Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The drone madness continues

I've been feeling a bit lazy lately. So I'll just let this largely speak for itself. Here is how the Obama administration keeps track of the effects of its drone:

"It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent," the newspaper reports. "Counter-terrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good."
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama's trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the "single digits" -- and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it "guilt by association" that has led to "deceptive" estimates of civilian casualties. "It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants," the official said. "They count the corpses and they're not really sure who they are."

This may be a crazy idea. But perhaps before we send a drone to go bomb and kill someone, we should find out who that person is and whether or not they should be killed, much less whether it's legally and morally correct to kill them once we know one fucking thing about them.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mad Men

Spoilers for tonights episode (May 27th) will follow.

This is the first season I've watched live. I watched the entire series up to this season in the months leading up to it and I've really it and the current season. Tonight's episode might have been one of the better ones I've seen. Again, spoilers to follow.

I was really sad for Joan. Basically, she whored herself out for her future financial wellbeing, and maybe for the sake of the company. I think it was more for herself given the scene where her mom tells her the fridge needs to be repaired and the previous scene a few episodes ago where she turned down money from Rodger. I was sad because for the most part Joan is a strong headed person. She generally doesn't take people's shit. But sometimes she conforms to the roles her society expects of her.

She married the asshole doctor despite the fact he was an asshole. She sleeps with Rodger but doesn't let him control her. But she also has his kid. Though at least an abortion was suggested and from my understanding, they hinted at her having a few abortions prior. One of my favorite moments of the show was when she told the asshole doctor to get out of her house and ended the marriage. But getting rid of him probably had a big impact on her decision in tonight's episode. I guess she just didn't feel she could get by enough without the financial security. While I said that she conforms to her society, this is something women still face in many parts of our world today. And while I would support prostitution in theory, financial coercion would give me huge pause in supporting it in reality.

I was kind of torn on my feelings about Peggy's actions. I'm glad she stuck up for herself, which she usually does. But like Peggy herself, I was kind of sad that she was leaving Don. Sure, he can be a complete asshole. And at some point you would just get tired of it. But he did give her her first big break. And when he isn't being a complete asshole he can be nice and charismatic. The scene where she tells Don she is leaving (and when he tells Joan not to sleep with the Jaguar guy) is why, even with his flaws, Don is a compelling character that I root for to make the right decisions. I'm interested to see Peggy leave and interact with people other than those at SCDP.

Megan continues to impress me. I love her honesty. She tells Don what she wants and tends not to back down when he throws his little fits because her needs don't perfectly coincide with his. I get the impression that her call back audition wasn't what she was looking for. I hope she continues to be honest with herself and doesn't take a role that looks like it will just be about her looks and not her acting talent. And if she does I hope she doesn't go back to SCDP just to please Don.

They've set up a lot for the next two episodes that will end this season. I'm looking forward to what they wrap up and what the future holds for the next season.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nullification and state's rights

The Iowa GOP must feel threatened by the Republicans in Tennessee for challenging them for the title of the most extreme and moronic group of conservatives. TP shows some of the ridiculous crap in their platform. This one stuck out to me:

We support constitutional state sovereignty including nullification of federal oversteps.

We disagree with Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton as “settled law.” Under the Tenth amendment, these Supreme Court decisions have no authority over the states.

Even as anti-federalist and strong supporters of state's rights, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson balked at the idea of nullification, which is the idea that a state can ignore a federal law. Jefferson was more open to the idea than Madison, having wrote favorably of the concept of nullification on at least one instance. But Madison was successful in talking Jefferson down from the idea. And while any flirtation with nullification was probably partly rooted in their personal philosophies, I think a lot of it was also based on their love for Virginia and their distrust of NY and other northern states. (Footnote: I got this from the book "Madison and Jefferson". If I can remember I'll try to cite a page # for reference.)

That's not to mention that they are just plain wrong about the scope of the 10th amendment. Technically no law or SC decision is settled. There is always the possibility that they can be changed. But federal laws and SC absolutely have authority over the states. Apparently the Iowa GOP doesn't know that we fought a civil war to decide that issue. So not only are they technically wrong, they don't really have much of an argument if they go to the founders for validation of their claims. Even if they did and people like Madison or Jefferson agreed with them, I would just go to my "But, Hamilton" argument.

Aside from the merits of nullification, which I find ridiculous, I don't think they have fully thought through the implications. Granted, this is the Iowa GOP. So they aren't really concerned with what other states are doing. But let's say they were right and they could nullify federal laws and SC decisions. Well, that would also mean that liberal leaning states could do the same. So if Republicans were somehow able to outlaw abortion at the federal level, liberal states would be able to nullify that and allow the people of their state to perform abortions. And I highly doubt they would be ok with that. What they really want is just the power to ignore laws they don't like while not allow other people to do the same.

Update with a quick thought: If you think state have the right to nullify federal law, why not take the stance that individuals have the right to nullify state and federal law?

Why I don't use marijuana

And one of the many reasons it should be legal comes from this good point from Penn Jellette:

Do we believe, even for a second, that if Obama had been busted for marijuana -- under the laws that he condones -- would his life have been better? If Obama had been caught with the marijuana that he says he uses, and 'maybe a little blow'... if he had been busted under his laws, he would have done hard fucking time. And if he had done time in prison, time in federal prison, time for his 'weed' and 'a little blow,' he would not be President of the United States of America. He would not have gone to his fancy-ass college, he would not have sold books that sold millions and millions of copies and made millions and millions of dollars, he would not have a beautiful, smart wife, he would not have a great job. He would have been in fucking prison, and it's not a goddamn joke. People who smoke marijuana must be set free. It is insane to lock people up.

The likelihood that I will be caught if I used it is very low. But as Penn says, myself and every other person that isn't rich would be screwed if we were caught. So since I don't have any medical reasons (such as chronic or high intensity pain or anxiety) I don't feel much need to use it.

Even if it was legal I probably wouldn't use it much. I'm just lucky to not have many medical issues. But for people who do it's a real shame that they have to live with the fear of getting caught and having your life ruined, not to mention the people who actually get caught.

As a people we have the power to do something about this. Not only can we let our representatives know that it should be legal, we can stop giving them a pass for being hypocritical for using it and then enforcing policies that destroy people's lives who do the same thing. As Penn says, it's insane.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Using social science in public policy

This article on the NYT discusses how reliable social sciences are compared to natural sciences and the implications of that difference for how we form public policy. Here is the main point about the comparison:

Social sciences may be surrounded by the “paraphernalia” of the natural sciences, such as technical terminology, mathematical equations, empirical data and even carefully designed experiments. But when it comes to generating reliable scientific knowledge, there is nothing more important than frequent and detailed predictions of future events. We may have a theory that explains all the known data, but that may be just the result of our having fitted the theory to that data. The strongest support for a theory comes from its ability to correctly predict data that it was not designed to explain.

While the physical sciences produce many detailed and precise predictions, the social sciences do not. The reason is that such predictions almost always require randomized controlled experiments, which are seldom possible when people are involved. For one thing, we are too complex: our behavior depends on an enormous number of tightly interconnected variables that are extraordinarily difficult to distinguish and study separately. Also, moral considerations forbid manipulating humans the way we do inanimate objects. As a result, most social science research falls far short of the natural sciences’ standard of controlled experiments.

I largely agree with this. And it's why I roll my eyes when Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory mocks the social sciences. His brilliance would unlikely provide any better results than actual social scientists because the thing being studied is just so different and more complex than the things natural science studies. Given that, the author comes to this conclusion:

Given the limited predictive success and the lack of consensus in social sciences, their conclusions can seldom be primary guides to setting policy. At best, they can supplement the general knowledge, practical experience, good sense and critical intelligence that we can only hope our political leaders will have.

Why, even with the limited predictive success and lack of consensus, couldn't we use social science as a primary guide to setting policy? What can general knowledge, practical experience, or good sense tell us about forming a good policy for evaluating teachers? I don't even know what those things are. General knowledge and practical experience inform our conceptions about good sense and whatever critical intelligence is.

And using those things is a form of science. It's crude. But if I understand what he means by those things, using them is basically taking the data we have gathered and using it to find patterns that we think mean something, which we then use to predict future behavior. That's what social sciences do, just in a more quantitative way and with fewer biases that come with using people's perception of good sense.

It seems to me that the author is just advocating for even less predictive and successful methods than what social sciences give us. Would the author really advocate that we should not use the work of economists in forming economic policy and instead use the good sense of some vague group of people he doesn't define? Actually, Republicans do that, and it's a big reason why they run massive deficits every time they control the gov't.

So my question then is, what else do we have to make public policy if we don't use the work of social sciences? And why would the things he advocates make him feel like they are better?

Follow up on torture and leadership

I talked about the relationship between the two in this post from last week. Here is Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who interrogated some accused terrorists, talking about Jose Rodriguez's claims about torture:

Is there a cultural difference between the F.B.I. and C.I.A. that played into decisions about torture and civil liberties? As Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker, you also learned, after 9/11, that failures in intelligence—particularly in the investigation of the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, which you led—may have cost us a chance to stop the attacks. Is the situation better?

As we discussed, there’s no difference between the views of the C.I.A. and F.B.I. professionals in the field, who know what works and what doesn’t. My colleagues and I in the F.B.I., however, were fortunate to have leadership that shared our views, with the Assistant Director of the F.B.I., Pat D’Amuro, saying to Director Robert Mueller, “We don’t do that,” and Mueller agreeing. Many of my colleagues in the C.I.A. turned to their C.I.A. Inspector General to complain about what was happening—which led to the eventual shelving of the program, in 2005.

Regarding 9/11, I outline that sequence of events in “The Black Banners,” and it’s tragic. The 9/11 Commission listed that investigation as one of the best chances to stop 9/11. I often wonder how different the last decade would have been if we had been given the information we requested.

I’m out of the government now, but I sincerely hope the situation is better today.

Here's what I said about people knowing what their leaders want of them:

After you establish the punishment, you have to set forth a clear policy against torture from the top on down. You have to educate people as to what is appropriate in every situation and then hold them accountable for straying from the set policy.

Soufan and his colleagues had a clear understanding of what their bosses wanted from them and knew to go to them when those policies weren't being upheld. Given that Rodriguez is going around making money of the bad policy it doesn't seem like that last part about accountability is being upheld. But part of what prevented more torture and ending it was the leadership present at the FBI and to some extent at the CIA.

Today in Republicans don't understand science

At least this time it's something that isn't too easy to wrap your head around:

But last week, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether, on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans’ homes.

“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation.

“We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”

In fact, the randomness of the survey is precisely what makes the survey scientific, statistical experts say.

Randomness is part of what ensures that you aren't taking too big much of your sample from a specific location or group of people, which would skew the data. Not understanding this isn't the worst example of Republicans not understanding science. But when you are going to take the time to criticize this important thing then you should know what you are talking about. As bad as him wanting to get rid of this based on his poor understanding of science is, I thought this was really bad:

Target recently released a video explaining how it used these census data to determine where to locate new stores. Economic development organizations and other business groups say they use the numbers to figure out where potential workers are.

Mr. Webster says that businesses should instead be thanking House Republicans for reducing the government’s reach.

“What really promotes business in this country is liberty,” he said, “not demand for information.”

Mr. Webster and other critics have gone so far as to say the American Community Survey is unconstitutional. Of course, the basic decennial census is specifically enumerated in the United States Constitution, and courts have ruled that this longer form of the census survey is constitutional as well.

You can see that he hasn't actually read the constitution. The founders put a census in the constitution because they understood that a democracy requires information. The gov't needs it for representation purposes, along with all of the things the article describes. And the people need it in order to make decisions about their representatives and policies. Plus, businesses need information so that they can maximize their assets.

The availability of information about the world is essential to both democracy and capitalism. Both systems need information in order to keep them legitimate. Since one of the outcomes of both of those systems is liberty and you need information to keep them going, demand for information is part of liberty. Though like the idea of gathering information and the importance of randomness in surveys, I don't think Mr. Webster understands liberty.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Is holding hands gateway sexual activity?

That's the question Politifact is asking in light of another really stupid law passed by the Tennessee legislature. I'll save you the time of clicking this link for their analysis with one of my own.

No, you fucking morons. For the vast majority of people, breathing is a gateway to sexual activity. We are biologically designed (not intelligently designed, for you morons in the TN legislature) to want to have sex. That desire may cause us to want to hold hands with someone we want to have sex with. But the act of holding hands is not causing us to have sex. So once again, the Tennessee legislature displays its shockingly horrible understanding of logic and science. And they continue to display the fact that the only gateway activity that is harming the people of TN is Republican lawmakers getting a cup of coffee to start their days filled with making stupid laws.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Obama touts his conservative principles

Here is the chart that is being displayed by Obama and some liberals as a good thing:

So you responded to a recession in which there was a lack of demand by not spending more than what we were spending when you got into office. And that's supposed to be a good thing? I think what this is trying to do is say to Republicans and moderates, "Look, you're wrong about me being a typical tax and spend liberal". I hope they don't actually think this is a good thing. I hope they realize they should have spent more.

But since I can't get in their heads I'll just criticize the strategy behind presenting this as a good thing. You aren't going to convince conservatives that you are a decent politician by showing them this. They don't care. And you aren't going to convince enough moderates to vote for you using this information. First of all, they don't pay attention to politics. So they probably won't ever see this chart. Second of all, there probably aren't enough of them that could be convinced that this would make the effort matter.

What you should be doing is using this chart to tell liberals that you need their support because we haven't done enough to help the economy and if Republicans get elected, they will do even worse than what this chart shows. You know they won't increase revenue. They may decrease spending. But given their track record I would be high skeptical. And they will do so in worse stimulative ways than Obama has. And thus they will increase the deficit. That should be the message. Not that this somehow shows you are the responsible one. Really, it shows you weren't effective enough in stimulating the economy. You should explain why that's a failure on the part of conservative principles, not as an endorsement of those principles.

Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23

I'm loving this show. It's not the most unique concept I've seen. But I'm not aware of many shows like it on tv. It's a sitcom about late 20s to early 30s people who live in NY. But it's got a different tone and the jokes come fast but without force. Each episode has a fairly set plot with a certain theme. But it seems fresh. And I think that's because of the aforementioned pace and also the writing and the actors.

The leads are Krysten Ritter and Dreama Walker. Dreama plays June, who had moved to NY to take a job on Wall Street. She meets Ritter's character, Chloe, who is renting out a room in her apartment. Despite being scammed out of deposit money by Chloe, losing her job, and being cheated on by her fiance, June decides to stick it out and stay with Chloe. That's the setup. And the general episode thus far has been about how the two very different roommates affect each other's lives. Ritter is fantastic as the bitch, as is Walker as the slightly naive optimist. It doesn't hurt that Ritter is unbelievably sexy and Walker is extremely adorable.

What caps it all off is James Van Der Beek, who plays himself and also Chloe's best friend. Other than just being awesome and hilarious, James's stories usually revolve around him trying to further his career while trying to move out of the shadow of the famous character he played on Dawson's Creek. I actually like this angle as more than just a play for laughs, which it does well. It helps that he has great chemistry with Ritter.

While the show is generally fairly light-hearted I don't think that prevents it from telling meaningful stories. Tonight's latest episode was about casual sex. June says she can't have sex with someone without caring about them while Chloe says she loves to, that it clears her head.

On the advice of Chloe, June tries it out with a regular customer at the coffee shop she works at. She enjoys it and is ready to move on until the guy's pet parrot flies away and he calls her for emotional support. Not wanting to be a not-good person, she helps him out instead of just dumping him. Meanwhile, Chloe is asked by James to reshoot a scene from a sex tap they made five years ago. But she can't do it because she cares about him too much, as does James about her.

Ideally, they would have addressed some safety concerns about casual sex. But I like the fact that they present young women as enjoying casual sex as a natural thing that they shouldn't feel ashamed to partake in. June didn't worry that it was morally wrong per se. She just knew that sex could be complicated and she didn't want to play with someone's emotions. And she helps Chloe learn that those emotions can come up when it's someone you care about. I hope they continue to find subjects like these and address them in a funny and mature way.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

LeBron takes the blame again

Who had the better game?:

Player A: 10-22 FG 0-4 3PT 8-13 FT 9 RB 5 AS 6 ST 0 BLK 2 TO 28 PTs

Player B: 8-22 FG 0-2 3PT 8-10 FT 6 RB 4 AS 1 ST 2 BLK 3 TO 24 PTs

Player A shot more efficiently overall, rebounded more, had more assists, more steals, less turnovers and more points. The only area that Player B did better is in free throw efficiency and blocks. So I think it's fairly clear that Player A played better than Player B. Given that, who would you say deserves more blame for the team losing the game?

Before we answer that, let's stipulate that Player A is Lebron and B is Dwayne Wade. And Lebron missed two free throws very late in the game that would have possibly won the game. I don't know how of a site that does win probability added for the NBA like Advanced NFL Stats does. But even with the missed free throws I can't imagine Lebron should get much more blame than Wade. Actually, I"m not sure either should get much blame. They both played pretty well. No one else on the team shot above 50% overall aside from Cole who was 2-2 and Shane Battier who was 1-2. Chalmers was 2-10.

So I'd say the rest of the team not performing very well is a bigger reason the team lost than Lebron's inability to make his free throws late in the game. Yet people are, again, grilling Lebron and largely blaming him for the loss. Those two free throws on their own didn't decide the game. But the media and fans consistently overstate the importance of these situations late in games. The fact is, everything that happened in the 3 quarters before those free throws mattered. If Lebron or Wade had played worse than they did up to that point Lebron wouldn't have had the opportunity to win it with the free throws. And while Lebron is the best player in the league, people have unreasonable expectations for him. Wade has to play better too. The rest of the team really has to play better than they do. So stop putting so much on Lebron. More often than not he plays better than every other player in the game and does enough for his team to win.

Beaning, torture, and leadership

I was just watching Pardon the Interruption on espn and the topic was beaning. Ryan Braun got hit with a pitch and fearing retaliation, the Mets manager pulling David Wright from the game. The whole unwritten rule thing in baseball where you have to retaliate if a pitcher is shown up or if the other team throws at your guy for some reason is stupid. Since it's been going on for decades it obviously doesn't work. Not to mention it puts players at risk of injury. Part of the reason it continues is because the people in leadership positions in every organization either allow it to happen or actively encourage it to happen. That's also the reason torture occurs and why political leaders should be held accountable for it.

Baseball players are (likely) taught from at least the time they get to the minors within an organization the unwritten rules of the game involving when you throw at a batter and when to expect to be thrown at. Or if I'm wrong and they aren't taught, they learn it by watching the game. Either way, managers and executives who preside over managers allow it to happen. If they wanted to stop it from happening they could do so, mainly by establishing harsh punishments for doing it. Setting the example that you will be punished for throwing at a batter and then making it clear that it is unacceptable throughout the organization would end it. And while players could theoretically do this, in the end it's the responsibility of the manager and executives because they have power over the players.

The same is true of torture. When we first learned of Abu Graib (I probably butchered that spelling), some (mainly conservatives) suggested that it was the act of a few renegades and didn't reflect the policy of the country or the people in charge of the prison. Latter we learned that the torture was encouraged by those in charge and that leaders all the way up to the top of the Bush administration endorsed torture. If you are a soldier or intelligence officer and you are encouraged, or even ordered, to torture you face serious consequences if you don't follow that order (I'm sure pitchers are scorned for not throwing at people when they are "supposed to). So you are faced with the decision to break the law yourself or refuse and risk being disciplined for not following an officer's or superior's orders. Or if you are in a situation where things are unclear, you risk people taking things into their own hands and establishing a de facto torture policy.

Just like with the baseball example, the best way to ensure that torture doesn't take place is to punish those who do it, condone/endorse it, or who willfully ignore it. If, as is currently the state of affairs, the people who were responsible aren't punished then future tortures won't feel much fear any consequences for their actions. After you establish the punishment, you have to set forth a clear policy against torture from the top on down. You have to educate people as to what is appropriate in every situation and then hold them accountable for straying from the set policy.

As far as I can tell, the Obama administration has only attempted the second step. Thus far we have no evidence that torture has continued. So maybe it worked for the time being. But since they haven't addressed step one, Republicans don't have much to fear when they gain control over the executive branch and reestablish the torture policies they continue to say they favor. Hopefully our leadership (and by extension, us) do the right thing and avoid a situation like they have in baseball where a stupid policy carries on for years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Republican obstruction

I've read about this in a few different places lately. This post at xpostfactoid does a nice job summarizing those pieces. I won't quote each summary. The basic story is that the Republican party is so extreme that it forces them to obstruct everything the other party wants and to get rid of anyone who doesn't agree with their strict dogma. Apparently it started in the 90s and now has reached it's zenith under Democratic control of the executive and the senate, as evidenced by the fact that anything Dems pass gets basically no Rep votes and that Republicans in the house refused to raise the debt ceiling, which is something they had never not done.

I think that's all pretty accurate and nothing in the explanations as to why it's happening strikes me as wrong or overstated. But one response in the link above that I want to highlight is from David Frum, a Bush administration official who presumably has a decent handle on the workings of the party and it's supporters:

Human beings will typically fight much more ferociously to keep what they possess than to gain something new. And the constituencies that vote Republican happen to possess the most and thus to be exposed to the worst risks of loss.

The Republican voting base includes not only the wealthy with the most to fear from tax increases, but also the elderly and the rural, the two constituencies that benefit the most from federal spending and thus have the most to lose from spending cuts.

All those constituencies together fear that almost any conceivable change will be change for the worse from their point of view: higher taxes, less Medicare, or possibly both. Any attempt to do more for other constituencies -- the unemployed, the young -- represents an extra, urgent threat to them.

That sense of threat radicalizes voters and donors -- and has built a huge reservoir of votes and money for politicians and activists who speak as radically as the donors and voters feel.

Much of the discussion about Republican obstruction revolves around it's party actors; people like Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, and Grover Norquist. But Frum is suggesting something I think is an important factor in this, which is that the obstruction is what Republican voters want. We've seen that the few Republicans that have tried to work with Democrats are facing primary challenges from voters and a person they see as more in line with Republican dogma. And part of that dogma is to oppose everything Democrats support. I can't remember his name, but the guy who just won one of those primaries even said that bipartisanship should mean Democrats changing their views to agree with Republicans. That's what the voters want.

I could be talked into a theory that says Republican leaders are helping fuel voter radicalization. Surely at least part of voter preference is driven by elites within the party. But it's really hard to flesh out the causal links and determine where this stuff originates from. I know at least some in the poli sci field are trying to do that. And maybe they have in the time since I've been in school.

Until I see the findings, I'll just say that if voters aren't already there, and the party elites are really the ones driving them to radical places and convincing them that obstruction is a good idea; those party elites are doing a hell of a job and we should look into how they are doing it because it poses some important questions for the idea of a representative democracy where politicians are supposed to be responsive to the people, and less so the people responsive to the politicians.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How I Met Your Mother: Barney's bride

This post will contain spoilers for the two episode season finale.

My initial reaction to Robin being the bride at Barney's wedding is this is why you don't drag a series out just because it's getting you good ratings. In the first episode of the finale Robin tells Ted how dumb he is for pursuing unavailable women, herself being one of them because she told him from day 1 that she didn't want to get married and have kids. We've been reminded of this by Robin on a very consistent basis. And now it looks like they are going to spend an entire season undoing Barney's engagement to Quinn and coming up with excuses for Robin changing her mind.

You could kind of see this coming, at least in retrospect. The first episode of this season showed Ted being called for by Barney's bride. The bride would only call for Ted if she really knew him well. And they haven't established any sort of relationship with Quinn and Ted this season. So it didn't make sense that it would be Quinn asking for him on her wedding day. But given their friendship and the fact that they are both friends with Barney it would make a lot of sense if Robin wanted to talk to Ted on her wedding day. And as I type that I realize that she probably has some explaining to do since as I said, she has constantly told Ted she didn't want to get married.

I don't not like the Ted and Victoria thing as much as the Robin and Barney thing. But just like Robin and Barney it feels forced to have Victoria leave her fiance at the alter to run off with Ted, who she hasn't been in a relationship with in several years and who cheated on her when they were together last. This feels like something they thought up in order to justify spending another entire seasons with these characters. And I'm finally getting tired of it. I adore Alyson Hannigan and like Jason Segel. But their characters are stale and I could care less about their new baby. I guess next season we are going to get a bunch of cliche crap with their baby and hopefully at least a reasonable resolution to this Victoria thing and some growth on Ted's part.

Who the hell knows what they are going to do in order to get Robin to backtrack on a huge part of her character and get her and Barney together, much less Quinn and Barney apart. I'm not a big an of Quinn. So I don't mind that aspect of it. But I think a big reason why I don't like the idea of Robin and Barney is because Barney isn't redeemable enough as a character. He doesn't deserve Robin. So he stopped screwing every woman he could. What a marvelous display of self restraint. That doesn't make you awesome enough for Robin.

Another reason I don't like it is because I guess I never really bought them as a couple in the first place. That's the thing about Robin. She is just too much her own person to click with another person like Lily and Marshall do. And I think the only reason she was with Barney was because she knew he was emotionally unavailable and didn't want a relationship just like she didn't. Aside from that the only thing they have in common is that they are good looking. Even then they were forcing it in order to draw out the series and have shit to write about. And I guess by doing that they almost forced themselves into this situation. I just hope they finally end it and have Ted meet his wife. Because they have officially run out of decent ideas. Maybe they ran out a while ago and I'm just now realizing it.

Grizzlies lose series to Clippers

Yesterday's game was brutal, both in how it was played and the outcome. We played so poorly that we probably should have lost by more than we did. As a team we shot 32.5% from the field and 0% from three on 13 attempts. Mike Conley was 2-13 (I'm not sure if it's true, but someone on twitter said he had the flue). Zach Randolph was 3-12. Blake Griffin was about as bad and Randolph offensively. So that about cancels out, if not giving an edge to Zach because of rebounds. But Chris Paul, while not great, was much better than Conley. I think that was the biggest difference.

Our starters played at least as well, arguably better than theirs. Though Rudy Gay was bad in the 4th quarter, as was the whole team throughout the series. For some reason, they just don't run their offense the same way in the 4th as they do the rest of the game. Obviously they need to figure this out in the offseason.

But aside from the difference between Conley and Paul, the other deciding factor was Kenyon Martin and Nick Young coming off the bench. Martin was 5-7 with 10 rebounds. And even though Young was only 3-8, he hit 2 of his 3 three pointers and was much better than his counterpart in OJ Mayo who was 1-11. Martin's counterpoint is supposed to be Marreese Speights. But he only got to play 11 minutes and took two shots. I know some people have complained about Randolph not getting enough time. While he is the better overall player, he hasn't been the same as he was last year. And Speights has been a fairly consistent shooter this season. So I think we could have used more of him yesterday.

Moving on from yesterday and this season, I think this team is still in pretty good shape. Just because Mike Conley isn't Chris Paul doesn't mean he lacks value. Offensively he is decent. And defensively he gives you a top 5 steal producer. So he is probably not hurting the team overall. I love Tony Allen. He doesn't provide much offensively. But if he could improve his jump shot he would be a really good player because he is just fantastic defensively. I know he only signed a two year deal with us. So I'm not sure if he is signed for next year. If he isn't I think we should sign him because beyond his value, we don't have a sufficient replacement. OJ Mayo, while talented, isn't good enough. And I don't say that just because of this playoff series. He can't play point well enough and he isn't a good enough shooter to start over Allen. So at SG I think we should look for a good outside shooter to replace him, someone like JJ Redick.

Rudy Gay is a good player. But he is not a good enough shooter to warrant the amount of outside shots he takes. He either needs to improve his shooting or do like Lebron James did this season and cut down on his outside shooting and focus on getting shots closer to the basket. That shouldn't be too difficult since Rudy is very tall, has a long wingspan, and is athletic enough to drive to the basket and utilize some simple post moves. If Rudy can improve his efficiency and learn to work within an offense that is run through Gasol and Randolph I think it will help with these bad 4th quarters.

My only problems with Gasol is that he needs to demand the ball more. Aside from that we have a good center signed to a decent deal long term. Randolph obviously needs to get healthy. But like Rudy, he needs to cut back on the outside shots. I think he needs his mid range jumpers to keep defenders honest. But his strength is scoring in the paint and that should be his priority whereas sometimes I think he gets lazy and wants to hang back and shoot from the outside.

I like Marreese Speights coming off the bench. He seems to be able to play center or power forward. Aside from him and maybe Pondexter and Cunningham I would like to see an attempt to update the bench, especially at point guard and shooting guard. The starters aren't going to give us much from the 3 point line. And that's fine because they score well in the paint and are good at creating turnovers and then creating those turnovers into fast break points. But when the starters come out or during certain situations it can be helpful to have a 3 point threat. And if we could get that in a point guard or shooting guard who aren't bad in other aspects of the game I think it could help round out a pretty solid team going into next season.

Foreign policy hypocrisy: Bahrain edition

Juan Cole has the details about our arms sale to the nation:

The United States government has blasted Syria over its repression of its popular movement for democracy, placing a series of sanctions on Syrian leaders.

The US has been virtually silent about the dirty little police state that is Bahrain and its outrageous tactics, such as trying physicians for so much as treating wounded street protesters. The US has not placed sanctions on Bahrain and has done no more than tut-tut the government violence.

It is now worse. The US is now selling Bahrain Coast Guard and F-16 jet equipment.

Just ask yourself if the US would sell coast guard and F-16 equipment to Syria today.

This unnecessary and pernicious arms sale has only one purpose, and it isn’t to beef up Bahrain’s defenses. It is to reassure the Sunni king and his uncle, the prime minister, that the US forgives them for their jack boot tactics and will continue to support them.

There is no difference between the US acting this way and Russia running interference for Syria. Each is following its geopolitical interest. Neither has any morality. They are great powers.

So US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has just had her legs cut out from under her. When she goes to the UN and argues that Syria should be sanctioned, and she is blocked by Russia and China, you can be assured that Bahrain will be thrown in her face. The US is trying to make a case to other countries for the principled character of its stand. The Obama administration has just made itself a laughingstock in that regard, and I should think its Syria position will be a cause for snickering given that it is selling arms (albeit not crowd control supplies) to Bahrain.

I quoted a lot from that because I don't have much knowledge about the specifics of the Middle East. That's one of the drawbacks of splitting your time in political science between American politics and International Relations. You don't have time to get into the details in every significant place our foreign policy reaches. Anyway...

I think the problem is pretty clear. The lack of respect for the safety and human rights of the people of Bahrain is bad enough. Sometimes you can make an argument that we have a larger strategy to keep in mind that could be undermined by supporting the people over an oppressive gov't. Though I'm not sure I'd ever buy that argument. In this case I don't see much of an argument to be made.

This annoys me because it's such a constant in regards to foreign policy with this country. It doesn't matter which party is in office. They don't implement a logically sound foreign policy across the board. Sure, sticking blindly to a rigid policy can have big problems. But it's not like they are completely clueless as to what a decent policy would look like. They spell it out with their rhetoric all the time. And that rhetoric is often in support of the human rights approach I would support. They just don't support it because in cases like Bahrain, they are (for some reason) worried about pissing off a gov't that treats is people like shit.

And as Juan points out, it has the effect of making us look ridiculous at the UN. I'm not sure that it would convince nations like Russia to rethink their decisions is we weren't constantly being hypocritical. But it would give us the moral high ground when discussions take place. And if we do decide to act without the full consent of the UN it would provide us with some cover that we gave a good faith effort to solve the problem with the help of the rest of the UN.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Community and Parks & Rec renewed

I want to thank NBC for giving us another season of each, even if it's a shortened one. For some reason these shows don't get big ratings. So it probably would have been easy to move on and cut your losses. But aside from there probably being some sort of financial benefit from renewing them (dvd sales I would guess), I'd like to think that some people at NBC love these shows as much as the fans do and have invested as much as we have in them and their characters.

Parks and Recreation's seasons finale last night was a really nice reminder of why we love the show. We got the result of the election and along the way got funny and emotionally satisfying moments from each character, not to mention the awesomeness of Ron Swanson: "You drive. I've had 11 whiskies." It was good enough to where if it hadn't have been renewed it would have been a good sendoff. Now hopefully since they know they have at least another 13 episodes they can give us a great sendoff, if not just another great season that leads into another season.

Side note about my viewing of the episode. The first few minutes and the last ten minutes were interrupted by the local NBC affiliate in order to tell us that two blonde girls were found alive. I'm not sure why this was such important "news" that they felt the need to cut into the show so that we could see shots of the place where the girls were found.

Aside from me not understanding why this was a news story considering it didn't seem any more horrible than what I'm sure happens in Memphis every day, especially to black people and not just a few cute white girls, I'm not sure why the news couldn't have been conveyed to the audience with a simple scroll along the bottom. In fact, they had a scroll on the screen for part of the episode. So on a few different levels it was unnecessary to interrupt the show and force me to watch the end online today, which had the effect of lessening the episode as a whole. So thanks a lot you fucking morons at the local NBC.

I don't think Community's episode was the season finale. I hope it wasn't. Dustin over at really didn't like the episode. Overall I thought it was one of their weaker ones. But it had some nice moments, especially when it was ripping on itself. And when you leave me with some "Troy and Abed in the Morning....Nights" I can't be too unsatisfied. The episode actually reminded me of the Buffy episode where the trio make Buffy think she is in a mental institution and has been imagining everything for the past four years. I think the episode was called "Normal Again". I'm not sure if Community was thinking of that episode specifically. But aside from that, it was just an ok way to get to the next episode. And even just an ok episode of Community is better than nothing.

Update: Parks & Rec got a full season renewal and Community got half a season with the possibility of more. Also, another show I've grown fond of is Happy Endings. It got a full season.

House votes to prohibit political science funding

Having first hand experience working on research in the field this obviously pisses me off:

The Flake amendment Henry wrote about appears to have passed the House last night with a 218-208 vote. The amendment prohibits funding for NSF’s political science program, which among others funds many valuable data collection efforts including the National Election Studies. No other program was singled out like this. The vote was essentially party line, with only 5 Democrats voting in favor and 27 Republicans against.

As with everything that Republicans talk about when it comes to spending and the budget, this is complete bullshit. Beyond the merits, the funding for political science in extremely small. It's not sending the deficit into a spiral. It's so small it's barely even there. And on the merits, this shows some of the important things the funding provides.

One of the examples given on the link is the CIRI human rights dataset. I worked with Dr. Richards, one of the originators of the dataset, in grad school. CIRI compiles human rights records of every nation in the world and assigns them a score for how well they upheld numerous human rights. The dataset can be used by the rest of the field to advance our knowledge of the world, which for you Republicans that don't understand science, is the whole fucking point. But it's also used to determine funding by the World Bank. So the research has real world application, though that shouldn't be the measure by which it should be judged. Not all science worth funding has or should have real world application in the sense I'm sure these Republicans in the House want it to.

As I said, this obviously bothers me at a personal level because I got my masters degree in political science and learned/worked under a lot of great professors who do their job well and help us understand the world. But this is also about a larger issue, which is the Republican opposition to science and really anything that doesn't directly benefit rich, white men. For instance, they voted today to raise taxes on poor families with children so that they didn't have to cut defense spending. I can't make this shit up. It's unbelievable. And until they stop blindly hating science and caring only about the one group of people that don't need much help, the rest of the country and the world will suffer.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

NC invokes its state's rights

If you follow this blog you know that I hate the states' rights argument. Well, North Carolina provided a glaring reminder of how dumb it is to leave certain things to states by passing an amendment to it's constitution making gay marriage illegal.

As expected, North Carolinians voted in large numbers on Tuesday for an amendment that would ban same-sex marriages, partnerships and civil unions, becoming the 30th state in the country and the last in the South to include a prohibition on gay marriage in the state constitution.
“We are not anti-gay — we are pro-marriage,” Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of the executive committee for the pro-amendment Vote for Marriage NC, said at a victory rally in Raleigh, where supporters ate pieces of a wedding cake topped by figures of a man and a woman. “And the point, the whole point is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of a group of adults.”

Putting aside the states' rights argument for a second, that's one of the dumber things I've heard. Passing this amendment by definition makes you anti-gay and anti-marriage. And the whole point of our gov't is that you don't write or rewrite laws based on some moron's idea of what the nature of god's design for anything is. That is about as anti-American as you can get. I can't even see how the current conservatives on the supreme court would uphold this amendment. It's so dumb and so such a contradiction of constitutional principles, not to mention the supposedly conservative notion of small gov't, that even they couldn't make up enough bullshit to justify it.

And for once, most of the people in this country recognize how stupid it is. It's just a matter of time before the federal gov't or the supreme court get involved and make gay marriage legal. And that's part of why I find states' rights such a poor argument. As the link says, 30 states have similar laws banning marriage, which means that 20 either don't have a law or have one allowing gay marriage. It makes no sense to have states with different laws on an issue like this. If you shouldn't discriminate against people (as you obviously shouldn't in this case) you shouldn't be subject to that discrimination simply because you happen to live in a state that does so. And if gay marriage really was some horrible thing that went against god's design and was hurting the country the few states that allow it shouldn't be able to allow it because of the notion that states have certain rights.

In the end, we are a union. When it comes to some relatively minor issues it probably is best to let state and local gov'ts have control. But when it comes to extremely important and wide ranging issues it doesn't make any sense to let states do what they want. Some would argue that change has to come slowly, that you have to give those who want to resist it ample time to adjust to it or to come around, or that you need to build a consensus. But that's bullshit. In this case with gay marriage, as it was with the obvious case of Jim Crow laws, the discrimination should be stopped right away. No one should have to live being discriminated against while a consensus is built or in order to lower the risk of a backlash. So let's get rid of NC's amendment and every other law banning gay marriage as quickly as possible.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Two lessons for the Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies are down 2-1 in their first round playoff series. Instead of dissecting every game I just want to focus on two things that I think go a long way towards explaining the two losses and what would make it much more likely that we win three of the next four games.

The first thing is that it's easier to make a shot the closer you are to the basket. There are generally two ways you get close to the basket and thus increase your chances to make a shot, and thus increase your chances of winning. One is that you dribble around a defender and to the basket. The other is that you go stand near the basket and have someone pass the ball to you. The Grizzlies are very capable of doing both of those things. Yet for some reason, especially in the 4th quarter, they don't focus on doing them and instead settle for more difficult shots further away from the basket. Focusing on getting closer to the basket will go a long way in improving our chances to win.

The second lesson is closely related to the first. It's actually the same thing, but with more emphasis in regards to the game situation. At the end of game 3, the Grizzlies had the opportunity to win the game during the final seconds by scoring two points, which means that they could have tied it with one point. Not only is it easier to make a shot when you are closer to the basket, the odds of you getting fouled and getting two free shots are probably higher when you are trying to dribble to the basket as opposed to stopping and shooting the ball far away from the basket. So instead of shooting a difficult off balance shot several feet outside the paint like we did, it would have increased our chances of winning if we would have driven to the basket to try for a closer shot or create a foul. Granted, there wasn't a lot of time. But these are situations that should be prepared for. And the Grizzlies simply don't seem prepared for them and it's part of why we lose games.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Atheist: why not Agnostic?

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins claim they aren't atheist, but agnostic.

So, how does Dawkins square his public persona with his lack of certitude? Easily. No matter how strongly Dawkins is associated with atheism, he is first and foremost a scientist. Therefore, "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other," he claims.

Similarly, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson claims the title "scientist" above all other "ists." And yet, Tyson says he is "constantly claimed by atheists." So where does Tyson stand? He tells Big Think: “Neil deGrasse, widely claimed by atheists, is actually an agnostic.”

To a certain extent they are correct, that as a scientist, which is how I look at the issue, it's best to say that there isn't yet any evidence that a god or gods exist but that in and of itself doesn't disprove the hypothesis. And really I don't have much of a problem with not moving beyond that and then declaring yourself an agnostic.

I do have a problem with part of Tyson's reasoning in the video within the link. I think for the most part it's about what I just explained. But he also goes into the societal implications of declaring yourself atheist and the problems it can cause when you're trying to have a conversation and educate people. He's right that it creates problems. But if that is what is keeping you from saying you don't believe in a god/gods, which is part of what being an atheist is, then I think it's kind of a cop out.

It's not like as a scientist you have to sit on the sideline until all of the evidence is in and a theory is either proven or disproven to the greatest extent possible. Though if you do want to take a side I wouldn't advocate holding that belief as strict dogma. Make a value judgement but be open to new data.

I say I'm an atheist because even though I wouldn't claim the theory of the existence of a god/gods isn't disproven, there is a lack of evidence to support it, and I don't think there is even a conceptual framework available to even attempt to gather the evidence. I think that's a more reasonable opinion than the theist one because they are making a positive claim about something existing while I'm making the opposite claim. As I said, lack of evidence doesn't disprove the claim. But because there is no evidence the atheist claim holds more merit.

What's important about "normal"?

The word normal is often used to either say something is pleasantly common or to defend something by pointing out that while it may not be pleasant, it's common, at least among a certain group. I don't think the strict definition carries much of a value judgement with it. In strict terms I view it mostly in terms of a statistical term, similar to the word average. I don't completely object to making a value judgement when using the word to describe something. But I would only use it as a starting point from which further discussion is necessary.

Because of it's limitations, I find it troubling when the term is used in obscenity cases. Here's an example:

One of the Miller prongs asks how the work would seem to “the average person, applying contemporary community standards.” So what, King asked the jury, would your neighbors think of Hollywood Scat Amateurs #10? Would they find it “normal”?
As a documentary filmmaker, I’m essentially a First Amendment absolutist. I believe that Isaacs should have the right to distribute his films, just as the Los Angeles Times has the right to run photos of soldiers playing with body parts. But based on the testimony, the evidence and the language of the law, it would have been hard for me to vote to acquit.

Obviously Hollywood Scat Amateurs #10 was never intended to be art, and that’s the real problem with the art argument: it covers up what’s truly valuable about these films, which is that they allow us to critique of the notion of obscenity itself.

The California obscenity statute defines “prurience” as “a morbid, degrading, unhealthy interest in sex.” But this sells all sexual minorities down the river. Is it more degrading to see a representation of your desire, or be deemed “perverted” by the state? In 2012, should the state still be passing judgment on the consensual sex lives of others?

In the end, the jury pronounced Isaacs guilty on all counts and got home before rush hour. That’s not surprising, given that they’d been instructed not to consider what “a deviant subset” might find normal, or even what they themselves might find normal, but instead to imagine the values of the community at large. Even in Central District of California—the home not only of the nation’s porn industry, but also of bedroom communities from San Luis Obispo to Orange County—that leaves a lot of room for sexual missteps.
This is the community standard that we should be fighting for: a standard that proclaims the “deviant subset” has the same right to watch what it wants as does any average member of the community, as long as the production itself is not crime. It's a recognition that sexual speech is covered by the First Amendment, regardless of whether we think it has “serious” value.

I'm completely with the author of the article. Why does it matter if the community (however you're defining that) thinks it's normal or not? What if they thought every sex act aside from that depicting a married man and woman was not normal and displayed a morbid, degrading, unhealthy interest in sex? In this christianist country it wouldn't surprise me at all if there were "communities" that would think that.

Why, in the age of internet porn where porn is as private as it can be, is the ability of someone to buy something and enjoy it in the privacy in their own home without harming anyone else determined by some group of people in a community? And even if that were a good idea, how in the hell is a jury supposed to figure out what the "community" thinks regarding the topic at hand? Beyond the sample size problem, how are these people supposed to know what type of porn qualifies as normal and thus not obscene and what doesn't?

Aside from the merits of the ridiculous standard the supreme court has set out for determining obscenity, the feasibility of using the standard in practice seems almost as ridiculous as the merits of it. And I haven't even gotten to the first prong of the Miller test, which says the thing in question must have “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” to be immune from prosecution. The word serious carries more of a value judgement than normal does. But unlike normal, which can be quantified, serious has some subjectivity about it. I think Batman is a serious literary character. A literature professor might disagree with me. I can relate anything to politics, probably even to science.

I'm starting to ramble and I'm having trouble wrapping this up. I think that's because the topic of obscenity is interesting to me and I just find myself asking so many questions because I can't find good answers. I guess I'll end by saying that this country has a hang up on sex when there are more serious things out there that should be up for debate regarding censorship and being deemed obscene. Though to me, even things that can genuinely do harm, such as real life depictions of violence, shouldn't be censored. And even though people screwing on camera isn't as "serious" or "normal" as violence is, it shouldn't be treated the way it is in our courts and in our society.

The Avengers

This post will contain spoilers. So go see the movie already.

I've seen it twice now and I had a lot of fun both times. I'm really proud of Joss Whedon for making a good movie and one that looks to be extremely successful. What I hope is that the film's success leads to giving more leeway to Joss. I think they let him do a lot of what he wanted. He did get to kill someone. But he didn't go very dark. Granted, this is not Batman. This is a group of people who don't exist in the real world. So you just can't go to the same emotional depths that you can with a Batman movie. But you can give it a little more focus on character rather than plot. And I think that was the one way this movie could have been better. And that is Joss' strength.

Aside from what I hope for in the future, I think he did a good job with a difficult task. Every character had their moment. Black Widow was a nice change of pace to an otherwise all male cast, also aside from Agent Hill who didn't get much to work with. She was funny and believable as a badass. I think her presence helped to humanize these larger than life characters. And it's a nice bonus that Scarlett is gorgeous.

It's hard not to focus on Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr is just fantastic. He has an inherent charisma or charm that makes you like his character immediately. So combined with Joss dialogue I thought he was a strong point in the film. The Hulk kind of stole the show because he got the biggest laughs. I was a fan of Mark Ruffalo going into the movie. So I wasn't as skeptical about the character going in. Those characters stuck out to me. But the rest of the cast was very good. I thought they all did very well with everything they were given.

So again, thanks to Joss and the people who gave him the opportunity to make the movie. Thanks for all of the people who are going to see it. And if you haven't seen it I encourage you to go, even take the kids. You will enjoy it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

WTF have they been teaching in law school?

You're weekly reminder from Glenn Greenwald about how out of whack the rule of law is in this country:

Yesterday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the argument of the Obama DOJ that John Yoo is — needless to say — fully immune from any and all liability for having authorized the torture of Jose Padilla, on the ground that the illegality of Yoo’s conduct was not “beyond debate” at the time he engaged in it. Everything I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the identical shielding of Donald Rumsfeld by federal courts and the Obama DOJ from similar claims applies to yesterday’s ruling, and The New York Times has a good editorial today condemning this ruling as “misguided and dangerous.”

In sum, this yet again underscores that of all the American institutions that have so profoundly failed in the wake of 9/11 to protect the most basic liberties — Congress, both political parties, the establishment media, the Executive Branch, the DOJ specifically — none has been quite as disgraceful as the federal judiciary, whose life tenure is supposed to insulate them from base political pressures that produce cowardly and corrupted choices. And yet, just consider these two facts:

(1) not a single War on Terror victim — not one — has been permitted to sue for damages in an American court over what was done to them, even when everyone admits they were completely innocent, even when they were subjected to the most brutal torture, and even when the judiciary of other countries permitted their lawsuits to proceed; and,

(2) not a single government official — not one — has been held legally accountable, either criminally or even civilly, for any War on Terror crimes or abuses; perversely, the only government officials to pay any price were the ones who blew the whistle on those crimes.
Just to underscore the point a bit further: the Justice Department filed a report this week setting forth its 2011 eavesdropping activities under FISA. Here’s the summary (h/t EPIC):

# of DOJ requests to the FISA court to eavesdrop on and/or physically search Americans/legal residents: 1,745

# of FISA court denials: 0

Apparently concepts like due process aren't being taught in law schools. Either that or the people running the country and the judges they appoint missed class that day. It would be one thing if the gov't was just found not guilty in some of these instances. That would be bad enough considering we have evidence that they were guilty since many people have been release from Gitmo. But they aren't even allowed to have their case heard. That's ridiculous and runs completely counter to the ideals and values we as a country are supposed to stand for.

My new favorite baseball player

I knew that Brandon McCarthy had changed the way he pitched in order to take advantage of the knowledge of statistics that he had. He studied the research the saber community had done which basically said that groundballs were good and fly balls were bad and changed how he pitched in order to get more groundballs. For a stats-inclined person like me that was enough to make me like Brandon. Given that, it's not surprising he plays for the A's, the original Moneyball team who I root for because of that fact.

But now that I've seen this, Brandon is officially my new favorite player:

Oakland A’s righthander Brandon McCarthy has had just about enough of Kiss Cam and the anti-gay overtones he believes it conveys.

He took to Twitter recently after a Kiss Cam session ended with the camera focused on two men. He didn’t see any humor in the gag, and he pointed out that no real attempt is made to include gay and lesbian couples.

McCarthy’s tweet: "They put two guys on the 'Kiss Cam' tonight. What hilarity!! (by hilarity I mean offensive homophobia). Enough with this stupid trend."

Not only is the kiss cam and pretty much everything at a sporting event aside from the game itself stupid, but he is completely right that it's also homophobic and should be stopped. So I applaud Brandon for recognizing it and having the courage to speak out against it. I say courage because he plays a game completely dominated by a bunch of guys who likely value masculine tendencies and run in large groups. He could easily be ridiculed and made an outcast by speaking up for gay people in the manner he did. He could probably be ridiculed for exposing himself as a stats guy because baseball is filled with conservative-like people who are greatly offended when confronted with different ideas and the changing of the status quo.

So let's get rid of the kiss cam, the pseudo-patriotic signing of the national anthem, and every other stupid thing sports events do and just play the game. Now, excuse me while I go add Brandon to my fantasy baseball teams.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Joss Whedon interview

As you can see from my blog's title, I love Joss Whedon. So I'm really happy that not only is his movie, The Avengers, is coming out on friday, but that he is getting a lot of press because of it. He deserves to be a superstar and hopefully The Avengers makes that happen. So if you weren't planning on seeing The Avengers, or having seen The Cabin in the Woods, I highly encourage you to go see it. I doubt you'll be disappointed. Also, if you aren't familiar with Joss check out this interview with GQ. Here's something I didn't know about his career:

Regardless: It is a true there-is-no-God injustice that it's taken this long for somebody to give Whedon, whose entire oeuvre is a study in how to make comic-bookish subject matter live and breathe realistically and emotionally on-screen, a big-ticket superhero movie to direct. He's come close, a few times. Most recently there was Wonder Woman. He was going to write and direct it for Joel Silver. The archetypal female-hero-worshipping auteur and the ultimate female superhero—perfect, right? Didn't happen. There were others, before that. A pre-Robert Downey Iron Man. And there was Batman. Don't even ask him about Batman.

Okay, fine: It was a while ago, between the day-glo Joel Schumacher sequels and the Chris Nolan reboot (which Whedon loves, don't get him wrong.) There was a lot more, in Whedon's take, about the orphaned Bruce Wayne as a morbid, death-obsessed kid. There was a scene—Whedon used to well up, just thinking about it—where young Bruce tries to protect this girl from being bullied in an alley, an alley like the one his parents were murdered in.

"And he's like this tiny 12-year-old who's about to get the shit kicked out of him. And then it cuts to Wayne Manor, and Alfred is running like something terrible has happened, and he finds Bruce, and he's back from the fight, and he's completely fine. And Bruce is like, 'I stopped them. I can stop them.' That was the moment for me. When he goes 'Oh, wait a minute; I can actually do something about this.' The moment he gets that purpose, instead of just sort of being overwhelmed by the grief of his parents' death."

So he goes in and pitches this. He's on fire, practically shaking. "And the executive was looking at me like I was Agent Smith made of numbers. He wasn't seeing me at all. And I was driving back to work, and I was like, 'Why did I do that? Why did I get so invested in that Batman story? How much more evidence do I need that the machine doesn't care about my vision? And I got back to work and got a phone call that Firefly was cancelled. And I was like, 'It was a rhetorical question! It was not actually a request! Come on!'"

Joss doing a Batman movie would blow my mind. I'm not sure what he has planned after The Avengers. And I'm not sure how long the studio wants to wait after The Dark Knight Rises. But that needs to happen. Someone please make that happen.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Reminder on the deficit

Republicans don't care about it. The always informative Jonathan Bernstein explains:

So let me get this straight. Republicans are currently blocking the extension of lower student loan interest rates because they insist on cutting a health care fund to pay for its cost. But when it comes to the Bush tax cuts, they continue to believe that no budget offsets are necessary to pay for them.
Here’s how the GOP War on Budgeting actually works. If Republicans are seeking increased spending on one of their priorities (such as defense), or are looking to cut taxes and decrease revenues, there’s no need (in their view) to offset either; whatever they’re demanding is simply an urgent national priority, end of story.

If, however, Democrats want a tax cut (such as on the payroll tax) or spending increase on one of their priorities, then suddenly it must be paid for — by more spending cuts in programs that Dems favor, which Republicans are always for, regardless of the budget situation. That’s why Republicans have twice eliminated “PayGo” budget rules that would require tax cuts to be paid for.

So remember, any time you hear a Republican talking about the deficit just substitute the word 'bullshit' for everything they are saying.

Romney responds with more foreign policy chest-thumping

Yesterday I posted about Obama adopting conservative foreign policy rhetoric in order to tout his "accomplishment" in killing bin Laden. Mitt Romney, in further demonstrating that he doesn't have a fucking clue what he is talking about, got to the heart of why Obama and liberals feel the need to partake in the ridiculous chest-thumping when they think they actually did something right on foreign policy:

Mitt Romney informs us that the raid that took out Osama bin Laden one year ago was no big deal, because "even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."

I'm not sure exactly how it came about. But Carter is the poster child for liberal ineffectiveness on foreign policy for conservatives. And it's not just about a perception regarding poor foreign policy decisions. It's about the manner in which those decisions were made, and also about how Reagan presented his policies. Basically, it's the belief that Reagan and his policies were strong, bold, and always draped in nationalism and thus were correct. While Carter's and every Democrat's since are weak, safe, and always draped in a self-hatred of the nation and thus wrong.

Carter is the conservative heuristic for bad foreign policy. That's part of why liberals feel the need to make hawkish (often stupid) foreign policy decisions and adopt conservative rhetoric. And it's why sometimes they come to Carter's defense, even though none of us really care about him. Thus we get this explanation of one of Carter's most important foreign policy decisions and how it relates to Obama:

2) Jimmy Carter did indeed make a gutsy go/no-go call. It turned out to be a tactical, strategic, and political disaster. You can read the blow-by-blow in Mark Bowden's retrospective of "The Desert One Debacle."
But here's the main point about Carter. Deciding to go ahead with that raid was a close call. Carter's own Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, had opposed the raid and handed in his resignation even before the results were known. And it was a daring call -- a choice in favor of a risky possible solution to a festering problem, knowing that if it went wrong there would be bad consequences all around, including for Carter himself. So if you say "even Jimmy Carter" to mean "even a wimp," as Romney clearly did, you're showing that you don't know the first thing about the choice he really made.

3) Precisely because of the consequences of Carter's failure, Obama was the more daring in making his go/no-go decision. That's the case I argued last year, and nothing I've learned since then changes my view. As a college student, Obama had seen a marginally popular Democratic president come to ruin because he approved a helicopter-based secret mission into hostile Middle Eastern terrain. Obama went ahead with a helicopter-based secret mission into nominally "allied" territory, also with huge potential for trouble if things had gone wrong.

Of course, this doesn't matter to Romney and Republicans. As I said, they have created their narrative. And if they do one thing well, it's stick to the narrative they've decided on. What this thing is with Romney trying to say even the horrible Jimmy Carter would have done what Obama did with bin Laden is a rebuttal to Obama's chest-thumping. One man has asserted his dominance. Now the other man, who is literally in a competition with him, has to try to assert his dominance right back or risk being seen as less of a man.

This is what our foreign policy discussion is, a pathetic and pseudo-masculine tit for tat that ignores the real issues. And it all goes back to this insecurity conservatives have about themselves and the nation and how they have been successful in making liberals insecure about themselves and the policies they should support. I was critical of Obama in yesterday's post because I want this to end. And I don't think it will if liberals adopt conservative tactics, both their rhetorical ones and their policies. We need to implement better policies and let the results speak for themselves, not do the rhetorical equivalent of putting a person's head on a spike in center of town square.