Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chuck series finale

This post contains spoilers for the finale.

Chuck ended it's run tonight. I had kind of forgotten how attached I was to this show until they showed some the early Chuck and Sarah moments. That first kiss when they thought the bomb was about to go off got the waterworks going. The more I think about it, the more this was a really bittersweet ending. Having Sarah's memory about Chuck gone is a really horrible thing. I understand why they did it. It served as an effective dramatic story and it allowed them to show us those early Chuck and Sarah moments that were so effective.

The part that really had me crying was when Sarah was watching her video logs of every day she was on her mission as Chuck's handler. She shares some sweet moments, those times when Chuck was so innocent and naive and trying to get close to Sarah. Then she gets to the moment when she confesses to herself that she loves Chuck. That worked so well because present day Sarah didn't remember the way she felt about Chuck. So I guess the writers were successful in that sense.

But I guess I'm just too much of a hopeless romantic. Chuck and Sarah were such a good couple. I was always rooting for Chuck since he was the sweet, nerdy guy that guys like me identified with. And eventually, when Sarah shows that she cares about Chuck beyond just her mission and then finally when she shows that she loves him, I rooted for Sarah too. I think Yvonne and Zachary did a good job of making their characters seem genuine, which was also why I liked them together.

So because I like them so much I really wanted the happy ending. I wanted Sarah to somehow get her memory back. Maybe I'm slightly misreading the ending. They suggest that she is beginning to remember some things. And she seems to have a good emotional reaction to Chuck telling her their stories during that last scene on the beach. And maybe we were meant to think that Morgan's magic kiss theory was right. I'm not sure. But I guess at worst Sarah seems to feel some sort of connection to Chuck and is on her way to regaining what they had. And I guess I just wanted Chuck and Sarah to definitively live happily ever after.

I hate when my favorite shows end. I really feel a sense of loss, even when later seasons aren't as good. I hadn't watched ER for the last few seasons after having watched all of the early seasons. But I watched the finale and loved it. I had the same emotional response to it that I had to Chuck. For Chuck, I think it was time to end it. It's hard to accept. But tv shows aren't meant to go on forever. The stories need to end.

So thank you Chuck and all of the people involved. I hope you all find further success and know that whatever you do you will have a lot of fans like me that appreciate the work you did on Chuck.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Duke goes as Curry goes

I'm happy we beat on of our bitter rivals, Maryland. But we did a lot of the same against them as we have the past several weeks that have led to a few loses. We haven't been a good defensive team for most of the year. But lately teams seem to have figured out that they can get in the lane any time they want. Maryland did it pretty much all game. But they started missing shots in the second half that they were making in the first.

Lately, we seem to have just as many offensive problems as defensive ones. Though against Maryland, we finally started to run the offense through Mason Plumlee and he played great. We are going to need to do this every game because the other thing teams have started to do is not let our guards get open 3 point shots. And when they do, we aren't shooting as well as we were earlier in the season. Seth Curry, in particular, has not been shooting the ball nearly as well as he had been. Many people are quick to point out that Austin Rivers doesn't take great shots. But he is shooting .1% higher on all FGs from the field and .16% higher from 3 than Curry is, despite taking few open shots.

Curry has tried to adjust to his lack of open looks by trying to get into the lane more often. When he does he usually makes a good decision or takes a decent shot. But what made our offense so good for most of this season was his great 3 point shooting along with that of Dawkins and Kelly. Dawkins and Kelly are still shooting very well, as is Rivers of late. But Curry is the one that is struggling, which is why the team has been struggling. As I said, going through Mason should help. I'd also like Quinn Cook to get more playing time since he can get into the lane and create shots.

If this team wants to challenge Carolina in the ACC and make a deep run in the tournament Seth Curry has to score more. It would also help if he and the rest of the guards and pseudo-small forwards could keep people out of the lane. But the only solution to that problem is switching to a zone every once in a while. And I'm not going to hold my breath waiting on Coach K to do that.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Newt Gingrich: I can't hold back any longer

Newt is a piece of work. I haven't said much about him because so many other people do a great job of pointing out how terrible and ridiculous he is. And until South Carolina he was a fringe candidate. I still don't think he will win the nomination. There just seems like too many Republican leaders and voters who don't trust him, even more than they don't trust Romney.

But while he is battling Romney he is getting a lot of coverage. So I can't really avoid him and the crazy shit he says. This latest one caught my eye and I couldn't resist giving my thoughts:

GINGRICH: It’s pretty simple: marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and it’s a perfect example of what I mean by the rise of paganism. The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization.

So by Newt's logic, pagans aren't civilized or part of our civilization. That's news to this pagan. I'm pretty sure that earlier today I ran a few errands and applied for a job in the civilization people around here call east Memphis. I didn't seem to bother anyone or cause problems with my paganism. But maybe I'm just good at blending in.

Seriously though, that statement is so completely blind to the 1st amendment and the idea of freedom of thought and freedom of religion that it boggles the mind. So fucking what if the bible talks about marriage as between a man and a woman. As it's stated in the 1st amendment, the bible doesn't have any bearing on our law. And if our civilization and law was based on what the bible established way back in history, at least one of Newt's wives would have been stoned for being an adulterer.

The constitution and our law is what holds together our civilization, not the bible, or any conception Newt has of morality. But don't expect Newt or any other Republican to understand that. They have no knowledge of or respect for what our constitution actually says. But the thing Newt tries to do is to frame his bullshit in technical language instead of the blatantly crazy language most other Republicans use. While I would love for him to run so that Democrats have a better chance of winning their elections in 2012. I also don't want to risk Newt actually winning and being given a huge forum in which he can spout off hit crap.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Justice and taxes

Bill Gates joins the discussion:

GATES: Well the United States has a huge budget deficit, so taxes are going to have to go up. And I certainly agree that they should go up more on the rich than everyone else. That’s just justice.

BBC HOST: Is that a message you think that works with other people as wealthy as yourself, or is it just a small circle of friends — yourself, Warren Buffet, a few others.

GATES: Well, I hope we can solve that deficit problem with a sense of shared sacrifice — where everybody would feel like they’re doing their part. And right now, I don’t feel like people like myself are paying as much as we should.

I didn't watch Obama's SOTU. But I heard that he talked about this issue and proposed some kind of millionaire's tax. I'm sure there was a good bit of rhetoric about justice which mirrors a lot of what you hear from the public. I've said before that I don't like the way the argument for higher taxes is framed. And while I think Bill Gates mostly gets it right, I don't think he goes far enough.

The real issue within the large issue of taxes is the deficit. Liberals are, or should be, calling for higher taxes on rich people because we have a large deficit that we eventually need to bring down. But while making that argument I think it too often delves into arguments about fairness and justice. And that delves into class warfare type discussions that don't go anywhere productive.

That's in large part because conservatives take the discussion there and decry any tax increase as unjust class warfare. But it's also because liberals are framing it in terms of a broad sense of justice instead of the more narrow sense that Gates is talking about. The only way in which higher taxes on the rich are just or fair is in regard to the deficit and our current economic climate.

The deficit is high and the climate is bad for the poor and middle class. Within that climate, it doesn't make much sense to raise taxes on those people. It would deprive them of the money they need to spend in order to help the economy. Thus, it's fair or just that we get that money from the people who can afford to give it up and still have enough left over to buy things in order to help the economy. But even then, it makes sense to do that because it's good economic theory. Not just because it might be a good moral argument.

If the economy was great and we had a balanced budget there wouldn't be much of an argument for raising rich people's taxes, assuming entitlement programs were well funded. It wouldn't be very just or fair to raise their taxes simply for the sake of raising them and because they can afford it. And even aside from the state of the deficit and the economy, we should frame the issue of taxes mostly on economic theories instead of ideas of justice. Economic decisions such as taxes shouldn't be about morality, rather what the data suggests is the best way to improve the economy and implement good policy.

Update: Here is a previous post where I talked about tax rhetoric.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Foreign ideas on immigration reform

Adam Serwer talks about the change for some of the GOP candidates:

During Monday night's debate, however, the Republican consensus shifted just a smidgen to the left, as both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney endorsed the idea of a military-only DREAM Act, an idea once embraced by their fallen rival Rick Perry.

"If you live in a foreign country, and you are prepared to join the American military, you can, in fact, earn the right to citizenship by serving the United States and taking real risk on behalf of the United States," Gingrich said. "That part of the DREAM Act I would support."

"I would not sign the DREAM Act as it currently exists," Romney agreed, "but I would sign the DREAM Act if it were focused on military service."

I find it odd that they would support it if is focused on military service only. I thought, according to Republicans, only real, patriotic Americans served in the military. And I thought serving in our military was the most patriotic thing a person could do, aside from saying you support the troops. Why would they let people from other countries join our military? They don't want them here to begin with. They don't want them taking jobs away from "real" Americans. So why entrust them to defend our country? Maybe it's what Adam said, that they want to punish immigrants. I'm not sure. But if that is the case, that's a pretty different view of the military than what they preach.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Contraception and religious freedom

In what seems like a surprising move given some of Obama's disappointments, his administration did something good in having preventative care fully covered under the ACA:

To recap: the Affordable Care Act requires that “preventative care” be fully covered, with no co-pay, under new insurance plans, and the Department of Health and Human Services accepted recommendations that put all forms of contraception in that category. If you care about lowering the rate of unintended pregnancies, making birth control affordable and accessible should be one of your major goals, right? Wrong. Catholic and other antiabortion organizations immediately raised a stink, demanding a broader opt-out from the new regulations, since they wouldn’t qualify under the limited “religious organization” exemption. In other words, they wanted to deny birth control coverage to the women and men who work for Catholic hospitals or universities, regardless of their personal views on contraception.

Credit to them for doing this because it is a touchy political issue. They could have easily done what they have on other issues and cave so as to avoid controversy. Nevertheless, they opened themselves up to arguments like this:

This started with a decision by the Obama administration last summer listing the “preventive” services that must be covered by health plans under Obamacare without charge to patients, and the list included contraception.

This is another assault on the Constitution and the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called the federal regulation an “unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom.” ...

The Catholic Church historically has been a vital part of the safety net — providing aid for the poor, care for the sick, shelter and food for the homeless, and care for mothers in need, as a few examples.

The health-care law threatens to tear gaping holes in that safety net by forcing Catholic health plans to cover contraception, by denying funds to Catholic adoption agencies, and ultimately by forcing taxpayers — including Catholics — to fund abortion.

I'm not sure why preventative is in quotes. That's weird. Anyway. Basically, the argument is that the exemption is too narrow for some religious organizations to meet. That's fair enough I guess. I would certainly dispute what merits the label of religious organization and therefore what kind of protections or privileges it should get. For instance, the "Methodist" hospital my mom works at is not a religious organization equal to an actual Methodist church. And I think that is why the Obama administration decided. But what I find more interesting is the argument that a belief against using contraception is a religious or faith based belief that should be protected against the interest of the gov't in this case.

The gov't interest is what the first article says; lowering the rate of unintended pregnancies by making birth control affordable and accessible. And I would add that it's about people's health in general. Having sex and giving birth are risky things. Contraception allows people to control when they choose to enter into those risky situation. So I think any court would say that the gov't has a legitimate interest in providing these services. But why is the belief that contraception is wrong a religious belief, and should it be protected under the 1st amendment?

One of the things I think the catholic church would argue is that contraception is not natural, thus it is not moral. That contraception isn't natural is true. But just because something isn't natural doesn't mean it is morally bad. Driving a car isn't natural. God clearly intended for us to walk to places. Yet I don't think the church has a problem with cars, nor do I see them lobbying as hard against pollution that unnatural cars cause as they do against contraception. So I don't see how the "natural" argument has any legs as a legit argument.

Believing that there is a god that created everything is a religious belief. Believing that Jesus, Moses, or Muhammad are prophets sent by god to help save us is as well. So is believing that Jesus walked on water or Moses walked across the middle of the Red Sea. But what does your stance on whether a person should use contraception have to do with any of that? Basically what I'm asking is, what is a religious belief?

Would it constitute a religious belief to state that it's my religious belief that women who aren't 100% sure they want a child should use contraception? Or what if I said that it's my religious belief that Duke is the most sacred of all basketball institutions and Maryland is the embodiment of evil? What is the difference in those two "beliefs"? The catholic church would probably say that the issue of contraception is a moral one, since they believe some or another about what constitutes life. But hey, I would respond. Why isn't my belief in Duke's inherent goodness over Maryland's a moral one as well? I can make any belief a moral one if you give me enough room. So I think you have to go beyond it being a moral issue to meet the standard of a religious belief, and thus be protected by the religious clauses of the 1st amendment.

Back to the current issue, what if the catholic church all of the sudden reversed itself and said it's not it's belief that it should support the poor? Let's say they started to believe that being poor was a purely individual choice that only reflected individual weakness and they didn't want to perpetuate dependency on others by helping people who chose not to help themselves. Would religious organizations such as the religiously affiliated hospitals in question in that second article then be exempt from treating people who don't have insurance? Would the gov't requirement that all hospitals have to treat emergencies then become unconstitutional on the same grounds that the second article argues the contraceptive requirement is?

I think it would using their argument. But what I have been trying to get across is that their claim of religious freedom infringement hinges on a belief that is not strictly a religious belief. At what point is a belief protected under freedom of religion? I think a church's view on contraception really blurs that line and calls into question what is protected under the 1st amendment.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Battlestar Galactica: leadership

The two episodes that were on last night were "Razor". They chronicled Apollo's first mission on the Battlestar Pegasus. And while doing that they did a lot of flashbacks in order to give some of the characters from Pegasus some backstory. We see a lot of Admiral Cain, who was killed by cylon #6, played by Tricia Helfrer. When Pegasus first arrived we got a pretty good sense that Cain was a hard ass and a bit out there, at least compared to Adama. Now we get a really clear sense just how crazy she was.

For starters, she executes her XO because he refuses to follow her orders, orders which pitted her very outnumbered squad against the cylons despite previously saying she wouldn't do something of the sort. Then she orders civilians to be killed because they won't give up their resources, which would basically leave them for dead if the cylons find them. She also authorizes the torture of #6, which is why it eventually kills Cain. And aside from being homicidal and sadistic, Cain is just a very angry and authoritative person.

Contrast Cain with Adama and you see a big difference. I was thinking it throughout the whole episode and Adama himself addresses it at the end. He says that given similar circumstances he would have turned out to be Cain. But he had Lee, Roslin, and Tai to keep him accountable and stable. Indeed, if we think back all the way to the beginning of the series, right after the cylons attack, Adama wants to strike back. But Roslin overrides his decision and gets him to save as many people as they can and escape to safety. Col Tai disagrees with orders sometimes. But Adama has so much respect for him that it doesn't undermine his command. And as Adama says, he looks at his son as a moral standard-bearer. He always feels like he has to explain his actions to Lee. And Lee is always willing to hold his father accountable.

The leadership Adama, Cain, and our own military leaders provide is important. In times of war we have to heavily rely on their expertise in order to get us through it. But what "Razor" and issues like Bradley Manning, Abu-Grahib, and torture in general, demonstrate is the importance of leadership alongside that of military leaders. We make the president the commander in chief so that the military is held accountable by the people. When the president is deferential or compliant to the military we get torture or the gross mistreatment of Bradley Manning. When you get strong leadership like Laura Roslin provides you get a fair trial for Baltar and generally good decisions from Adama. Even in the drastic circumstances the fleet faces in BSG they are able to use checks and balances more effectively than we do currently in the US. And it's in part because we lack strong, moral, and effective leadership.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Federalism I can get behind

I spend a lot of time talking about the problems with states rights. But that is mostly a reaction to conservatives blindly calling for more states rights just because they don't like the federal gov't. When I do that I might make the mistake of appearing as though I don't think there is a role for states in terms of important policy that exists in other states or is also a federal issue in some sense. Republican governor of New Jersey demonstrates a way in which I think states have an important role:

[L]et us reclaim the lives of those drug offenders who have not committed a violent crime. By investing time and money in drug treatment – in an in-house, secure facility – rather than putting them in prison. Experience has shown that treating non-violent drug offenders is two-thirds less expensive than housing them in prison. And more importantly – as long as they have not violently victimized society – everyone deserves a second chance, because no life is disposable. I am not satisfied to have this as merely a pilot project; I am calling for a transformation of the way we deal with drug abuse and incarceration in every corner of New Jersey.

The federal gov't has terrible drug policies. And states like New Jersey have an opportunity to try and change that. Gay marriage is another issue where some states are implementing good policies that go against poor federal policies. I applaud these efforts and hope every state does the same. But one reason I always emphasize the importance of the federal gov't is that in the end, that is where the good policies have to end up. I just don't see how policies like marijuana legalization or gay marriage will make their way to every state. If they don't the federal gov't can solve that problem.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Batman and social disorder

If there is a confluence of two things I love that I can't pass up talking about it's Batman and politics. Jamelle Bouie has a response to two posts that discuss the relationship between Batman and the social disorder that exists in the Christopher Nolan movies. You can find the original post that sparked the debate in that link, along with the first response to that post.

Basically, Taylor Marvin, in his original post, says that Batman destabilizes Gotham to the point where the gov't does not have a monopoly on the use of force. That in return creates social disorder because human's construct societies on the basis that the state has a monopoly on the use of violence. We maintain order by telling ourselves that uses of violence outside of the state are illegitimate. And when problems arise the state can solve them through violence because we deem their action legitimate.

Erik Kain responded by pointing saying:

The central thesis, as I see it, is that Batman would be unnecessary if good people not wearing masks would actually stand up and recapture their own self-determination. A vigilante is not necessary for this at all. Batman is the option of last resort.

Jamelle adds:

It should be said that this is the only way to understand Batman’s refusal to kill. For as much as he breaks the government’s monopoly on force, Bruce Wayne doesn’t want to supplant the institutions of Gotham, he wants to aid them. Killing a villain like the Joker solves the short-term problem of a murderous psychopath, but does immense damage to the long-term goal—by executing criminals, Batman flaunts the law in its entirety, and completely undermines the legitimacy of Gotham and its institutions.

I think this is correct. Batman wants to work with Gordon in order to restore the legitimacy of the state. And the state was illegitimate before Bruce Wayne decided to become Batman, as Kain points out. So Batman didn't create social disorder. It was already there. He was a reaction to it. But he did have an effect on the disorder that was already there. He helped make it worse by prompting a response from the Joker.

Then Jamelle discusses Bruce's motivation to become Batman:

Thomas Wayne was a philanthropist who sought to improve Gotham and the lives of its most vulnerable citizens. This, more than anything else, is why Bruce Wayne donned the mantle of Batman. It’s not that he’s “incapable of dealing with loss and forming real relationships,” it’s that he wants to build a Gotham where his childhood loss is never felt by anyone, ever again.

Put another way—as we see with Ducard in the first film—vengence will only take you so far. You need a positive goal to keep striving. Bruce wants a better Gotham, which is why he’s willing to endure the hatred of his home if that’s what it takes to build the city into something durable.

Again, I think he is correct. Check the link for why he comes to that conclusion. I wanted to add to this discussion by pointing out something Jamelle doesn't fully touch on, which is why Bruce didn't go strictly down the path towards vengeance. Remember that in Batman Begins Bruce is filled with anger when he comes back to Gotham in order to go to the hearing for the man who killed his parents, Joe Chills. In fact, he is attending the hearing so that he can kill Chills. But he doesn't get the chance. Falcone has someone kill Chills before Bruce can.

After Bruce sees the murder he talks to Rachel about it. He confesses to Rachel that he was going to exact justice himself if it weren't for Falcone's hit. But Rachel corrects him and says that vengeance isn't justice. And that is not what his father was fighting for. This is the turning point for Bruce. He realizes Rachel is right and that vengeance, or murder, is not the way to go. He confronts Falcone and realizes that he can't fight him and the social disorder that he has helped create on his own. And this prompts him to leave Gotham to find himself and figure out how to deal with the injustice in the city. He then becomes Batman.

But this all hinges on Falcone's hit man getting to Joe Chills before Bruce does. If Bruce gets there first he becomes the murderer and probably spends the rest of his life in prison. I guess we can debate whether or not Bruce would have actually gone through with it. But as far as I can remember, Nolan doesn't give us a reason not to think he would. After all, Bruce turns out to be the kind of person who dresses up like a bat and fights criminals. He is fairly comfortable with violence. And instead of going with Rachel and not watching Chills die like she wants, he makes a point to stand there and watch him die. In a way, he gets his vengeance. Just not in the exact manner he wanted.

And in the same manner Bruce becoming Batman depended on Falcone's hit getting their first, the existence of Batman hinges on Rachel convincing Bruce that justice means more than killing those who have wronged you, and that Bruce's father wouldn't approve of what Bruce was going to do. I'm not sure how this is directly relatable to the original discussion of social disorder. But it further clarifies how much the existence of Batman is tied to an already disordered society.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The narrative about welfare

Newt Gingrich doesn't understand why calling food stamps an African-American issue is insulting:

JUAN WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic, and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?

GINGRICH: No, I don’t see that.

He doesn't understand why because he doesn't know that, as the link points out, most black people aren't on food stamps. Nor are most of the people on food stamps black people. So why would food stamps be a black person issue instead of a white person issue, or more specifically a child and old person issues?

The reason is because Republicans, and Democrats to a certain extent, have built a narrative about food stamps, welfare, and welfare-type programs in general which says that these programs are mostly about white people just giving black people things. The first thing many people think of when they hear welfare is the derogatory term "welfare queen". But just like with food stamps, white people make up most of welfare's recipients. This is in part because the media frames these issues in ways that focus on black people. And I'm sure that plays a significant role in the narrative Republicans construct.

But that narrative exists because it goes to the core of two things Republicans are about, resentment and suspicion of people that aren't like them. Even if you told Republicans that most of welfare and food stamps go to white people, not to mention kids and the elderly, they would still not like it. Why? Because they don't like the idea of the gov't explicitly handing things away to people, especially people they think don't deserve it. They don't think poor people deserve handouts because they are blind to structural barriers in society. Everything to them is all about the individual. But combine that with the fact that some of those poor people are black and you get an even heightened sense of suspicious because they are different than the good, deserving white people who work hard and don't need the gov't to help them out.

Fear of different looking people, resentment, and hostility towards anything the gov't does to help people other than themselves is why Republicans and Gingrich don't understand why it's insulting to black people to frame the issue of food stamps or welfare in terms of just black people. That's why they get called racists. And when that happens they just hunker down and feel more resentment because they have also internalized a narrative about racism which states that the only true racism that still exists is the kind where white people are unfairly called racists. So liberals need to stick to the facts when confronting people like Gingrich and stay away from the name calling.

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK day

I'm outsourcing this one:

At the end of his all too short life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to realize that the full meaning of the black freedom struggle was not just the achievement of a cup of coffee at an integrated restaurant, or riding in the front seat of a city bus. The “dream deferred,” in poet Langston Hughes’s words, was America’s failure to address poverty, from Harlem to Appalachia, from Indian reservations to the barrio of East Los Angeles. Striking black sanitation workers in Memphis, who were fighting for decent wages, represented the dream deferred. The dream deferred was personified by millions of Americans without adequate housing and health care. Like brother Malcolm X before him, Martin moved from a civil rights agenda, to a human rights agenda. His vision for racial justice had also become a vision of social justice, full human equality, and economic fairness for all. This was the dream deferred beyond considerations of race and color; his dream of economic democracy was not simplistically black vs. white, it was fundamentally about “the haves” vs. “the have nots.”

What has become of King’s dream deferred? As the events that defined the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, our vision of their significance, grown distant in time, can easily become distorted. Historical memory is always selective. But it is truly ironic; nevertheless, that those conservative political forces that opposed what Martin believed in, and gave his life to achieve, are now saying that he was one of them all along.

The bolded part is greatly overlooked. Liberals need to do a better job of invoking MLK when discussing those issues.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Further thoughts on censorship

This is one of those issues that really interests me. I guess that's because it lies in the middle of two of my favorite things, politics and tv. So I keep thinking about this. And the more I think about it the more I don't like what the FCC does and what the Supreme Court has previously ruled on obscenity cases.

In most free speech cases the court rules on whether the speech in question posed an immediate threat for violence. I forget the legal wording of the test they use. But basically you can't incite riot or yell fire in a crowded theater. And it also depends on your location for how much speech you are entitled to. In these cases, the court is pretty reasonable. But when it comes to obscenity I think they are off the mark.

I'm not going to dig back into the specific cases. So forgive me if this isn't an in depth analysis. But I think if you asked the court for a definition of obscenity they would have a difficult time defining it, or giving us a test as to whether something meets the standard and is thus able to be censored. And I think that is part of the argument the defendants are using to counter the FCC in the case before the court right now. Having said that, the court generally finds that certain forms of profanity and most nudity are obscene in certain situations.

Just like with other free speech cases, the situation is very important. If you are standing on your soapbox on a public corner or public park you are pretty much free to speak your mind. If you are showing a sex scene in which two people are describing their act using the word fuck on HBO you are ok. If you show that scene on CBS between noon and 8 at night you aren't. But tv is a different speech environment than standing on a public street. If you and your kid are walking down the street you have a hard time avoiding the speech from the person on the soapbox. Whereas on tv you can easily avoid the profanity laced sex scene by not going on that channel, or even having it blocked.

Aside from those issues, I want the court to address the very nature of obscenity. Why are certain kinds of profanity and nudity/sex obscene? Why are some kinds of violence obscene and others not? Nudity in and of itself is, needless to say, very natural. The act of seeing another person's nude body will not harm anyone. Granted, I don't really want to see Denis Franz's ass. But it won't harm me and I can change the channel. The same goes for sex. Again, it's a completely nature act that (aside from rape) could harm you just by witnessing it. But for some reason our society deems nudity and sex to be dirty or slightly immoral when publicly displayed. And I think it's that reason the court throws them into the obscenity bin. They are legislating morality, and doing a shitty job.

As much as Americans don't want sex on their tv they probably don't want profanity just as much, if not more. But it's the same case as with nudity and sex. There is no harm to hearing, for instance, George Carlin's seven dirty words. I can turn to my 20 month year old nephew right now and say 'fuck' and no harm will come of him. There. I just did it. Nothing happened. He is fine. So what are the court and the FCC protecting people from when they censor certain words or nudity/sex? Nothing. They are just enforcing popular public views on what is "appropriate" for people to see and heard on tv.

Violence is a different story. I have read of studies that show that kids who see violence could be more prone to it as adults. I think that study was more about physically seeing it right in front of them. But it could be possible that seeing it on tv or film can have the effect. And unlike nudity, sex, and language, violence is inherently traumatic. Thus seeing it can have a traumatic effect. I'd leave it to psychologists to determine what type of violence should be censored for kids. But this is the only type of censorship I think is necessary. Everything else is not obscene and it's desire to be shown on tv will be largely determined by the market.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The disconnect between Ron Paul and liberals

Conor Friedersdorf tries to reconcile the disconnect and asks what liberals would do if they reject Paul. Conor always has smart things to say. And that is the case in this instance.

But one thing missing from his article and all of Glenn Greenwald's on this subject is the effect of the economy on the public's attention. The media and politicians help drive political narratives. And since the recession towards the end of 2008, that narrative has largely been focussed on the economy.

Thus, because of the media coverage and because the economy affects them more than Iraq/Afghanistan/executive power/etc., the public has been more focussed on that issue more than everything else. These issues were so important in 2006 and most of 2008 because the economy was doing well. The media and the public were able to focus their attention to other issues. And aside from a bad economy, wars are usually big news.

I'm not sure if there is polling that addresses these issues that Paul is supposedly challenging liberals on. But I don't think there would be huge differences in liberals' opinions now as compared to 06 and 08. There probably will be some differences if you frame it in a manner that has Obama or a liberal supporting or implementing the anti-libertarian policy because confirmation bias can be strong. But I think part of the disconnect with Paul and liberals is a lack of focus on the national security/foreign policy issues and the continuing focus on a crappy economy.

Romney's flip flopping problem

Phillip Klein thinks it will be a bigger problem in the general election than it is in the primary:

During a primary, there’s a certain political balancing act to flip-flopping. On the one hand, changing positions makes a candidate seem inauthentic, but on the other hand, people like it when you agree with them. As it applies to Romney and conservatives, the debate has been between those who see his numerous reversals as evidence that he isn’t truly a conservative, and his supporters, who tout the fact that his current rhetoric is conservative. During the primary season, for instance, some pro-life conservatives have remained suspicious that he’s really one of them, whereas others have argued that opponents of abortion should welcome converts.

But should he be become the nominee, Romney will have to earn the votes of a lot of people who don’t necessarily agree with him. So he’ll essentially get all of the political downside of being a flip-flopper with none of the offsetting benefits. Pro-choice independents, will not only be turned off by his flip flops, but they won’t be happy that he’s now pro-life. So it kind of becomes a double whammy.O

On top of this, he'll have less leeway to shift positions during the general election than typical nominees, because even the slightest change would reinforce the charge.

Ultimately, like everything else, the outcome of the election will likely depend on how the economy is doing. And if it’s bad enough, voters will be more willing to take a chance on Romney. But nobody should underestimate how problematic the flip-flopper label will be to a broader electorate.

He gets a lot correct here. His flipping of positions do make conservative voters question how conservative he really is. And since in the primary there are other candidates who are taking those same positions and who have had those positions for longer than Romney there is a very real possibility that voters will choose another candidate. He is also correct that Romney will have to get some people who don't agree with him on every issue during the general. And mostly, he is correct that in the end the economy will play the biggest role in whether Romney will beat Obama.

But I think the flip flopping problem is more of a concern in the primary than it is the general. Again, Klein gets it correct when he says people like it when you agree with them. And during the general election conservatives will agree with Romney much more often than they will Obama. Even if they are fully aware that he flip flopped on any number of issues, it is still better for Romney that he currently holds conservative views because Obama has never held those views and will never hold them. Why would these people choose the person they disagree with 100% of the time over the person they may disagree with 50% of the time? Unlike in the primary, the people only have two viable choices (unless Ron Paul runs as a third party candidate).

I'm not completely sure Romney could get the Republican nomination without flip flopping. How would he be winning conservative voters by sticking to fully endorsing an individual mandate or abortion? Klein tries to tie in independents as a way where his flip flopping will hurt in the general. But I think this analysis is relying on the myth that there are as many independents as they claim to be. Most independents are consistent partisan voters. Most of these independent voters are going to vote the party. And even if they don't, it's likely that they will make their choice more based on the economy than an issue like abortion. Basically, the number of voters who would actually have their vote swayed by his flip flop on abortion or other single issues is extremely small and extremely unlikely to have much influence on whether he wins a state, more or less the entire election.

I don't think this is understating the problem with flip flopping. I think this is just accurately stating what the problem is, which is that it makes him vulnerable in the primary. But it probably won't matter in the general. People will vote their party and the economy. And if Romney is in the position to have his flip flopping hurt him significantly in the general, it will probably be due to the fact that he convinced enough conservatives in the primary that he is sufficiently conservative. And he would have done that in part by flip flopping.

Justice Roberts' tv guide

From the FCC case:

Roberts jumps in to add, “People who want to expose their children to broadcasts where these words are used, there are 800 channels where they can go for that. All we are asking for ...” he stops himself. ”What the government is asking for, is a few channels where you can say they are not going to hear the S-word, the F-word. They are not going to see nudity.”

What kind of cable provider does he have? I can probably list the number of channels where I can hear the word fuck or actually see some fucking on both hands. Roberts, or the gov't, has more than enough channels where kids won't hear the words shit and fuck or see nudity. Those channels make up the vast majority of channels on tv. The gov't is already getting what it is in court arguing for.

I'm glad to see Justice Ginsburg address the contradiction in FCC policy regarding showing violence. I think it's much more damaging for kids to see violence, someone being shot or beat up, than it is for them to hear someone say fuck or to see a naked ass on tv. A lot of profanity is adjectives or adverbs that are meant to express heightened emotion. And nudity is completely natural. Neither of those things can harm a kid. But seeing violence could potentially harm them psychologically.

That's not to say I would support censoring violence on tv (only in certain circumstances). It's just to point out the contradiction in gov't policy and the fact that the policy really isn't protecting anyone from anything. This is really just about some people and the gov't imposing their morals on the rest of us. And like I said in my post yesterday, the market would probably take care of things for those uber-sensitive people who would be "offended" by profanity and nudity. But I'm not holding out hope that the supreme court will find that free speech means that people will inevitably be offended not matter how many channels are set aside for "non-offensive" content. I mean, otherwise, why can't I get the FCC to regulate Jersey Shore and half the shit on tv?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ron Paul post of the day: racism edition pt. 2

I can't help it. Congress is out of session, despite what Republicans want you to believe. So the GOP primary is the big political news. And while at times I enjoy pointing out ridiculous things the candidates say, that gets old and repetitive after a while. But Ron Paul consistently raises important points that even liberal politicians don't address often enough, especially Barak Obama. Here he is talking about racism:

"True racism in this country is in the judicial system," he said in his counterattack to the ABC News panelist at the New Hampshire debate. "And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws.

"Look at the percentages. The percentages of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites. And yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They're prosecuted and imprisoned way disproportionately. They get the death penalty way disproportionately.

"How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair or get, you know, execution?"

That last line is also a statement about class, which is also about race to some extent but more about economic opportunity since it affects people of all races. But back to race, I think Paul is right on point. This is the liberal argument about racism in this country. To Republicans racism is mostly non-existant. When it does exist it's mostly apparent when white people are being accused of racism unfairly. That's really the only time you hear them talk about the issue. And Democrats are so afraid of getting Republicans to scream bloody murder using that line that they don't address the kind of racism that Paul describes.

If Obama has made similar points I don't remember them, and they didn't make any difference when it comes to policy. At best his administration has said they won't prosecute some federal marijuana laws that run opposed to some state laws. But I'm not sure what the status is of that. If they have followed through that's nice. But it's not nearly enough. And his administration is still fighting the 'drug war' that is producing the racist incarceration results Paul points out.

What I like about Paul's response is that he doesn't just base his anti-drug war policy on libertarian grounds. That's a valid and important argument, that people should be left to do what they want to their bodies, especially if it doesn't really do that much harm (though I don't know how he reconciles this with his abortion stance). And on that point alone I support the legalization of marijuana and huge changes in drug enforcement laws. But to acknowledge that racism is part of why our drug policies are so wrong shows that he cares about the injustice that racism produces. It suggests that he isn't quite as ideologically dedicated to pure libertarianism as myself and others have accused him of being.

I mentioned in my post about Paul and Iran that I wish he could get the GOP nomination so that he could debate that and other foreign policy issues with Obama. Add this issue to the list that I want to see him discuss with Obama. Having an old white guy representing a party that is largely blind to racism point out to our first black president that our drug policies (which that president has largely continued) are racist and should be ended would hopefully be an eye-opener for the country and force Obama and Democrats to take more action.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Free speech on tv

I don't often find political topics on Pajiba, one of my favorite sites. But they have a post up today making the argument that the FCC shouldn't regulate what is said or shown on tv.

The Internet is free market. I have the First Amendment right to say anything I want in the language that I prefer, but advertisers have every right not to advertise on our pages, and readers have the same right to read Yahoo News, instead, where you’re less likely to run across a string of profanities or threats upon your life.

But you know who doesn’t have that right? Broadcast networks. Instead of allowing advertisers and viewers to decide what programs and what channels to watch or advertise on based on content and language, the FCC has prohibits the use of certain words or certain levels of sex and violence during certain times of the day, and this despite the fact that cable programming — which goes unregulated by the FCC — is allowed to air what it wants, when it wants.

But it doesn’t. Because the cablers are smart enough to know that kids may be watching in the afternoon, and airing sex and profanity at 4p.m. would likely get them in trouble, lose them viewers, and cost them advertisers. The bottom line rules all.

That sounds right. HBO, Cinemax, and the like have been showing sex, violence, and profanity for decades now and our virtuous culture is still hanging on by a thread. The same is true for the internet, but it's even more available to our impressionable youth than tv. And yet our society goes on. So I think the FCC is mostly a waste. If you want to say 'fuck' or show some tits and dicks on your show you should be able to. As Dustin says, revenue will dictate that not many shows will do so and all you people who don't like profanity or nudity will probably not have to see it. But even if you do, just change the channel.

How will the Supreme Court come down on this? I dunno: You’d imagine that the conservatives would come down on the side of less regulation, and that the liberals would come down on the side of free speech. It should be a no brainer.

Ideologically he is correct. You can easily see Ron Paul siding against the FCC, which would be the proper conservative policy. But conservatives don't care about the free speech aspect here because they are so infused with Christianist ideas that they can't come off as supporting fucking and bewbs and cocks. They have to keep this idea going that they support 'family values', despite the fact that doing so in this case goes against conservative principles of a free market economy.

Liberals don't care so much about the free market when it comes to the economy because problems arise when left unchecked. But in this case there are no problems with letting tv companies regulate themselves. They already do to some extent. So when you combine the free speech aspect to this case liberals should have no problems opposing the FCC. Not to mention that both liberals and conservatives should also be very opposed to the internet legislation that is trying to make its way out of congress.

New Van Halen single

I think I've mentioned this before, but I love Van Halen. They are probably my favorite band of all time. So I'm glad they are releasing a new album, and more glad they are touring for that album. As is apparently the standard now and days they have release a single off that album, which can be found here. My first impression is, eh. The tempo is a bit too slow. And there is no real hook or riff.

I'm weird with music. Sometimes I hear something right away and I get it, like Lady Gaga for example, or when I heard Van Halen for the first time. Other times I hear something and it takes a while for me to get into it, like Iron Maiden or Sum 41's "Does This Look Infected". It's possible I'll end up liking this new single. But I doubt it. I generally need that hook from the guitar. Hopefully the rest of the album gives me some of that.

Rick Santorum is without class

Not because of his ridiculous views on gay rights and contraception. He doesn't like acknowledging the idea of different classes in American society. He doesn't even think they exist. I highly doubt Santorum is making a semantic or philosophical point when he criticizes other politicians for talking about class. I'm pretty sure it's just his way of crying class warfare.

And he is far from alone in that regard. Nearly every Republican you hear talk will eventually get to the great injustice that is done by Democrats when they engage in class warfare. Never mind that they use violent language to describe it or never really describe what it is in detail. It's just more ridiculous rhetoric. But what makes Santorum's efforts different are that most Republicans at least acknowledge that there are different classes. It's hard for some to go an entire speech without heaping praise on the always important and greatest group of people ever, the middle class.

So why has Santorum gone this route? A lot of people take pride in identifying with the middle class. So Santorum might risk upsetting those people by saying there are no classes. Even if you don't like "class warfare" I think most people acknowledge there is an economic difference between the rich and everyone else. So it's weird to me that he would go this route. Maybe he sees it as another way to assure people that their taxes won't increase. Maybe he is trying to play into the 'American dream' type thinking in which he wants to play off everyone's desire to become rich. If it's not one of those things then I'm stumped. And if it is one of those things, I don't know why he would take it so far as to say there are no classes. You can get those points across without going that route.

What Republican voters should hear when Santorum says that and when Republicans in general throw out the class warfare line is a bunch of shit. It's a way for them to ignore the vast inequality in this country and the fact that they can't close budget deficits without increasing taxes. It's how they divorce themselves from the responsibility of outcomes they and their constituents claim to dislike while trying to make themselves look like they are sticking to conservative principles, which in reality boils down to giving the rich as much as they can. I guess in that sense Santorum is correct. For Republicans like him there are no class distinctions because the only one exists to them, the upper class.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Battlestar back on track

I haven't written about Battlestar Galactica in a while because the third season has been different from the first two. Much of it has been character drive, specifically Apollo and Starbuck. But with this episode, called Dirty Hands which is co-written by Buffy alumn Jane Espenson, we get back to what BSG was the first two seasons.

They pack a ton of political issues into this episode. There is unions, collective bargaining, class, equality, aristocracy, due process, indefinite detention, free speech, and probably one or two more I'm forgetting. Basically the workers are unhappy with their work conditions so they stop producing fuel. As with every issue on BSG, the circumstances they face make it a bit different than the political issues we face in the US. Fuel production for us probably isn't life or death. But for the fleet it could turn into a life or death situation if the cylons attack.

So you can understand why Adama and Roslin take a firm stance with the workers and the chief, who takes their side and stages a strike. They have to worry about the safety of the entire fleet. But eventually Roslin agrees with the chief that if more isn't done to improve work conditions and the lives of workers in general there won't be much of a fleet to keep safe. This is very similar to the rhetoric you hear about the middle class in the US. And I think it's correct for the most part. The lack of a viable or at least stable working class is probably a reason for the civic unrest throughout the middle east. And you would see a much different political environment here in the US if our middle class deteriorated. That's why unions are the notions of equality of opportunity are so important.

The other politically relevant part of the episode involved Dr. Baltar. In the episode before this one we were left with Roslin calling for Baltar to stand trial. It's unclear how much time has passed since then. But there is no talk of a trial. And Baltar is having his writings seized by Roslin and kept in his cell without much due process to speak of. Baltar is no Bradley Manning, who is still being held and treated poorly by our military. And Baltar did have a hand in the enslavement of the fleet that inhabited New Caprica. So his situation is not quite as disgraceful as Manning's. But regardless of his crimes, Baltar should be afforded due process. If he is guilty of a crime he should stand trial and be convicted.

And he should be able to distribute his writings. If his book was inciting the overthrow of Roslin or the gov't she would have cause to seize them. But from what we are told Baltar is simply warning the fleet of the dangers of a budding aristocracy. He even has a hand in convincing the chief to lead the workers on their strike and get concessions from Roslin. Part of what convinces the chief is his wife, who read Baltar's book, discussing how all of the officers on Galactica are from richer colonies while the workers are from poorer colonies. So while Baltar has done some bad things, he relates his life story to the people of the fleet who are struggling and brings important issues to the forefront. Perhaps there is hope for some redemption for him yet.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ron Paul and Obama on Iran

Andrew Sullivan has a good post up explaining why Paul is right and Obama is wrong on this issue. We have both discussed this before. But I want to talk about again because I think it's an important issue and a good barometer for a president and I like talking nuclear weapons. First, here is what I said back in November:

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

Andrew adds another example of a country moderating after getting nukes:

Since China's adoption of nuclear status, it has actually behaved more responsibly abroad, not less. Jon makes a very persuasive case that nuclear weapons really don't give countries much of an edge, and, if anything, tend to calm them down, especially is they are in a region where they have foes who do have such weapons.

Ron Paul is the only candidate that seems to understand this. I'm not exactly sure how his policy would play out. But he seems willing to not provoke Iran, unlike Obama, and allow them to obtain nukes. You can disagree with that or be a bit weary of could happen if an accident were to occur, which I am. But it suggests to me that Paul has given the issue some thought and that he doesn't hold the same deranged sense of American (and Israeli) superiority that the rest of this country does.

This is why Paul is getting so much play on political blogs. These are the ideas that so many liberals, libertarians, and conservatives want implemented. And they are the ones that Obama is ignoring and outright repudiating. It still seems unlikely, but I wish Paul could win the Republican nominee so that we could see him debate these issues with Obama.

Ron Paul and majoritarian democracy

If you're like me you're tired of the Ron Paul talk. Hell, I'm tired of the entire GOP nomination process. I just don't care since I don't have a horse in the race. But the Paul talk won't go away on the blogs so I wanted to address it again. The fractured nature of the support and dislike for Paul highlights one of the fundamental consequences of the nature of our system of gov't, one that has benefits and problems.

The US is a majoritarian democracy. We elect people by seeing who gets a majority of the vote. In order to get a majority of the vote in a country as large as ours, you need a ton of people voting for you. This is why political parties were formed. You need a national organization that can bring in the number of people you need to get elected. And there have only been two parties at a time for most of our country's history because it's really difficult for a third party to get enough people to vote for it in order to win. A third party just drags support away from one of both of the other parties, but ends up hurting one more than another. That or one party sees an opportunity to get that support so it changes it's stances.

The problem with this is that you get each party trying to define it's position on issues in as broad a way as it can while still being different enough to distinguish itself from the other party. With the current Republican candidates, most of them agree on most of the issues. The same was true with the Democrats in 2008. However, Ron Paul has serious disagreements with many of those issue positions. But he agrees more with Reps than he does Dems. And he realizes that he has practically no chance to be president unless he joins one of those parties. Thus he is a Republican.

Americans like to complain about partisanship and the problems with parties. But when it comes to voting the vast majority of them vote for one of those parties. That's because they understand that a candidate from one of those parties will win. You can vote for Ralph Nader because you don't like both parties or because he best represents your ideals. But he has basically no chance of winning.

So let's say Paul beats the odds and is the Republican nominee. If you are like me and your ideals are kind of split between Obama and Paul you have three options. Vote Obama, even though you disagree with some serious things he's done. Vote Paul, even though you worry he will follow through on the issues you disagree with him on. Or vote independent, even though whoever that person is has practically no chance at winning.

I've gone the independent route before. And even then it's ideologically unfulfilling because odds are you are still going to disagree with something that person supports. I was happy with my vote for Obama for longer than I was my vote for Nader in 2004. So in 2012 I'll be left with either voting for Obama or some independent. I'll probably just vote independent since Obama won't win TN anyway and I can do it to protest Obama's crappy policies. But that's the equivalent of farting in the wind because you just aren't going to get enough people to agree to vote for the same non-party affiliated person as you want. So for all the Glenn Greenwalds out there, you're screwed until we get a proportional representation system.

One caveat. Paul is popular enough that if he were to run as an independent against Romney and Obama he could make things very difficult for both, though probably more for Romney. But like I said, the two parties would make an effort to draw support away from Paul and back to them by making concessions. This is the more efficient way of getting change than waiting on a proportional representation system. But it needs a unique candidate like Paul and lots of money. And it needs to stay active after the election in order to keep the winner honest. That's a ton to ask. But aside from changing things from within the party, it's probably the best bet.

Religious symbols on public land

I'm bored so I did something I usually don't do, which is go and look for something to post on. Usually I just read my standard blogs and post if something catches my eye. So I came across this story on crosses being put up at Camp Pendelton.

That's not the situation with the two newer crosses at the Marine base, which shouldn't have been allowed without a plan for a more universal memorial site. One course of action that would allow the new crosses to remain would be to invite Marines of other religious beliefs to add their own symbols to the hill. That would ensure the separation of church and state while also being sensitive to the sense of loss suffered by those in the armed services. It would create a place where all people in uniform can remember the sacrifices made by so many.

Crosses on a public site is the state endorsing christianity. The article does an decent job of making that point. But I think there is a mistake made in that last paragraph where it tries to find a middle ground. Inviting Marines who belong to other religions to display some of their symbols would not "ensure the separation of church and state". It would do the opposite. It would ensure the entanglement of churches and state. It's true that doing so would be an effort to give equal showing to several religions. And that's better than just having crosses. But it would still hold true that the state is endorsing religion.

The way to ensure the separation of church and state would be to actually separate them, or to remove all religious symbols from the public land. The only thing I can see that would be appropriate would be to let the family of the soldiers put whatever they want on their graves. That might technically still be public land. But the nature of the specific grave sites is a private memorial. Thus any symbol would be something that soldier and their family endorses, not really the state.

The cross or any symbol is unnecessary as a way to honor the soldiers. The fact that we set aside exclusive sites for our soldiers is the way in which we honor them. Putting religious symbols up is a way of honoring those religions. And that is the kind of thing the state has no business doing.

I've been to a military cemetery for my maternal grandparents' funerals. They were sufficiently honored without any religious displays. But because they were religious, the speaker threw in some religious words. And that was great because it was a private thing with the family. The whole site was kind of awe inspiring. Just seeing the vast number of sites and the wars they participated in was enough to make me want to honor them. And instead of a religious symbol, there was a huge American flag flying in the middle of the site. That's the only symbol the state needs to be putting on public land.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Duke loss follows familiar script

Every time Duke loses it feels like it's the same game. And it's been this way for years, possibly for the last decade. More often than not the team that defeats Duke has more athletic guards. The reason more athletic guards give Duke problems is because Duke plays man to man defense 99% of the time. It's a Coach K staple. He just loves to play aggressive, man to man defense in order to try and make the other team feel uncomfortable. But when the offensive player can dribble past the defender he negates this effect and creates an open shot for himself or another player. That's step one. The next step is to actually make those open shots. And like with Ohio State, Temple made a lot of those shots.

The other thing those more athletic guards do is make it really hard for Duke guards to get open shots. Coach K has no problem letting his shooters take 3 pointers. And like most other seasons, they have been very efficient shooting from 3 this season. This was the reason Rivers and Curry were leading the team in scoring. But against Temple they combined for 18 points on 5 for 16 shooting. They also played poorly against Ohio State, who like Temple could keep up with them off the ball and effectively contest their shots.

Offensively I'm not sure there is another Coach K can do. The best thing to do when you guards aren't scoring is to turn to your big men. And Duke did this fairly well against Temple. Both Plumlees played very well and kept the team in the game until the end. So despite a not so great offensive performance the team still scored 73 points. The real problem, and the main thing I criticize Coach K about, is defensively and the unwillingness to change philosophy. Zone is a four letter word to Coach K. Even when teams are consistently getting into the lane and scoring he doesn't try to counter it by going to a zone. Look at what teams are doing against the Miami Heat. They know that the only way to keep Lebron and Wade out of the lane is to play zone. Since they aren't great shooters they struggle to score. So if can work against two of the best basketball players on the planet it should work against college players. If Coach K isn't going to recruit great athletes I would love it if he could implement this scheme into his philosophy so that we can at least try to counter what happened against Temple and what seems to happen in a lot of our losses.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The two sides to Obama's use of presidential power

The big news recently is that Obama signed a bill that would allow him to indefinitely detain people suspected of terrorism. His signing statement ensures us that he won't use it to detain US citizens. But sorry if I don't just take your word for it. Not to mention it's not right to do to non-US citizens. You can't sign this bill and detain people abroad indefinitely and also claim to support human rights for the rest of the world. Basic due process is a fundamental right and without it you can't make a very big claim for supporting freedom.

So we can add this to a list of things Obama claims he has the power to do as president. That list includes, among others I'm sure I'm not remembering: the power to kill people (even US citizens) who he puts on some list because they suspect them of being a terrorist but who don't want to go through the trouble of capturing, the power to send drones to sovereign countries (even allies) and drop bombs on people they suspect of being terrorists (and take no accountability when those bombs kill civilians), the power to drop bombs on countries in order to try and keep their regimes from killing their citizens (ie. regime change) without permission from congress, the power to keep Gitmo open and not release detainees who are innocent, and any number of powers the come with the Patriot Act.

That's quite the list of presidential authority. Even the Bush administration didn't go that far in some places. But that list is pretty limited to national security/foreign policy issues. That's probably in large part due to the fact that those areas are where the president is vested with the most authority. Whereas domestic issues are more vested in congress. And that leads me to the other side of the coin, where Obama doesn't seem to use his power as president in the same aggressive manner than he does elsewhere. Adam Serwer has the comparison of Obama with the presidents since Reagan on how many recess appointments they made:

President Barack Obama used his authority to appoint former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Wednesday without approval from the Senate, which was in recess. By doing so, Obama defied Senate Republicans who had sought to block any and all such recess appointments by holding "pro-forma" sessions for the sole purpose of obstructing the president's ability to fill executive branch and judicial vacancies.

According to reports from the Congressional Research Service, during their time in office President Ronald Reagan made 240 recess appointments, President George H. W. Bush made 77 recess appointments, President Bill Clinton made 140 recess appointments, and George W. Bush made 171. Obama's first term has seen a paltry 28. In this context, Obama's move seems less like a power grab and more like the proverbial 98-pound weakling taking a second to wipe the sand out of his eyes.

The ratios are also similar when it comes to judicial appointments. And there is the infamous situation with the open seats on the fed. Obama has been very deferential to congressional republicans when it comes to their extremely high level of obstruction. The thing about recess appointments is that it's a way to get around that obstructionism. Yet Obama hasn't pursued it as often as other presidents. I'm not sure why, especially given his aggressive use of power that I mention above. It's strange that he would have some objection to using power in one instance and not another.

One reason I can think of is that they just don't see appointments as being as important as national security/foreign policy issues. Another is that even though some republicans might fuss over the list I posted above, there really isn't a lot of objection to it from republicans. The indefinite detention bill passed with bipartisan support. Perhaps Obama doesn't use his power on domestic issues because he doesn't want to make the opposition mad. This would seem to fit with legislative style.

Whatever the reason, it's nice to see him finally use his power to get something good done. Though he should probably be as aggressive with that power as he has elsewhere because that's the only way to get these appointments through. And the public doesn't care about this. Even political junkies probably won't remember this stuff in 10 months. Though I hope people remember the national security/foreign policy instances of his use of power and try to hold him accountable.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ron Paul's honesty

Nearly every article I've read about him since his newsletters have become news have talked about how honest he is and how he speaks truth to power. That's true. And it's an admirable trait for someone to have, especially a modern politician. But I think the fact that this trait has been so admired about Paul recently speaks to just how bad everyone else is on that front.

Ron Paul is way out there on numerous issues; monetary policy, regulation, economic policy in general, and federalism (which encompasses nearly every policy since he would just leave it up to states). I'd even argue that his foreign policy is a bit out there. It's great that he would stop fighting unnecessary wars. But he seems to want to do a lot more than that. And even though I want us to scale back, I don't want us to stop giving monetary and diplomatic aid to the rest of the world. That could be in the same ballpark in terms of danger to us as overreaching is.

Paul says he wants to end the drug way and generally respect people's civil rights. But what if states want to keep fighting drug wars, keep gay people from getting married, or infringe on people's rights in the name of fighting terrorism or crime in general? What if a state wants to enact anti-free market economic policies on it's businesses and people? In those circumstances would Paul use the authority of the federal gov't to enforce the principles he claims to hold dear? Or would he sit back and adhere to the federalist principles he also claims to hold dear?

I don't think there is a clear answer to any of those questions. And the consequences of him not fulfilling his desire to protect people's rights could be almost as important as Obama's failures have been. The point I'm trying to reinforce is that Paul holds some radical views. And just because he is honest about expressing those views doesn't make them any better. All of Paul's good virtues and great policies he supports don't make going back on the gold standard or letting states oppress gay people's rights any better.

I appreciate that the likes of Glenn Greenwald, Ross Douthat, Conor Friedersdorf, and Andrew Sullivan are trying to keep liberals honest by pointing out that Paul supports policies Obama said he would but hasn't since he has been in office. But just like liberals can't (or at least shouldn't) ignore Obama's failures of those issues, we shouldn't ignore the questionable policies Paul endorses just because he is being honest or because the rest of the GOP is an absolute laughing stock. What matters is policy and the effect that policy has on people. And while I have been very disappointed with Obama's policies and his lack of honesty, I don't think Ron Paul would be better on the whole.

What I think Paul and Obama show us is that we need to expect more from out leaders. They both hold traits that are good. But they are incomplete. They rise to the top because they are just the best options amongst a bunch of bad options. If we make it clear that these incomplete candidates aren't good enough we wouldn't have to harp on those few good things and make qualifying endorsements. But that is one of the challenges of American democracy.