Monday, September 26, 2011

Miami mired in mediocrity

Ugh. That's the general feeling I get with the Dolphins. They aren't so bad that they get blown out every game. But they aren't good enough to pull away from other average/mediocre teams when they have small leads and they can't close the gap when they keep it close against good teams.

Defensively this was supposed to be a good team. Last year we were good at pressuring QBs and preventing big plays. And we were great against the run. The big problem was offense where we couldn't run the ball and our passing game was limited to dinking and dunking. So we keep the defense the same, change offensive coordinators, and get new running backs. That should at least ensure that we don't get worse this year. Right?

Not so much. The defense rarely pressures the QB. We still can't cover TEs. And now the secondary is struggling, party because Vontae Davis has been hurt, but mostly because our safeties have been terrible. Against the Browns, McCoy was playing pretty bad. But he got one big play that resulted in a TD. And then he methodically marched down the field to win because we couldn't pressure him and we couldn't cover the underneath routes.

The offense has improved. Donald Thomas looks pretty good running the ball. Henne is moving the ball down the field easier. He is taking a few more shots downfield and is running when nothing is there. But we can't score in the red zone. We had one good play today that resulted in a TD. But after that we consistently kicked FGs instead of getting TDs. And a decent offensive day resulted in a measly 16 points. That's not good enough even with a good defensively performance.

But even with the offensive improvements there are still problems. The offensive line has problems protecting Henne. And Henne doesn't step up in the pocket to help them out. While he has thrown some good deep passes this season, Henne still seems a little too eager to check down. Its a little more understandable this year with the poor pass protection. But I'd still like to see a little more aggression. Marshall and Henne still don't have good chemistry. And sometimes Marshall looks like he gives up on routes. So for all the good the offense does it still isn't doing enough. And the ridiculous penalties aren't helping. I think we had as many > 10 yard downs as we did < 10 downs.

All of that adds up to long, close, and not very exciting games where we wait for something bad to happen. And for what feels like the past decade, aside from one year, it does happen and we lose. Unless this trend is reversed in a drastic manner I'm certain this will be Sparano's last year. And it should probably be Ireland's last as well.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moneyball

I was eager to see this movie because I really liked the book. I read it before I had any exposure to statistics. So it was kind of an eye opener for me. Yet it wasn't too difficult to understand. That is one of the reasons Michael Lewis is such a great writer. He makes things easy to understand without dumbing them down too much, all the while keeping the flow of the story he is trying to tell.

As with the movie The Blind Side, which was another book by Lewis, it would have been really difficult to get every nuance from the book into the movie. We see a little bit of Billy Beane's career as a player and how that influenced him as a GM. But it wasn't really fleshed out. And we see a little of the new way in which they start thinking about the game, the Bill James influenced sabermetric approach. But it didn't seem as carefullly constructed as the book.

But that's just the reality of adapting a movie from a book. I'm sure even as great as The Godfather movies are they miss some nuance of the book. Having said that, I enjoyed the movie. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were good. It did a pretty good job of making us care about the team and Beane. And it was funny enough to carry us through some slow parts.

I agree with Matt Yglesias that it could have used more math. They didn't need to walk us through the equations they were using to calculate probabilities of runs and wins. But they could have explained the logic behind what they were doing in more detail. They get the concept behind valuing OBP, or on base percentage, across pretty quickly and easily. But they didn't go the extra step in explaining why OBP was undervalued and why it would lead to them winning more.

Fans of the book should like it if they have the right expectations. I think people who have no idea about the book should like it too. They clearly tried to make it accessible to those people. And I think they succeeded. At the very least people should like the underdog story of the A's trying to compete with the Yankees and big market teams.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Community season 3

My favorite show came back on air tonight. I'd call it an average episode by Community standards. I think the reason for it being average is having to resolve the ending from last season where Pierce is not quite in the group. Its not that they didn't handle it well, or that I didn't like how they used Jeff getting kicked out of Biology in order to show how the group has evolved beyond being just simply a study group.

Jeff was the best one to use in order to show how the group has evolved. Remember that he joined it, or technically created it, just to sleep with Britta. While he could still want to sleep with Britta or Annie, that doesn't seem to be his primary motivation for wanting to get back into Biology and thus the group. So showing that growth was important for the show and they executed it ok.

I guess I just didn't completely buy Pierce's change. And they gave me reason not to at the end of the episode. And I guess they are just setting things up for the rest of the season. I don't want to sound like I'm disappointed. I think its just the nature of opening episodes of tv seasons in which the show didn't completely wrap up everything it did in the previous season (see Buffy as a good example of this) that you don't get a typical episode. But you do usually get a necessary episode. And I fully suspect that this will set up many great stories for the rest of the season.

And also ... pop! pop!!!

Fair shares

This is another phrase that we are hearing a lot lately in regard to taxes. And we hear it from both sides, probably a little more from liberals. Obama himself invokes it when arguing for returning top income tax levels to Clinton era rates and for the new Buffett tax proposal. The phrase isn't nearly as bad as 'class warfare'. But for liberals, I don't think we are gaining a whole lot by using it.

Fairness is something nearly everyone wants, especially when it comes to money and taxes. But as with many things, different people have different perceptions of what constitutes fair. Republicans think nearly all taxes as they currently stand for rich people are unfair. Democrats think many taxes for those same rich people are slightly unfair. The rhetoric from the right makes it seem like the difference in these two positions is bigger than it probably is. But in this environment of divided gov't they are differences that probably can't be bridged.

I guess my point is that when liberals invoke fairness when talking about taxes, they aren't doing anything to try and convince conservatives that they should agree with them. The only thing they are doing is reminding them that they already think taxes on the rich are unfair, but unfair in their sense of the conception of the word. So my proposal is to drop the whole fairness aspect of arguing for tax increases. Just stick to the fact that we have big deficits, need a lot more revenue, and can't take more from the middle class and poor who are already struggling too much right now. That's more than enough of a reason to raise taxes.

Plus no one ever really defines what they mean by fair. Liberals seem to think Clinton level rates on the rich is fair. But they never really explain why. Why not higher rates than that? Rates were much higher during prosperous economic times in the 50s and 60s. Were those rates fair? As a liberal who doesn't have an Ayn Rand type view of the rich I think it would be a good idea for the rich to pay more taxes than they currently do given the situation our economy is in. And I would argue doing so would be fair to them. But it would take a bit of leg work to make that argument. And even then it would be a slightly subjective assessment of what constitutes fair. So I think it would be easier and more effective to stick to other arguments for tax increases on the rich.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Class warfare

I'm sure you've heard this a lot lately. I understand its rhetoric and it shouldn't be taken completely seriously all the time. But good lord does the GOP love to use this one. That shouldn't be surprising since it combines two of their favorite things, protecting rich people from doing things rich people don't want to do, and war.

And I'm sure they use it because it polls well. I wonder if any Democrats have done polling on what they can call GOP support for no tax hikes for the rich. I'm thinking that since foreign aid polls poorly they should call it something like rich people aid. So whenever Democrats get accused of class warfare they can rebut by accusing Republicans of wanting to increase rich people aid. Raising taxes on the rich already polls well. So there isn't a big framing problem. But even more support would be nice. And maybe it would serve to change the narrative that Republicans always seem to create.

HIMYM's return

It was nice to see How I Met Your Mother back for another season. Nothing earth-shattering happened. Ted was Ted. Nothing new there. Still waiting for the mother to show up. Lilly and Marshall are less interesting now that they are expecting a baby. I miss them being the cute couple they were for the first few seasons. I really only like them now when they are helping the rest of the group with their issues.

The best stuff is Robin and Barney. Barney is fun, but the womanizer thing gets tired. And I like Nora, the girl he is going after. I wouldn't quite call myself a Robin and Barney shipper. But I am a little intrigued by the fact that Robin still has feelings for Barney. I suspect its just a ploy to create a which one will Barney marry dynamic for the rest of the season. If they handle it well I probably won't mind too much.

As far as Robin goes I'm leaning towards wanting them to let her just be a single woman, or someone who dates but doesn't settle down. I'm not sure if they will stick to this tiny moment I remember from early in the show, but Ted's kids draw a picture of themselves with Aunt Robin. Its just her in the picture with the kids. And that's at least 5 years down the line from now. So either the kids weren't actively playing with Robin's husband when they drew the picture or Robin never marries. And if that's the case, it should be Nora who is marrying Barney. I guess we'll see by the end of the season.

Monday, September 19, 2011

BSG ctd.

I haven't written about Battlestar Galactica in a while. I'm about halfway through season 2. I'm still really enjoying it. The first of the two episodes I watched this weekend was the one where they Battlestar Pegasus finds the fleet. The big story in this episode is Odama having to give up command of the fleet to the higher officer aboard Pegasus. Until now Odama was the more military minded counter point to the President. He tended to make the cold, calculating decisions based on military strategy while the President made the more sympathetic decisions.

They were good checks on each other. Their conflicts tended to result in good decisions being made. Now we get to see a more extreme version of Odama, which I think serves to cast Odama in a more sympathetic light. And that was before I found out about all the crazy stuff the Admiral was doing, or letting her crew do. What they did to the cylon they had captured gets at what I think is a central question the show raises, which is what does it mean to be human.

The crew of the Pegasus brutally tortures the cylon they captured, a cylon which by their account has killed several people. But not only do they torture it for revenge, they take pleasure in raping her and making her suffer. Since the cylon looks and acts like a human being I can't help but feel sorry for it and repulsed by the behavior of the soldiers. Its easy for them to see it as a robot. But I think the people writing and creating the show mean for the audience to see it only as a human.

And in that case I can't help but draw the parallel between their torture of the cylon and our torture of terrorists. Like the cylons, terrorists (at least some of them, certainly not all of them) have killed people, or are a threat to do so. So right away we feel afraid and angry. When we don't move past those feelings we act as the soldiers in the show and the Bush administration. Its a bit different in BSG in that the person is actually a robot on some level. But in real life terrorists are still human beings.

What I really liked is how Gyus does what professional interrogators say is the best way to extract information, which is to not torture them, but to build a rapport with them. He treats the cylon like a human being that deserves some base amount of respect. And by doing so he gets the information that the Admiral needed. Like with KSM, we didn't get good information from waterboarding him. We got it after we stopped doing that and treated him like a human being.

The second episode ended with both Odama and the Admiral ordering a soldier to terminate the command of the other. Perhaps this could be a way of showing how difficult it could be for someone who is ordered to torture someone to do go against it. It will be interesting to see how Starbuck and the other officer handle the situation. The other guy seems to not endorse the actions of the Admiral. But Starbuck has a vested interest in going back to Caprica, which the Admiral wants to do. I can't wait to see what happens. And the next time public officials want to take notes on how to conduct interrogations like the Bush administration did with '24', I hope they watch BSG instead.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Perry vs. the Lap Dance Lobby

That's the headline to this article. Here are the details:

The $5-per-customer tax on strip clubs that Perry signed in 2007—which goes by a number of nicknames, the most clever of which is the “pole tax”—was to fund an array of programs relating to sexual assault prevention and counseling, as well as subsidies for a sliver of the six million Texans without insurance. In a state with no income tax, helping those without health coverage fell to, well, those looking for women who aren’t covered. “That’s where we’ve come to,” Garnet Coleman, a Democratic state representative from Houston, told me.

The first thing that strikes me is that this seems to be legislating behavior, which apparently conservatives only like when its in regard to an act they don't find moral. The funding was supposed to go good causes. But I'm not sure there is a connection between strip clubs and sexual assault, or with health care in general. If they had data that suggested this was the case then I'm find with it.

But why limit this kind of tax to strip clubs if you are really concerned with sexual assault prevention and counseling, along with the uninsured in your state? That's an even more relevant question when you consider this:

Will the court ruling, if upheld, at least bring relief to the state’s uninsured? Well, no. The health care program that Perry was planning to use the money for was never set up, because the Bush administration in 2008 deemed it inadequate. The state’s uninsured, who include a third of all adults between 18 and 64, can continue to seek out indigent care at hospitals, or, if they live in the Rio Grande Valley, attend the annual week of free clinics run there by the Texas National Guard, which the state justifies as disaster training for the soldiers. Beyond that, Texas’ uninsured will have to wait for the new national health care law’s reforms in 2014. (That’s assuming, of course, that Perry and other anti-Obamacare governors don’t succeed in halting the law.)

Basically, it seems like Perry and the Texas legislature were trying to find revenue wherever they could. They obviously hate raising taxes on most businesses. So they probably figured no one would care if they raised them on a business many find morally objectionable. I just hope that in the next Republican primary debate someone will ask Perry if he plans to raise taxes on all strip clubs across the country. Who knows? Maybe that will be his plan to save Medicare.

More choices

My last post was about the role of choices when it pertains to conceptions of freedom. Today I saw this post from TP shooting down Speaker of the House John Boehner's claim that homosexuality is a choice. I don't mind that TP does this. In fact, I appreciate that they are keeping tabs on this kind of stuff. But I don't see why its necessary to argue with Boehner on the point of choice regarding any issue pertaining to homosexuality.

The evidence seems to suggest it is not a choice. But let's say that one day we find out that homosexuality is a choice. What does that change regarding the arguments for extending rights to them? Isn't the whole conservative conception of freedom and the purpose of rights that people should be able to make their own choices about how to live their lives? Of course it is. And rightfully so for the most part. So what is it about someone choosing to be a homosexual that makes them throw conservative logic out the window and argue that gov't knows what is best for these people?

The only political argument I can come up with is a liberal-type argument that gov't needs to restrict rights because somehow people are endangering society. This is sometimes argued by conservatives by saying that homosexuality destroys society's morals. But that's a really tough thing to prove. And the evidence suggests it just isn't the case. Plus I think most reasonable people don't buy that.

I think the real reason anti-homosexual arguments hold water with conservatives is religion. Modern conservatives are just as concerned with religious views as they are political ones. Often times religious views form their political views, as in this case with homosexuals and with something like abortion. I'm not sure how you convince conservatives that their religious views (and thus their political views) are wrong. But i think it would help the liberal cause if we made the conservative argument for gay rights instead of always insisting homosexuality is a choice. If we did that we might be able to convince reasonable conservatives and libertarians to support gay rights.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Choices and freedom

A libertarian discusses those concepts in relation to health care policy. Ari Kohen makes this point:

The difference that exists between my own position and that of the Tea Party, at bottom, is that I don’t feel less free when I look at the amount of money that comes out of my check every month, even though I’d rather have that money in my pocket. The reason is that I’m actually making a choice too: I choose to live in this country, with its government and tax structure and social safety nets. In fact, I embrace it. We can certainly do better in terms of those safety nets by working to make our government more efficient and effective, but that’s not what Paul is advocating; instead, he thinks that the vast majority of the government — and the services it provides — should simply be eliminated. To my mind, that would mean we’d be living in a very different political community, one that I wouldn’t like nearly as much. I want to live in a political community that chooses to take care of others, one that is committed to the idea that no one should go hungry or be unable to get critical medical attention.

This is a very different choice in its substance from the ones that libertarians tout as being of principal importance … but it is no less a choice and thus I feel no less free at the end of the day than I would if I had some extra money in my pocket. What’s more, I feel protected in case I run into some bad luck — or someone close to me does — and I feel good about my small stake in making sure that others are similarly protected.

At first I thought we were just talking past each other, that we had fundamentally different values and beliefs, but perhaps I should be wondering instead if these people (who prize individual choice so highly) simply don’t respect my choices. Maybe the choices in which they’re seemingly so invested are only the choices they make.

That's a great point using libertarian logic. I usually argue that being born in a certain place isn't a choice, its random luck. And that is true until you become a largely self sustaining adult. At that point you are making a choice to live where you do. I also usually argue that its really difficult for poor people and even some middle class people to choose to move. And I stand by that argument. But libertarians don't seem to agree with me, at least in part. So if they don't agree with me that people aren't completely making their own choices in life, they must be using the logic Kohen uses, and thus would have to acknowledge that they are making the choice he lays out.

Perhaps the problem for many libertarians is that the places they could choose to move in order to try and get away from the oppressive taxes and policies of the US are often more oppressive than the US, or in other words, they are more liberal and socialistic than we are. So since they don't like their options, they ignore that they are making a choice at all and just make their normal argument.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dolphins vs Patriots

It hasn't been all bad for the Fins tonight. But whatever good we have seen has been equaled by some aspects of the game that were pathetic. Starting with the special teams, they seem to be setting the pace for another very mediocre year. If they weren't getting poor returns they were holding and forcing the offense into poor field position. There is no excuse for the special teams. They have had plenty of time to get the players and coaches.

I think the defense was largely pathetic. They couldn't get lined up because they were tired and confused. Some of that has to go on the coaching for not having them prepared enough for the Pats' hurry up offense. But even when they got lined up they weren't getting pressure on the QB, they weren't covering well, and they didn't tackle quite as good as they needed to. The biggest problem was the pass rush, especially up the middle. You can't let Brady step up in the pocket and buy time. He was able to do this all night. The only time he was pressured was when Wake got around the corner quickly.

As I type this the offense has driven down the field and is about to score. Bess appeared to be down just short of the goal line. The biggest problems with the offense are the interior of the offensive line. Richie Incognito has been terrible. He had at least two holding penalties and at least one sack. Reggie Bush didn't seem to have much room to run the ball. But Henne has been pretty good. He has avoided some pressure and made some plays despite that pressure. He has been pretty accurate and hasn't been afraid to push the ball down field. The receivers appear to have been able to get open a bit and have caught most of the catchable passes.

Though as I get done typing this Henne's inaccuracy shows up as he throws about four passes that weren't even close to being catchable. And the secondary just blew it and allowed a 99 yard TD pass. So the defense was even more pathetic than I was ready to call them. And looking at the replay it looks like a big reason is the safety play. Jones and Bell simply aren't good in coverage. They aren't fast enough to play deep and they aren't quick enough to cover good TEs, which the Pats have.

To wrap it up, the offense showed signs that it could be an average unit. We were all expecting the defense to be good, maybe even very good. But they have had a terrible night against the Pats, who were the best offense in the league last year and will probably be one of the two or three best this year. Even so, the effort they gave tonight won't be good enough to keep even average offenses from putting up points. If that doesn't change this could be a really long season.

Remembering

I don't completely get the whole thing yesterday and whenever the date 9/11 comes around when people say 'never forget'. What shouldn't we forget? We all know what happened. We all know many people lost their lives. Its not like sufficient time wasn't spent detailing what happened. So who is in danger of forgetting it? I haven't run into anyone of proper age who doesn't remember. So as with most things involving the media, I think this whole thing got overblown.

What didn't get enough attention was the things we should remember that were either thrown out in the wake of the attacks or things that just weren't given much attention to begin with. Examples of the former have been talked about in the years since. But they weren't talked about yesterday, and that is part of why many people just don't care about civil liberties and the other things that were done.

Dave Weigel talks about Paul Krugman's reflections and the criticisms that came from it:

Early on Sunday morning, as the rest of NYTimes.com was turned over to 9/11 anniversary, Paul Krugman vented his spleen. Years of columns were condensed into a few pithy lines. "What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful," he wrote. "The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons."

On a day when everyone else was flashing back to 9/11/2001, I was flashing back to the days and months later, when criticism of the Bush administration returned, and the practioners of it became, briefly, Emmanuel Goldsteins. Remember Susan Sontag? Remember the Dixie Chicks? Remember the campaign to "revoke the Oscar" from Michael Moore? There hasn't been much criticism of the substance of Krugman's remarks; denying that 9/11 and counterterrorism strategy became "wedge issues" is denying a few years of political history. The criticism is of Krugman for expressing it. He brushes the criticism right off.

"I'm not saying anything in that post that I wasn't saying back in 2002, when people like him were riding high," says Krugman. "And isn't Rumsfeld 'sweep everything up, related and not' the poster child for 9/11 exploitation?"

If you've forgotten the "sweep everything up" reference, there's a refresher here.

I know that's true because I participated in it. I was a very young adult who was acting based off pure emotion. I didn't give anything more than an initial gut reaction. Here is Glenn Greenwald on another emotion that took hold, fear:

Earlier this year, the Obama White House reversed the Attorney General's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for his alleged crimes in a federal court in New York, and Congress prohibited Guantanamo detainees generally from being tried on U.S. soil, due to fears that the Terrorists would use their heat-vision to melt their shackles and escape or would summon their Terrorist friends to attack the courthouse and free them into the community -- even though none of that has ever happened, and even though almost every other country on the planet that suffered similar Terrorist attacks (Britain, Spain, India, Indonesia) tried the perpetrators in their regular courts in the cities where the attacks occurred. In 2009, President Obama demanded the power to abolish the most basic right -- not to be imprisoned without having been convicted of a crime -- by "preventively detaining" people who, in his words, "cannot be prosecuted yet [] pose a clear danger." During the Bush years, The Washington Post quoted a military official warning Americans that the most extreme security measures are needed against Guantanamo detainees because these are "people who would chew through a hydraulic cable to bring a C-17 down."

This isn't to say that these fearful reactions or one time memorials where all we do is remember instead of taking action are completely unfounded reactions. They are just that, reactions. Most people spend a few minutes thinking about this stuff and move on to living their lives. So while I'd like for the American people to remember these other important things beyond the lives lost that day, I can't blame them too much for not doing so.

Who I do blame a lot are the people who make policy, like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. These people are the ones who are supposed to be beyond the instant gut reactions that lead to bad policies that we are still dealing with. Given their actions I think we should do more to remember what they did so that we can avoid making those mistakes again and so the people who lost their lives didn't do so in vane.

Nature and nurture in Buffy

I'm watching the episode "Enemies" right now and the differences in Buffy and Faith's upbringing made me think of the nature and nurture dynamic in how children turn out as adults. In this episode Buffy and the gang find out definitively that Faith has turned on them and is on the mayor's side. Before Faith is about the torture Buffy she explains why she has turned to the dark side and why she hates Buffy.

We had always known Faith was the bad girl who didn't have any family or friends. But for a while she fought on the good side. In this episode Faith reveals that her mother was an alcoholic. And unless I missed it, she doesn't even mention a father. So needless to say she comes from a pretty bad home. Thus when it comes to the nurture part of Faith's upbringing she didn't make out well.

Compare that to Buffy, who despite her parent's divorce while she was in high school, had a pretty standard upbringing. THe biggest difference seems to be Buffy's dad. Even though we see very, very little of him in the series, I think we can assume he was an average dad during her childhood. Faith didn't even have the barely existent father that Buffy had since the divorce. This is probably why Faith was attracted to the affection the mayor showed her. When she thinks Buffy and the gang abandon her, Faith probably internalizes their actions as the same thing her parents did to her, thus the hatred towards them and the desire to please the mayor who has adopted her. Like Spike says of Buffy when he is explaining why she has survived for so long, Buffy has family and friends. Those are important aspects of nurture that help all of us become a decently functioning adult within our society.

The nature aspect of the two characters is pretty similar. Both are very pretty, healthy, and smart women. By most accounts they did well in the nature side of things. And to add onto that, they both get chosen as slayers and possess awesome powers. In real like looks, health, and intelligence vary to some degree between people and at least in part shape how a person turns out as an adult. Sometimes I find it difficult to sort out what had more influence on certain aspects of a person's persona, nature or nurture. What Buffy and Faith allow us to do is to essentially hold nature constant and see how important nurture can be to a person.

What I also like about this episode is Angel's role in it. Angel has something things in common with Faith, mainly that he knows what it is like to kill someone and be on the bad team. Because of his shared experience, Angel is sympathetic to Faith and seeks to help her. While Angel probably has less of a reason to have turned bad based on what we know about his family life, he understands that people aren't just born evil, that things happen in their life that are beyond their control that can have a negative impact on them. Even thought Angel's redemption was forced upon him, he also understands that people can change for the better as we see in his own series Angel is instrumental in helping Faith turn her life around.

That dynamic of Angel helping Faith find redemption is probably my favorite thing about the show. My favorite characters are the ones that have major flaws (Spike, Cordi, Wesley, Angel) but who work through them to become better. Not that it was easy for those characters to change and become better, but I wish the process was as linear for people in real life as it is in the show.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The NFL and federalism

The start of the football season is finally here. Normally I'd be driving to my dad's house so we can watch the Dolphins play. But they are playing on Monday night against the Patriots. So I don't have to worry about finding a place to watch the game. That gave me time to think of the semi-monopoly DirecTv has on the NFL and how it relates to federalism.

DirecTv isn't the only place you can watch you favorite team, which is why I call it only a semi-monopoly. If you live in the same area your team plays in you can either go to the game or watch it on local tv. Though if not enough people go to the game you may not be able to watch it on local tv. So even if you don't have the money to spend on a ticket you are dependent on enough people having enough money and wanting to go. Relating this to federalism, this scenario is like if you are a very conservative person who lives in a very conservative state. For the most part you are happy that your state makes conservative policy and the cost of getting those policies is low because everyone agrees with you.

If you don't live in the same area as your favorite team, or if you are a very liberal person living in a very conservative state, you are left with fewer options that you can choose in order to satisfy your preferences. For the football fan, you either have to pay DirecTv about $50 per month for 6 months (and that's not even the HD package) or drive to a bar and hope they are showing the game you want. The bar option isn't too bad. Its a pain in the ass to have to get ready and drive somewhere, especially with gas being so expensive. But it is a cheaper option than DirecTv, though without the comfort of your own home.

For the liberal in a conservative state, you options are limited as well. If you want gay people to get married or more restrictions on how easily people can buy guns, you are going to have a very difficult time getting those policies passed. Frankly, its not going to happen. So your only realistic option would be to move to a more liberal state. This is one of the more common arguments that I have heard from people who endorse a more states centered view of federalism. And its one that I have addressed before by pointing out that moving (or voting with your feet) is a very costly and inefficient way of seeking the freedom you want.

Like the high cost of paying DirecTv in order to see any game you want, it would be very costly to quit your job, sell your house, find a house in the place that holds the same political beliefs as yours, and find a job in that area. That's a big burden to place on someone who, by chance of birth, was born in a place that doesn't hold the same political values as you and thus forces you to be less free than them simply because people think a state has the right to do so because they don't like the federal gov't.

I'm not sure what anyone can do about the NFL and DirecTv. And I'm not necessarily saying anything should be done. But in regard to federalism and the concept of freedom, the federal gov't can do more when a state doesn't uphold someone's freedom. And the conservative approach of just letting states do what they want while telling people to just pack their stuff and leave if they don't like it is conducive to leaving a lot of people out of the loop.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What political science says about shifts in opinion

Ezra Klein asks why the GOP turned against stimulus. In other words, during the Bush administration, Republicans used the same arguments Democrats now use in favor of stimulus spending when they were arguing for tax cuts. But now they reject that very same logic. Ezra doesn't think pure cynicism on the part of Republicans is the answer why and he cites a study that I've read that might explain the shift:

My favorite study (pdf) in this space was by Yale’s Geoffrey Cohen. He had a control group of liberals and conservatives look at a generous welfare reform proposal and a harsh welfare reform proposal. As expected, liberals preferred the generous plan and conservatives favored the more stringent option. Then he had another group of liberals and conservatives look at the same plans, but this time, the plans were associated with parties.

Both liberals and conservatives followed their parties, even when their parties disagreed with their preferences. So when Democrats were said to favor the stringent welfare reform, for example, liberals went right along. Three scary sentences from the piece: “When reference group information was available, participants gave no weight to objective policy content, and instead assumed the position of their group as their own. This effect was as strong among people who were knowledgeable about welfare as it was among people who were not. Finally, participants persisted in the belief that they had formed their attitude autonomously even in the two group information conditions where they had not.”

I agree with Ezra that this is a big part of the story. Once we've decided that we belong to a party or a religion or like a certain sports team, our brains tend to follow along with what the other people that belong to those same groups think. As a Dolphins fan I tend to agree with my fellow fans that the Jets are a loathsome football team. If two studies came out, one saying it proves the Jets are loathsome and the other saying it proves they aren't, I would probably be inclined to believe the former.

These tribal impulses are strong and they seem to extend into all walks of life. The problem when it happens in politics is that it prevents good policy from being made. So we need to be constantly aware of the phenomenon so that we can prevent ourselves from falling into its traps.

The newest GOP boogeyman

The EPA is really getting hammered by Republicans lately. Here is Rick Perry's latest regarding the agency:

“I’ll tell you one thing: The EPA officials we have an opportunity to put in place, they’re going to be pro-business, and there’s not going to be any apologies to anybody about it,” he said. “Those agencies won’t know what hit ‘em.”

He is basically saying he doesn't want the agency to do what its supposed to do, what it was created to do, which is protect the environment. Its right there in the name of the agency. Yet Perry and Republicans just don't care. Their logic is that whatever businesses say hurts them, it must be bad and the gov't shouldn't do it.

Nevermind that air, for instance, is a public good. Air isn't owned by anyone. We, as people who need air to survive, and the gov't have every right to keep a business from damaging the air. Its a matter of public health. And if the gov't can't regulate in order to protect public health then the gov't can't do anything and our constitution needs to be thrown out for something that makes sense.

I'm sorry if the regulation of our environment, which encompasses the things we need in order to survive as a species, hurts some company's bottom line and prevents the creation of a few jobs. But even now with our unemployment problem its not smart to trade a few more dollars in executive pay and a few jobs for the health of our environment and the people that live in it. A job is worth nothing if you are too sick to perform it.

Update: Apparently Republicans have succeeded in convincing Obama that he should be scared of the EPA and its power to kill the economy:

WASHINGTON — President Obama abandoned a contentious new air pollution rule on Friday, buoying business interests that had lobbied heavily against it, angering environmentalists who called the move a betrayal and unnerving his own top environmental regulators.

The president rejected a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that would have significantly reduced emissions of smog-causing chemicals, saying that it would impose too severe a burden on industry and local governments at a time of economic distress.

This is exactly the kind of stuff Obama does that pisses off liberals. Buying into the notion that these restrictions would cost jobs for a second, I highly doubt it would be enough to affect Obama's reelection chances. Yet he doesn't want the fight. Avoiding having to intelligently discuss a sensible and health protecting policy is more important than protecting the environment and people's health.

Though to be fair, it is probably a big pain in the ass for Obama and Democrats that they have to use facts and discuss the merits of policy using logic while Republicans just spout off whatever bullshit they want. But hey, that's the cost of being an elected Democrat.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

If we don't like something, it must be un-American

For Matthew Vadum, that something is registering poor people to vote:

Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country -- which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote.

Encouraging those who burden society to participate in elections isn't about helping the poor. It's about helping the poor to help themselves to others' money. It's about raw so-called social justice. It's about moving America ever farther away from the small-government ideals of the Founding Fathers.

This ranks right up there with some of the ridiculous crap I've read lately, maybe ever. Our country was founded on the belief that people should be able to vote. The very act of voting is American. Therefore it would follow that encouraging or helping people to perform a civic duty like voting would be American, or at least encouraging others to act in an American manner. The reason he doesn't like it is because poor people tend to vote for Democrats. But just because you don't like something or a person votes for a different party than yours doesn't make it un-American. In fact, the ability that people have to make a decision that is different from Mr. Vadum's is fundamentally American.

To address the second paragraph quickly, the very concept of taxes involves spending other people's money and people receiving benefits from that spending. If you don't think this is a good concept that a gov't should partake in you should call yourself a anarchist and stop making over the top, blanket statements about taxes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

No apologies necessary

Mitt Romney won't apologize for America being awesome:

“Have we ever had a president who was so eager to address the world with an apology on his lips and doubt in his heart?” Romney said. “He seems truly confused not only about America’s past but also about its future.”

That's not to say Obama has apologized for anything. That whole thing was made up. But think about what this no apologies thing from Republicans could mean. Our drone strikes have led to innocent people being killed, even children. Obviously that is not our intention. But these kinds of mistakes happen. Does Romney and every other Republican that criticizes Obama for made up apologies really not intend on apologizing for mistakes that lead to the loss of innocent life? Do they really believe that the gov't (yes, the military is part of the gov't) is so incredible that it never makes a mistake? Or do they simply believe that good intentions mean you don't ever have to apologize? I think their answer to those questions would not fit logically within the thinking of a party that says its about good values and a distrust of gov't.