiling bill:
I will not support raising the debt ceiling without dramatic changes in the way that Washington spends money. Last year alone we added $1.29 trillion of debt, and without drastic changes, we are projected to face massive annual deficits for years to come. Unfortunately, even at a time when Americans and families all across Tennessee are tightening their belts, spending here continues to increase at unexplainable levels.

Well of course spending by the federal gov't has increased during the recession. That's the big advantage the federal gov't has. It can step in and create jobs and increase the flow of money while businesses sit by and do nothing. Corker is not the only politician in Washington that doesn't understand this.

But what is really egregious about him caring about the deficit right now is that he and his party are the main drivers of it. The gov't was running a surplus when Bush got into office. Alan Greenspan came out and said a surplus was bad so we need to pass tax cuts so that we can have a deficit. Combine that lowering of revenue with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Medicare Part D and you have a big deficit. Then to pile on the bad recession we just went through, which would have likely been worse if Bush and Obama didn't sign stimulus bills that further added to the deficit. So Corker, who voted for all of those things Bush did, is just as responsible as any other Senator out there for the deficit. To complain now is purely political and has nothing to do with sound economic policy.

Sound economic policy says that deficits don't really matter that much, at least not in the short term. Reagan understood this. He ran a deficit his entire two terms. He also had inflation higher than we have it now. Yet the economy grew just fine. Clinton did the one thing Republicans don't want to do that would help decrease the debt. He raised taxes. Yet the economy grew just fine, very well in fact. But because nearly all of Washington is currently obsessed with the deficit instead of jobs we get this crap from Corker. And Corker's plan isn't even the worst out there. The now infamous Ryan plan really screws everyone under 55 for the sake of lowering taxes on rich people and lowering the deficit 10 years down the road. Its all partisan hackery that will do nothing to help people who aren't rich. People need to be aware of this so they can change these politicians' priorities.

Season 5 of Angel

I've been rewatching the whole series lately since I had only watched it once before. I really love the show, just as much as I did Buffy. I didn't watch it while it was on air because I didn't like Angel when he was on Buffy and I didn't think I could tolerate the character for an entire hour. I'm glad I was way wrong.

The whole series is great. I think its more consistent than Buffy on a season by season basis. Seasons 3-5 are particularly good. But I think season 5 is my favorite. And that is in no small part because of the return of Spike. He is probably my favorite character ever. It also has to do with the fact that Joss did what he does best, which was take something and turn it on its head. Putting the gang in Wolfram and Hart was just a gold mine.

Of course, putting them there created a lot of problems for the gang. And that comes to a head when you get to the episode I watched tonight, "A Hole in the World". If you've seen the show you are probably getting teary-eyed just thinking about it. It's just completely heartbreaking. Some probably think its cruel. But you can't deny its compelling television. And even though it hurts, what comes of it provides for more compelling stuff in the rest of the season.

Not only is the writing great but the acting is fantastic. The whole series showed off the acting. But this episode really let Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof shine. The pain Alexis' character has gone through over the past few seasons reaches a boiling point and he just makes you hurt right along with the character. And I absolutely adore Amy Acker. I think everyone should carry around a picture of Amy smiling with them so that when they are feeling down, they can look at it and be happy. Her smile, her eyes, and her voice are just so beautiful and soothing. And the way she shows her character withering away is incredible.

Its episodes like these that make me love Joss Whedon. He takes the time to build characters that you love. And they aren't perfect people. Angel and Spike have killed hundreds of people. Wesley does some pretty immoral stuff. Cordellia was a really mean and selfish person. But seeing them struggle with life and grow through that struggle makes them relatable. Seeing people overcome struggles, and doing so while being funny and pretty is definitely worth watching.

Heat advance to NBA Finals

While it was a bit ridiculous for Lebron James to televise his decision to sign with the Heat during the offseason, I never held the actual decision against him. There probably aren't many places around the world that I'd rather live than Miami. Yes, part of that has to do with the fact that I love the Miami Dolphins. But aside from that, I'd image its a great place to live.

So I really couldn't muster up any anger towards him for choosing to move to a better place to live, taking less money, and taking advantage of an opportunity to play with two other really good players. Plus there is the fact that he was a free agent and it was simply his personal decision to make. Just because he plays a sport doesn't mean he should have made that decision any differently than you and I would have made a decision about our career.

Now that the Heat have made it to the finals I think Lebron and the rest of the team have proven to have made a good decision. Most commentators before the season thought it would take more than a year for this team to start winning championships. I think that was fair. At that point we thought the Celtics and Lakers were better than they turned out to be. And you just never know exactly what will happen with a new team, even one with three really talented players. So I think its fair to say that they have at least met everyone's expectations so far. And assuming they make it a tough series for the Mavericks I don't think they will catch much flack if they don't win it all.

So congrats to them. I've enjoyed watching them in the playoffs, especially when they get out in transition. Wade and James are two freight trains when they run the court together. That will definitely be a problem for the Mavericks if they turn the ball over. The finals should be a good series. And I'm glad that when whichever team wins someone will finally be vindicated in the eyes of a slightly too harsh media.

And speaking of the media, can we stop treating Lebron like Arod of a few years ago? Just because he wasn't making last second shots didn't mean he wasn't "clutch" or wasn't a great player. It simply meant you were looking at a small sample size. Just stop it with your obsession with "clutch". I know you have to build up narratives so you can fill time. But there are other, more logical ways to fill that time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The danger of lobbies

The other day I posted Mitt Romney's reaction to Obama's Israel/Palestine speech. Romney's reaction was par for the course on the right. Basically he freaked out and thought Obama wants to destroy Israel simply because Obama reiterated what Bush and many others have set out as their peace plan.

Now its clear that Republicans aren't the only ones who don't agree with Obama on this issue. Not only did Democrats join Republicans in the House yesterday in cheering on Israel's Prime Minister. But they are publicly disagreeing with his proposals.

What this bipartisan criticism of a sitting president's foreign policy proposal (which to my memory is rare) highlights is the power of the Israel lobby. I haven't read Walt and Mearsheimer's book on the Israel lobby. But the main point is that the lobby exerts a lot of influence on US foreign policy. Its usually pretty difficult for one specific lobby to have a ton of influence. As James Madison pointed out in his argument for a democratic republic, the large size of the US makes it difficult to bring together a homogenous coalition. But because Jewish people tend to vote Democrat and Republicans love Israel for reasons I'm not entirely sure of the Israel lobby has achieved a big enough coalition to exert significant influence on policy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Biology and Liberalism

That's the title of this Kevin Drum post. Here is the main point:
I've never been either a hardcore blank slater or a hardcore biological determinist, but there's no question that I have a pretty healthy belief in the power of genes and biology. As Karl says, this belief tends to be associated with conservatives more than liberals, but that's really very odd. After all, it's pretty easy to fool ourselves into dismissing the benefits of being raised in a rich, stable culture and assuming that everything we've accomplished has actually been the result of hard work and personal rectitude. But what if you believe, say, that (a) IQ has a strong biological component and (b) high IQ is really important for getting ahead in the world? If you believe this and also happen to be blessed with a high IQ, how can you possibly convince yourself that this is anything other than the blind luck of the genetic lottery?
That sounds right to me. And when you accept that, then this should probably follow:

If genetic luck plays a big role in making us who we are, then support for income redistribution from the rich to the poor is almost a logical necessity for anyone with a moral sense more highly developed than a five-year-old's.
Again, that sounds right. That's the conclusion I come to when engaging in John Rawls' "veil of ignorance" thought experiment. Taking myself as an example; I was given a lot of genetic advantages (as I pointed out in my Lady Gaga post). But I don't see a reason why I, instead of being given what I have, couldn't have been born into a poor family in a third world country or even a poor family 30 minutes away in downtown Memphis. If I had been given one of those two situations over the one I got I very likely wouldn't be sitting here typing this post. The same goes for people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. That's a big reason why I'm a liberal.

I posted this because I think Drum is right about how if you accept what the evidence in biology suggests you should probably lean towards embracing liberal policies regarding the poor. But I'm not sure I agree with his belief that accepting biological determinism is seen more on the conservative side than the liberal side in the US.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Is college worth it?

That question has been asked by a lot of people since getting the latest employment numbers. This link shows a graph of employment rates of people at different levels of education.

Put simply, having a degree makes employment more likely. Right now about 7.5% of people with some college but no bachelor's degree are unemployed. The lower amount of education you have the higher the unemployment rate. While about 4.5% of those with at least a bachelor's degree are unemployed, yours truly being one of them.

So yeah, I think college is a good idea for most people. But I share some of the same thoughts on what I would do differently that other graduates do in the other graph in the link. I wouldn't have chosen a different major even though engineering and physical sciences have the highest rates of employment and have the most graduates performing a job directly related to their degree. I chose political science because I enjoyed it and I'm happy with that.

The two big things I would do differently would be to do an internship or part time job while in school, especially an internship. That is an important resume booster and it gives you practical experience. The other thing I would have done is to start looking for a job sooner. After I finished grad school I took a mental vacation and didn't actively start looking for a job for a month or so after I graduated. I should have been looking throughout my entire second year.

The state of the economy is really depressing. Believe me. Looking for a job for a year now is not the most confidence boosting endeavor. But I'm still confident my masters degree with pay off economically. Mentally I think it already has. It has taught me how to think and it was just personally satisfying to take on the challenge and prove I could do the work. So my advice to kids would be to go to college, pick something you like or think you will enjoy, and hope for a better economy when you graduate.

Joakim Noah and speech

The Bulls center has been getting a lot of heat for calling a fan a "fag" (If I'm reading his lips properly). And rightfully so. Despite my love for South Park I disagree with their attempt to redefine the word fag or faggot to mean something other than a gay slur. Yes the word has had other meanings. But the predominant meaning is that of a gay slur.

The NBA can largely do what it wants since its a largely private organization. I say largely because I'm pretty sure some stadiums/arenas where they play are publicly funded. And even if they aren't there are aspects of public policy that allow a private owner to build their venues for their teams to play in. So I don't have a problem with the NBA fining Noah (or Kobe Bryant a little while back) for using this language. And I think it could be effective in changing the culture that encourages gay discrimination and bashing. (On a related note, I'm glad to see a Suns executive come out. Props to him for the courage to do so.)

But as far as society is concerned I think a less aggressive approach is appropriate in getting rid of gay discrimination and bashing. I favor a John Stuart Mill approach to free speech, meaning that I want every form of speech available in the marketplace of ideas or in just our society's language in general. That means I don't think most speech should be censored or regulated. I don't think any form of political speech should be censored. And while I can probably be persuaded that some non-political speech should at times be censored, I will error on the side of not censoring it.

Lady Gaga

I'm not a big consumer of pop culture, especially not pop music. I stick to hard rock and heavy metal, and the classics at that. So its not surprising that I hadn't heard a Lady Gaga song until South Park had Cartman cover "Poker Face". And even then I had no idea who it was. I thought it was an 80s song of an artist I couldn't remember.

The other reason I wasn't aware of her aside from seeing one of her costumes every now and again was because I was in grad school when she first hit it big. My first year of grad school was intense as hell. I was just treading water the whole time. So I didn't have much time to diverge from my normal mode of not consuming pop culture. And in my second year I was a research assistant. So while I was more comfortable I was even more busy with work.

I'm telling you about this because I've given a few of her songs a good listen and I love "Poker Face" and "Just Dance". That's a little weird for me considering the last song I downloaded was "Painkiller" by Judas Priest. There really aren't many similarities aside from Rob Halford being almost as theatrical and eccentric as Gaga. And just as further reference, the playlist on my iphone consists of Van Halen, Metallica, Sum 41, The Offspring, and Iron Maiden. I simply do not consume pop music...until Gaga.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The crazy reaction to Obama's Israel/Palestine speech

Obama gave a foreign policy speech a few days ago. He talked about the Israel/Palestine conflict. And since words came out of Obama's mouth conservatives are mad. Here is one of the more sane conservatives giving his thoughts on the speech:

"President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus. He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace," Romney said in a statement.

"He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends," added the former Massachusetts governor.

Yeah, because Israel has been making huge gains in negotiating a peace over the past several years. I'm sure Obama really fucked that up. Please. The thing Obama is doing to undermine the peace process is to continue to be up Israel's ass and not be forceful in telling them to cut a deal and stop undermining the process themselves. Even then, as Matt Yglesias points out, this is all ultimately up to Israel and Palestine.

And where in the world does Romney get his first principle of American foreign policy? First of all, he says "a" first principle. How many first principles can you have? Doesn't the word "first" imply that there is only one principle and that it comes before all of the others? That tells me he pulled his whole response out of his ass and did it simply because criticizing Obama is what is expect of him from the right.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama's illegal war in Libya

Glenn Greenwald on why the war is illegal:

When President Obama ordered the U.S. military to wage war in Libya without Congressional approval (even though, to use his words, it did "not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation"), the administration and its defenders claimed he had legal authority to do so for two reasons: (1) the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (WPR) authorizes the President to wage war for 60 days without Congress, and (2) the "time-limited, well defined and discrete" nature of the mission meant that it was not really a "war" under the Constitution (Deputy NSA Adviser Ben Rhodes and the Obama OLC). Those claims were specious from the start, but are unquestionably inapplicable now.

From the start, the WPR provided no such authority. Section 1541(c) explicitly states that the war-making rights conferred by the statute apply only to "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." That's why Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman -- in an article in Foreign Policy entitled "Obama's Unconstitutional War" -- wrote when the war started that the "The War Powers Resolution doesn't authorize a single day of Libyan bombing" and that "in taking the country into a war with Libya, Barack Obama's administration is breaking new ground in its construction of an imperial presidency."

This really disappoints me because Obama's positions regarding the power of the executive, the rule of law, and his non-neoconservative foreign policy views were the big reasons I favored him over Hilary Clinton and most of the other Democratic candidates for president. Since getting into office Obama has done a 180 on nearly everything he opposed during his campaign, torture being the only one that comes to mind as one he has upheld.

And this is why I enjoy reading Glenn Greenwald so much. I largely agree with him on those issues I listed above. I try to stick to those principles regardless of the person or party in question. And Glenn does the same. He isn't afraid to call out a politician or party that he tends to favor over another.

Back to the topic of Libya, here is what I don't fully understand about this situation:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola look alike

I saw this guy at Chili's tonight.



















My uncle actually said something to him. The guy acted like you would suspect a famous person would if they didn't want to be bothered in public.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where is the blood in the street?

I was listening to Jon Stewart debate Bill O'Reilly about the rapper visiting the White House faux-controversy. I'll at least give O'Reilly credit for having Stewart on and giving the whole thing a bit of a thoughtful discussion. O'Reilly wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't so far into the forest as to not be able to see the trees.

Something I thought was interesting was that O'Reilly brought up Obama's other past associations, mainly Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. Those two people and the faux-controversy regarding them were similar to this thing with Common. But what I want to know is what were the results of Obama associating with those people? Where is any sort of evidence that he agrees with the things the right find so bad? Where are the negative real world consequences from Obama having Commons at the WH and having known Wright and Ayers?

O'Reilly tried to argue that this poetry thing at the WH is a big deal. That's just demonstrably wrong. No one gives a shit about it. I think Stewart made a great point in saying that what really matters in relation to cop killing is the presence of assault weapons that actually kill cops. This point about the right loving guns so much is one I made in my initial post on this topic. You can draw a causal line between gun rights and the presence of dead cops. It would be nearly impossible to draw a causal line between any of these associations Obama has had and dead cops.

That's why this is a made up controversy. And it was made up to serve the racist and partisan goals of FoxNews. I'm glad people like Stewart act as a watchdog on FoxNews and the such. That is an important job even though it shouldn't be.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Grizzlies come up short

As I predicted, Kevin Durant did not have another poor game. Him and Westbrook had really good games. And the Grizzlies just couldn't score. They had another really bad first half and couldn't make it close in the second half because Durant and Westbrook were playing so well.

When Randolf isn't really on his game the rest of the offense seems to struggle. Mayo is a good scorer. But he isn't a great spot up shooter. No one on the team is a really good spot up shooter, especially from three. So when Randolf is struggling he can't kick it out and be confident someone is going to make a shot.

I know the numbers say the team played better without Rudy Gay. I'm certain we played better defensively and that had carryover to the offense. But in games like yesterday when Randolf is struggling and no one is shooting particularly well you would love to have Gay's scoring ability out there. He isn't a great 3 point shooter. But he can create his own shot off the dribble. And against OKC's athleticism and length I think he would have had an easier time doing that than Mayo did.

I'm not sure what they plan on doing with Mayo next season. But I would welcome him back if he can accept coming off the bench. Because I think a starting lineup of Conley, Allen, Gay, Randolf, and Gasol is really good. You can tell those guys to play hard and when they get tired you can put Vasquez, Mayo, Young, and Arthur out there. With that group I think they should at worst be an 8 seed again. What I would like to see added is a good spot up three point shooter. If they don't bring back Mayo I think they have to get that.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Update on libertarians saying stupid things

Just as I posted about Rand Paul saying health care as a right amounts to slavery his dad, Ron Paul, comes out and says the Civil Rights Act wasn't a good idea. Here is some of his conversation with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: You would have voted against that law. You wouldn’t have voted for the ’64 civil rights bill.

PAUL: Yes, but not in — I wouldn’t vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws.

MATTHEWS: But you would have voted for the — you know you — oh, come on. Honestly, Congressman, you were not for the ’64 civil rights bill.

PAUL: Because — because of the property rights element, not because it got rid of the Jim Crow law.

MATTHEWS: Right. The guy who owns a bar says, no blacks allowed, you say that’s fine. … This was a local shop saying no blacks allowed. You say that should be legal?

PAUL: That’s — that’s ancient history. That’s ancient history. That’s over and done with. [...]

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. We have had a long history of government involvement with Medicare, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. And I think you are saying we would have been better off without all that?

PAUL: I think we would be better off if we had freedom, and not government control of our lives, our personal lives, and our — and policing the world.

Paul implicitly acknowledges that the CRA worked when he says, "That's ancient history.". Well, its ancient history in large part because of the fact that the federal gov't told people to stop discriminating.

I'd love to hear his reasoning as to how someone like his son could run a medical business without the benefit of old people getting health insurance provided by the gov't. In a true free health insurance market why in the world would an insurance company insure old people?

Community's sequel

*Spoilers ahead*

I posted last week about how much I loved the paintball western episode of Community. The follow up to that episode was just as enjoyable. I loved the transition from the western genre to the Star Wars genre. And I especially loved Abed's comment acknowledging that things have moved from one genre to the other and that he was disappointed that it didn't happen sooner.

His interaction with Annie while in character as Han Solo was also fantastic. Huge kudos to him for kissing Annie. He made Han proud. Jeff had the best non-Abed quote of the night with, "Denny's is for winners". But Abed closed it out by stating that sequels are almost always disappointing. Two of the few exceptions are often referenced The Empire Strikes Back and this episode of Community.

I hate that I have only just recently started watching this show. I'm dying to see more of it. And eventually I'm going to have to bust my budget and get the first season on dvd. Though I guess I could also watch it online. For some reason I enjoy watching it on my tv better.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grizzlies force a game 7

They overcame a poor first half and benefited from a poor second half for Durant to get it back to OKC and a chance at the Western conference finals. Randolf was really on his game. He scored inside, got to the line, and hit mid range shots. He at least kept things from getting too carried away in the first half.

The rest of the team was pretty solid. Battier and Young struggled offensively. But that didn't really matter with how bad the Thunder's offense was in the second half. Looking ahead to Sunday, I doubt we see that poor of a performance from them again. So I think the Grizzlies will have to play at least as well as they did tonight to win. In all likelihood they are going to have to play as well as they did in the second half tonight for an entire game. They won't be able to play as bad as they did in the first half of the past two games and win.

Whatever the outcome it has been a great ride for Memphis. We were just hoping that the team didn't get swept by the Spurs. So they have far exceeded those expectations. I really hope that this enthusiasm can carry over to next season and beyond. They will have a core of Randolf, Gay, and Conley for at least the next three years. So they should be a decent team for that time. Memphis loves the Tigers. I think it would be good for the city and especially the downtown area if they can show the same consistent support for the Grizzlies as they do the Tigers.

Why liberals and libertarians can't get along

This latest from Rand Paul is also why those two factions will not form a third party. Here he is talking about health care:

"With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses. ... You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free health care would be,"

Sorry, but that's just crazy. And no liberal can accept that. He is wrong about what a right to health care would mean. And he is wrong that it would be equivalent to slavery. Libertarians like Paul simply have too different a conception of what rights are and what freedom entails in order for liberals to get along with them.

Sure, we like their stances on drugs and foreign policy. But health care is a central policy preference for liberals. And there is no reconciliation between what we want and what libertarians want. Even libertarians aren't ready to accept the actual free market, non-gov't intervention approach. That would involve hospitals letting people die on their doorstep, insurance companies not ensuring sick people, and employers not getting tax breaks for providing insurance for employees. Not only that, conservative icons think it should be a right.

So until libertarians come to their senses or liberals just lose it we aren't going to have a third party. James Madison continues to win. Its frustrating but its something we largely have to accept. The only legit way to do something to change things is to be active in primaries. That's a good time to try and influence parties.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The ridiculousness of FoxNews

I usually don't like posting on right wing media. I think it brings attention to things that largely don't deserve the attention of serious people. But Jon Stewart did a good job with the latest episode in ridiculous crap that FoxNews was peddling regarding some rapper that was invited to the WH.

Stewart did his usual, funny bit where he shows nearly every person on FoxNews blathering about something and then showing a previous clip of them contradicting the thing they were blathering about. One thing that caught my attention that I don't think Stewart totally picked up on was all of the talk about guns.

He did pick up on the racist element of FoxNews criticizing this black rapper all the while loving the white equivalent in Ted Nuggent or Johnny Cash. What I picked up on was the fact that the rapper was talking about carrying guns. And of course Ted Nuggent is a huge gun nut, which is something the right and FoxNews love about him.

But they took the complete opposite approach to a black guy talking about guns. They went straight to him being a thug and a cop killer. Why can't a rapper talk about his guns? What automatically makes him a thug just for enjoying his 2nd Amendment rights? The answer is that the people calling him a thug are racists, or at the very best so completely partisan that they take racist views by default.

What this highlights is exactly the reason I don't watch cable news and don't think it should be paid much attention to. This story has zero significance for politics. Its not a story. Its a made up narrative to placate the racist viewers of FoxNews. There are any number of things going on in politics that actually matter; the three wars we are fighting, the debt ceiling, 9% unemployment, the effort of the right to take away women's rights and Muslim's rights, etc. Those are things a serious news outlet would be reporting on and discussing. FoxNews is not a serious news outlet (I know, breaking news there). I'm thankful The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Media Matters keep tabs on the crap they peddle. But for people who actually care about politics its not worth our time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rights and freedom as moving targets

This Matt Ygelsias post on immigration talks about an issue I have with libertarian arguments for more states rights. Here is his observation about immigration and freedom:

I was watching an episode of the excellent BBC/Discovery Channel collaboration Human Planet the other day and it featured a bit on the Korowai people of southeastern Papua who were uncontacted until the 1970s and live in giant treehouses. It was pretty cool stuff. But it’s also obviously a very difficult, very strenuous, very limiting life. If someone wanted to leave that life and go take a crummy job in a rich country, I’d find that very understandable. You could watch television, for example, and have access to basic health care services.

As usual Matt is spot on. The ability of a lot of people in the world to move to the US would enhance their freedom. But we don't let them do that. Of course, we can't let everyone in. But I agree with Matt that we should be letting more immigrants in. It would help both them and us.

A common libertarian or maybe just state's rights conservative argument is that states should have more rights because if the people who live in that state don't like the things their state does they can just move to another state. This is slightly different than the scenario Yglesias is talking about. It would be much easier to move from a state in the US to another state in the US than it would be to move from Papau to the US.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Big night in Memphis

The Grizzlies took the Thunder to three overtimes before finally losing. They made a bunch of crazy shots to tie the game and force multiple overtimes. But with Mike Conley and OJ Mayo fouled out of the game they didn't have enough offense to keep up with the likes of Durant and Westbrook.

Its a tough loss but I think they can be proud at the way they fought. OKC has the advantage in the series. But the Grizzlies have shown that they can win on the road and they will not be beat easily.

The other big thing happening in Memphis tonight was much more serious. According to the latest reports, the Mississippi River is still holding at about 48 feet, which is only .7 feet below the all time high. There are parts of the city under water. But things seem to be going well all things considered. And things seem to look good moving forward.

Big thanks to all of those helping out with the floods and to all of those structures that have helped keep the river somewhat at bay.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Canada won't extradite suspect because US tortures people

Self explanatory title. Here is the link. I just wanted to point out how pathetic the US has become when it comes to the issue of torture.

I applaud Canada for making this decision. They are doing the right and legal thing here. We have consistently done the wrong thing. The Bush administration signed off on torture. They outsourced it when they decided they didn't want to do it themselves. The Obama administration comes in, says we tortured people, yet refuses to do anything about it.

So not only did the Bush administration break the law by torturing people. The Obama administration is breaking the law by not prosecuting the Bush administration. Even though the Obama administration has claimed to end torture, they are doing very, very little to ensure that torture will not continue in the future.

And this is a problem because the entire Republican party (aside from John McCain) endorses torture. That is no secret. They publicly and proudly endorse breaking the law. As soon as bin Laden was captured they all came out spouting crap about how it was because we tortured people. Dick Cheney, one of the main culprits in the Bush administration, just came out and defended his unlawful actions. And why not? Its not like he is going to be prosecuted. When you know you are above the law there is no reason to follow it. At least Canada understands the rule of law and enforces it properly when it comes to this issue.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Community

I freaking love this show. I'm a late comer. So I've only seen about five or six episodes. But it didn't take long for it to draw me in.

Tonight the episode was about a paintball match at the school and it was done in the style of a western. Using the western genre was funny, beautiful, and hilarious. My favorite part was the opening scene in which Annie (played by the incredibly gorgeous and talented Alison Brie) is playing sort of the lone ranger, and kicking ass doing so.

The rest of the episode revolved around forming an alliance with Pierce and a mysteriously handsome man who threatened the group. It was executed perfectly. The only thing I didn't like was that it ended on a cliffhanger. And after the show the announcer for NBC said there was more Community coming up. But there wasn't. At least I'll be highly anticipating next week's episode.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Grading the NFL draft over the past decade

The football site Coldhardfootballfacts.com has a post up handing out grades to the teams that drafted the best over the past decade. I don't like that they used pro bowl appearances as part of their method. At least part of being elected to the pro bowl has to do with popularity more than it does actual production. But I'm fine with them using pro-football-reference's AV stat. So their rankings seem to be fine.

Not surprisingly the Patriots top their list. And while I don't have a problem with that, it hints at the problem I have with a big position their site takes regarding Tom Brady and the narrative that surrounds Brady in the general sports population. Basically the people at coldhardfootballfacts.com agree with most of the sports media and a lot of fans that Brady is one of the top 10 QBs ever.

The main argument with Brady is that he has won three super bowls. That argument is ridiculous and I have written many an email and posts on their message board trying to get that point across. But putting aside that ridiculous argument for a mintue, don't the facts from this article make it look like he benefits from having the best all around team helping him win all of those super bowls?

He has played with the 2nd most pro bowlers, the most players with a 50+ AV and tied for the most players with a 20+ AV. To be fair, its really difficult to tell whether Brady's good play has affected other players' AV values in a positive manner. But many of the teams on the list have good QBs. So I doubt Brady has helped his players significantly more than others, or at least any more so than Peyton Manning (who chff thinks isn't as good as Brady).

Given that Brady has had the highest amount of good players around him for the past decade, is it any surprise that over that decade the Patriots have appeared in four super bowls and won three of them? I don't think so. And a major part of that is the fact that they had a dominant defense in their first three trips and then an all time dominant offense in their fourth. Brady doesn't really affect those defenses. So I don't see how we can credit him for that. And while he was great in their fourth run, he benefited greatly from a great oline and one of the best WRs (and I think all around players) the game has ever seen.

When you take all of that into account you begin to see why this narrative about Brady being a top 10 all time QB is a bit ridiculous. Yes he has won three super bowls. But his production while doing so has not been the best in the league over that time, arguably not even in the top 5 over that time. And as this article points out, he has had the benefit of playing with the most amount of good players. to be drafted in the decade. So can we please stop placing all the credit for winning on the QB, and specifically on Brady for his TEAM'S success.

Marriage and procreation

Andrew Sullivan has a post up about a really old couple getting married. He asks why a person who argues that marriage is about procreation doesn't protest this type of marriage. That's a great question because that argument is a common one in the gay marriage debate.

Taken to its logical conclusion, only people who can have kids should be able to marry. So why hasn't anyone on the anti-gay marriage side of the argument come out in favor of an age cap on marriage? Obviously there is a certain age at which women can't have children. So in the view of these anti-gay marriage people, why should they be allowed to marry? Why not test every man and woman who want to get married to see if they can have kids?

I assume the legal answer to those questions is that you would run into equal protection issues. The more political answer is that those are freaking crazy ideas because marriage is not simply about procreation. Neither marriage nor procreation necessarily entail the other. Human beings were having children long before marriage was thought up. And married couples who don't have children have been not destroying society for as long as there has been marriage.

There really is no good, or even decent, argument against gay marriage. The reason it persists is for reasons I discussed in my last post about the Constitution and religion. Bibles and churches don't like it. And since most of this nation is raised Christian they are embedded with anti-gay beliefs from an early age. Some part of me was anti-gay before I started to question my Catholic upbringing. But when you hold these beliefs up to even the slightest bit of scrutiny you realize how ridiculous they are. Not only that, you realize how un-Jesus-like they are.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Constitution and religion

Jon Stewart had a guy on who is a big fan of the right, especially of Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck. Those two guys tell you just about all you need to know about the merits of the arguments this guy makes. They claim he is some great and important historian, yet he doesn't have a ph.d or even a graduate degree in anything resembling history. Not that you need a degree in something in order to speak intelligently about it. But most of the time it helps.

Stewart kept running down the list of things the guy (forgot his name, too lazy to look it up) does until he got to the topic he really wanted to talk about, which is the title of this post. The guy went to the popular talking point on the right that a separation between church and state as it has been and is known isn't really what the founders wanted. This guy says that they only wanted to separate institutions. And they only wanted to do so at the federal level.

This is of course ridiculous. There is no more reason a state should be able to do whatever they want regarding religion than they should be able to limit freedom of speech, assembly, or the press. After all, those three things are right there in the first amendment along with religions. Yet I don't see anyone on the right claiming a state should have any more power over speech than the federal gov't has.

Before running out of time Stewart began a discussion on a case the guy argued in court about some state having a priest of some sort say a prayer before a legislative session. Yes, just saying a prayer doesn't establish a religion in a strict sense. And it more than likely doesn't restrict the right of anyone to practice their religion. But I think the founders made rules restricting the power of religion within our government because of the threat these situations pose. When you have a legislature that is over 90% Christian and has their religious leaders partaking in the legislative process you risk making policy based on said religion. And to me that is equivalent to establishing a state religion.

What this also highlights is the importance of protecting minorities, which the founders took great care to do. Because we are a nation that is heavily Christian it would be very easy to oppress other religions and effectively establishing Christianity as a national or state religion. We are actually seeing this right now in many states that are trying to ban Sharia law. Not only is trying to ban something that can't be made law to being with contradicting their claims about how states can handle religion, it is an effort to trample the rights of a very small minority to practice their religion.

So not only do they have the arguments about the Constitution and religion wrong. They are getting their arguments from people that have basically no credentials, ignoring key elements in our history, and then trying to make policy that flies in the face of the very rights the founders created that they claim to want to honor. The gov't should have practically nothing to do with religion. We shouldn't make policy based on what bibles or churches have to say. And we shouldn't give any state the right to do those things. The reason the right tries so hard to argue against that is because so many of their policy preferences come from bibles and churches. So taking away those crutches would destroy their policies and be a huge defeat for them and their ideology. The only reason they haven't succeeded is because of the rights the framers gave minorities.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Right has a hard time dealing with reality

Yesterday I wrote that it was understandable that Bush didn't focus too heavily on bin Laden while he was waging two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I laid out my reasons for agreeing with that decision.

But today over at ThinkProgress, I read that Sarah Palin mentions Obama only in order to criticize his foreign policy in a speech she gave talking about bin Laden. This is what I expect out of Palin. She is completely detached from reality. Obama could have flown in on one of the choppers, snuck into the compound, and chopped off bin Laden's head himself and Palin would still criticize him. But we are seeing similar reactions as Palin's from all over the right.

Many of them are quick to thank Bush for what he did. But as I've stated, he didn't seem to be all that concerned about bin Laden. Not to mention that he has been out of office for 3 years. What exactly does he have to do with bin Laden being killed three years after he has gotten out of office? Wouldn't it be logical to assume that its more Bush's fault that it took ten years to get him than it is to his credit that we finally got him after all that time?

What I think the right is doing here is lying to themselves. They know, deep down, that Bush fucked up a lot of things. And not finding bin Laden is one of them. But Palin or anyone else on the right can't say that. It would be an ideological punch to the gut. We are seeing a similar reaction from them regarding how we got the information about where bin Laden was hiding. They are trying to take quotes from "officials" to say that we got that info from torturing people. There is no evidence that is what happened. But since they defended and still defend torture they have to stick to their argument or risk looking ideologically weak.

Needless to say this is a bad thing for implementing good policy. The inability to admit mistakes just causes us to dig deeper into the holes we have dug ourselves. They don't want to leave Iraq or Afghanistan because by doing so they think it admits failure. Acknowledging the bank bailouts were a success and that we need more regulation of the financial industry is unacceptable because that is an admittance that our ideology was wrong.

Thus we keep fighting unnecessary wars. We keep deregulating parts of the economy that cause recessions. When those recessions happen we don't do enough to help the economy and the people hurt by it. And then when we create a deficit to help just a little we freak out and cut spending that could be helping in favor of lower taxes for rich people. These are the policies we get when one party can't face reality or even acknowledge it exists. And why change when you can not find someone for 7 years and when he is found 3 years later you can take all the credit for it without any negative consequences?

The future of the war on terror

This topic has been getting some discussion now that bin Laden is dead. Oddly enough I think G.W. Bush had it right in the video some are bringing up when he said that he didn't really think about bin Laden that much. Of course this was after Bush had initiated two wars. So its certainly more important to keep his attention focused on that rather than the whereabouts of one person. But even in the larger context of the war on terror I don't think it would be very constructive to focus too much attention on one person.

Granted, that one person is a big symbol for the movement we are trying to defeat. But in the end he was just a symbol. And given the nature of terrorism, its not necessary that he played a big role in carrying out terrorist attacks. The very reason terrorism is so devastating is that it can be done by a very small number of people at a very low cost. Perhaps bin Laden was important more on the cost front than he was in the symbolic front. But even if that were the case I doubt that because he is gone we are much less vulnerable to an attack than before.

As for those two wars that were started in the name of the war of terror, I have to agree with Glenn Greenwald (linked to in the blogs I follow) that the death of bin Laden won't change much. Iraq has been scaled down a bit. But there is still a fair amount of resources being used on it. Afghanistan hasn't changed a whole lot, yet not long ago Obama decided to escalate things there. Iraq was a ridiculous side track that had practically nothing to do with terrorism. So there isn't any reason to be there aside from keeping order for the civilians. Afghanistan was started because it was a safe haven for the Taliban and al Qaeda. But bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, our ally that we give a lot of money in foreign aid.

So what are the reasons for staying in Iraq and Afghanistan? It seems to be that its just to keep the order for civilians. While that is noble, its not really part of fighting terrorism. Its possible that if we were to leave Afghanistan could again become a safe haven for terrorists. But the situation with bin Laden shows that there are safe havens to be had in other places, even those places considered to be the home of our allies. And as for the Bush goal of spreading democracy, I think its better to play a very indirect role in doing that, like in Egypt for example. So there just doesn't seem to be many reasons to keep fighting wars and keeping large numbers of troops in hostile countries.

What all of this shows is that the concept of a war on terror was a faulty premise to begin with. You can't fight a war against a tactic. And that is what terrorism is, a political tactic used by people who don't have the resources to fight a country. That doesn't mean you can't protect yourself from terrorism and fight the people who wish to use it. The situation with bin Laden also shows this. We didn't have to start a war with Pakistan in order to succeed. We just had to do some good police-style work. And as for the protection part, its extremely difficult to do and I think we spend too many resources on it. But I think if we diverted our military away from Iraq and Afghanistan I think we could do a sufficient job.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Laden dead

Great news for all of the people affected by his actions. They deserve the justice this brings to them after what they have gone through. I couldn't imagine how they felt/feel about the losses they have suffered at his hands. So in that sense I hope this helps.

I just regret that we can't show him how our values as a free nation win out in the end and the people of the world will be better off because of it.

Grizzlies continue to surprise

Different team, same story. Zach Randolf and Marc Gasol were unstoppable and the defense did a good job of not letting Durant and Westbrook go off. Teams that win the first game in a seven game series win the series 80% of the time. I don't think its that likely that Memphis will win this series. But this is a great start.

A couple of good points were made by commentators after the game. The Griz only shot 8 three pointers and still scored over 110 points. That means they were extremely efficient with their shots. Part of that is getting turnovers which provided easy buckets. The other part is Randolf and Gasol just being on and hitting a ton of shots. I suspect the Thunder won't turn the ball over so much on Tuesday. So game 2 should be closer.

The other point was that Randolf was defended by one person. You can certainly take your chances that Randolf won't go off every game, just like we have to do with Durant. But at some point it might be good strategy to double team him and force another player to make a shot, specifically an outside shot. Same goes for the Griz defending Durant and Westbrook. I would rather make them take mid range shots and three pointers than layups and free throws.

For now I'll be happy that we took a game in OC and that at worst we won't get swept. On Tuesday I hope we just have a shot late in the game.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dolphins finish offensive minded draft

I'm pretty happy with the way the Dolphins conducted their draft. The offense was really bad last year while the defense was fantastic. The defense is also fairly young and has decent depth. So there really wasn't a need to upgrade the defense.

I wasn't very impressed with our offensive philosophy last year, which consistent of trying to be a team from the pre-80s era that likes to run the ball a lot. And I doubt they will stray very far from that this season. So since that likely won't change I just have to accept that fact and acknowledge that the running game being as horrible as it was last year is a bigger problem for this team than most.

So considering that they take a interior offensive lineman and running back with their first two picks. Just regression to the mean should make the running game better. But that along with these two young guys should provide the offense with decent run production and thus take pressure off Henne.

Henne was obviously the big problem with a slightly below average passing game. But when you look at the personel on offense there aren't a ton of needs. I think our WRs are very good. The only thing they lack is great speed. And that is why they drafted Gates, a very fast WR that can also return kicks. Fasano is fine at TE and even though they drafted a TE I hope they drop some of the 2 TE sets in favor of more 3 and 4 WR sets.

Aside from QB those picks hit the major need areas. And while most of us agree that Henne is not that close to where we would like him to be he wasn't that bad last year. Hell, its still unclear to me who is better, Henne or Sanchez. I'll even go as far to say that Matt Ryan, the QB everyone thinks we should have take over Jake Long, wasn't that much better than Henne last year. And at least now Henne will not have many excuses to make if he doesn't play well.