Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A gif to brighten up your day

It's been busy at work. So I haven't had much time to post. Plus with the hurricane and the dumb horse race coverage of the election there haven't been many things to post on. But I wanted to post this gif of one of my favorite people, Alison Brie, because she always brightens up my day.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Polling on god's will

In light of Richard Mourdock's comments, Robert Jones over that The Monkey Cage tells us what the polling says regarding people's beliefs about god's will:

If we start with Mourdock’s basic affirmation that all events, even terrible ones, are part of God’s will, Mourdock has considerable company, both historically and among white evangelical Protestants. This conundrum has vexed Christian theologians enough that the debate has a name: “theodicy” describes various strategies for reconciling the belief in an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving God with the undeniable existence of evil in the world. And today, most Americans affirm the basic premise of an omnipotent God. According to a survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute last year, most Americans (56%) agree that “God is in control of everything in the world,” while 34% disagree and 8% say they do not believe in God. Among white evangelical Protestants, this number rises to 84%, with only 15% in disagreement.

I don't doubt those people believe it in theory. But I'm glad that the poll asked about this:

However, the data also shows that the lived experience of evil and suffering in the world cuts against certainty at the level of religious belief, and has a visible impact on what policies Americans are willing to enshrine in the law. Theologically, nearly 1-in-5 (19%) Americans – and 12% of white evangelical Protestants – say that seeing innocent people suffer sometimes causes them to have doubts about God.

It's easy to believe god has some wonderful plan for you if you are born into a nice and healthy lifestyle. I thought the same thing for a long time. But life experience often leads to this:

In other words, despite the religious conviction that God is in control of all things and abortion is morally wrong, strong majorities of Americans (79%) and white evangelical Protestants (66%) believe that women should be able to obtain a legal abortion in cases of rape.

What these numbers show is that many Americans, and an overwhelming majority of white evangelical Protestants, do affirm a theological principle, which, if followed to its logical conclusion, would conclude that pregnancy, even in the case of rape, is something within God’s control and therefore to be accepted. For at least some, however, the suffering caused by difficult cases like these cause them to have deep theological doubts about the very existence of God. And for most white evangelical Protestants, and even more Americans, ambivalence about very difficult cases, and compassion for human suffering, creates a distinct reticence to harden their ideal theological convictions into concrete public policy.

I'm actually kind of encouraged by this. People can be very willing to ignore things that contradict what they already have an opinion on. But a lot of people can see the logical problems that something like a belief in god's will can often present and come to a different conclusion about policy than their theory should require. I don't wish bad things on people. But I hope those who hold strictly hold their belief in god's will could become more aware of problems that come about in the real world that conflate with a rosy picture of what they think god's plan is.

Amazon threatens corporate America

Matt Yglesias explains:

But what makes Amazon not just amazing but downright dangerous is that as a financial matter it has something even better than profits—the boundless faith of the investment community. You can think of a company's stock price as jointly determined by its profits ("earnings") and by Wall Street's level of optimism about the future, expressed as a price-to-earnings ratio.

In any line of business where you're earning healthy profits you always need to worry that a competitor will undercut you on price. But normally you can also have some confidence that they'll be restrained in their price cutting by the need to maintain profits of their own. Amazon is totally off the leash in this regard. Wall Street treats it like a brand new startup that just needs to think about growth and can find a viable business model later. Which means that if they come after you, you have no recourse. Your profits are going to shrink, and your investors are going to punish you for it but Amazon's profits don't necessarily need to grow proportionally. They just need to show they can poach your market share.

Be afraid.

I don't have much relevant commentary on this. It's not my area of expertise. But I did find this interesting in part because I love Amazon. It nearly always matches, if not undercuts, the price of local retail stores where I live. The only reason I might not use Amazon to buy something is if I want to get it immediately. That's because the cost of shipping to get it quickly can be more than state sales tax and the gas I use to get to the store and back.

For now, the lack of sales tax they charge for TN makes it the best retailer. I expect that to change eventually, which could shift things more towards Best Buy. But that calculation also depends on the price of gas. With gas being so expensive it could cancel out the ~ 9% sales tax in TN. However, I guess rising gas prices could affect shipping prices too. But the reason I like Amazon if I don't need something right away is because I can usually get cheap shipping or, depending on how much I spend, free shipping.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The horror in Syria

Andrew Sullivan has the details, which are absolutely horrible. Seriously, don't watch the video in the link if you don't want to be appalled and depressed.

[M]ost activists have made a difficult transition: No longer demonstrators, they now risk their lives as relief volunteers amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in a conflict that has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives. An estimated 1.2 million Syrians have been displaced, and an additional 1 million are in urgent need of assistance because they have run out of money for food and other necessities, according to the United Nations.

Usually I have an opinion as to what our policy should be. I don't have a firm idea on this issue. I want to be able to intervene in some way to help save these people that are being killed. But I just don't know how effective our military could be. We've seen how our best intentions and powerful military just aren't enough to prevent more death; examples being Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. I don't have an answer. I just wanted to help make people aware of this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Richard Mourdock's rape comment

You've probably heard about this asshole's comment that even a child conceived of a rape is a gift from god. Kevin Drum points out that this should be pretty common religious thought:

Mourdock is getting beat up pretty bad for this, and I think that's just fine. At the same time, can't we all acknowledge that this is just conventional Christian theology? Theodicy is the study of why an omnipotent God permits the existence of evil, and while the term is of fairly recent vintage, Christians and Jews have struggled with the question itself pretty much since the time they decided God was omnipotent.
What I find occasionally odd is that so many conventional bits of theology like this are so controversial if someone actually mentions them in public. God permits evil. My faith is the only true one. People of other faiths are doomed to spend eternity in Hell. Etc. There's a lot of stuff like this which is either explicit or implied in sects of all kinds, and at an abstract level we all know it. Somehow, though, when someone actually says it, it's like they farted in church. Weird.

It becomes controversial because most people just ignore these types of issues regarding their religion. And for the vast majority of their lives they are able to ignore them. But when you make them aware of the logical problems in these situations they take half a second to think about it. It makes news or is controversial because it's such a departure from the norm that people become interested.

Like with most news stories, that interest goes away pretty quickly. People don't pay active attention to this stuff to begin with. So combine that with the fact that if they really thought deeply about this issue and how it relates to their religion in general it would probably cause stress, and it's a situation that Drum describes; the fart lingers for a minute, goes away and everyone forgets it happened.

To probably most people's credit, while I think they ignore the logical problem this presents for their religion in general, they seem to realize how ridiculous Mourdock's comment is on it's face. I mentioned it to some of my family at dinner (I know, I'm a great dinner guest) and they gave the standard "WTF, really?" response. So people seem willing to see how ridiculous this is. I just wish they would care more to the point where people like Mourdock weren't elected to public office.

Romney's religion

I'm not a fan of religions in general. And there were so many other ridiculous/horrible things to focus on that I never gave Romney's a second thought. But Andrew Sullivan makes a good point. I'm going to quote a lot of it since it's so well written:

I raise this because it is a fact that Mitt Romney belonged to a white supremacist church for 31 years of his life, went on a mission to convert Christians and Jews and others to this church, which retained white supremacy as a doctrine until 1978 - decades after Brown vs Board of Education, and a decade after the end of the anti-miscegenation laws.

Once upon a time, when journalists were actually asking politicians tough questions, rather than begging for a get for ratings, this question was actually asked of Mitt Romney by Tim Russert. It's a fascinating exchange for many reasons:
There's nothing in Romney's answer that violates the old Mormon doctrine - still there in the Book of Mormon - that for some reason, people with black skin suffer some kind of inherited curse that will only be lifted after everyone else has been saved in the hereafter.
But all this evades the key question: what did the Romneys do to confront their own church's non-secular position on the inherent spiritual inferiority of blacks? Nothing, so far as I can find. If any reader can find some, please send it to me and I'll post it.
Notice also the lack of any apparent remorse, or criticism of the church's previous position. This is a church that can take a position rooted in its own Scripture and just one day say it's over and let's move on. Even white supremacism! And people still don't see how Mormonism - its utilitarian use of truth, its studied mainstream all-American appeal, its refusal to be completely transparent to outsiders, and its insistence on never having to account for itself - isn't integral to Mitt Romney's personality and beliefs. Romney will no more let outsiders look at his finances than the LDS church will allow non-Mormons inside their Temples after they have been consecrated.

I didn't post the beginning where he basically makes the point that Obama took infinitely more questioning about his religion during his 2008 run than Romney has taken this campaign. Romney has at least taken some questions on most other issues. But those questions have been mild for someone running for public office, much less the presidency. And this issue that Andrew brings up is yet another instance of the media completely failing at their job.

Romney should basically be unelectable. He's an elitist who has no clue how most people live. He is a politician whose sole purpose is to seek power, as evidenced by his ability to have any position he feels he needs to have in order to win office. He has basically no knowledge of international relations. And his supposed guiding moral compass is a religion that, as Andrew points out, has some very recent questionable beliefs, beliefs Romney didn't question and still won't fully condemn (that we know of). He's a power-hungry fraud. And I'm not sure the media has done the bare minimum in pointing that out to the country.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tomorrow's foreign policy debate

I mentioned on Twitter earlier today that I'm dreading the presidential debate on foreign policy. I'm on record as hating most debates. But aside from the general format, I'm expecting the subject to make me agitated just as much. The foreign policy discourse in the US is too narrowly tailored to the middle east and terrorism. And within that discourse it's narrowly tailored to just a few point of views.

I fully expect both Obama and Romney to basically have a cockfight instead of an open debate. That's because both parties assume that you have to run foreign policy like the fiction Ronald Reagan that Republicans have created over the past 30 years. Since Reagan's term they have interpreted the end of the cold war with the style in which he conducted his foreign policy, which could often be bombastic and filled with indulgent hubris.

For Republicans since then, you either conduct foreign policy like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or you are appeasing the enemy and making the country unsafe. And Democrats are so worried about being labeled Jimmy Carter that they conduct themselves in only slightly less hawkish ways than Republicans, in some instances (Obama's drones) even more hawkish. Then there is always the issue of Israel. Both parties bend over backwards to appease anything Israel wants. That often conflicts with our interest in helping bring some sort of stability to the middle east.

That combination leaves us with an overly aggressive and often contradictory foreign policy. And it leaves our resources so strained that we can't confront other problems throughout the rest of the world. The strain of our resources is at least one area in which there is some difference between Obama and Romney. When it comes to the military, Romney is a full blown Keynesian and believes that spending will create jobs. Thus Romney proposes a big spending increase for defense. While Obama wants to scale back the spending just a bit.

Even if you just focus on the narrow issues that will likely be discussed during the debate, there just isn't much of an argument for the spending increases Romney is proposing. We could significantly cut our defense spending and still be the overwhelmingly biggest and best military in the world, with the effect of decreasing the deficit or using that money to fund other worthwhile things.

I could get into specifics, such as the ridiculously narrow discourse on Iran and it's nuclear program. But I've done so before and will likely do so again outside the context of these dog and pony shows they call debates. I just wanted to get my distaste for what I'm guessing will be a horrible event out there before the media goes nuts.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Issue enthusiasm

As I mentioned in my previous post about jobs, most people care a lot about the state of the economy. More people care more about it when it's in bad shape, as it has been for the past 4-5 years. Kate Sheppard explains why this has led to less attention being paid to climate change:

There was, for a brief period then, a sort of optimism about what the United States could accomplish on climate change. President George W. Bush, already on his way out the door in April 2008, affirmed that human activity was causing global warming and vowed that the "ingenuity and enterprise of the American people" would help us overcome it. Barack Obama won the White House later that year with the promise that the next four years would be remembered as the time "when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal" (a pledge that became a punch line for his Republican challenger this time around).

Since then, the United States has failed to do anything significant about climate change. The issue has disappeared from the national radar, even as the scientific evidence has piled up. Political leaders no longer care about it, outside the occasional obligatory mention, in large part because voters don't either. Internationally, the situation isn't much better. Despite all the hype about the 2009 United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, there's still no binding international accord that sets emission limits for both the United States and China. And this past June, a conference held on the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit -- billed as a "once-in-a-generation chance" to set out a vision for a sustainable future -- was similarly disappointing, concluding with a flimsy political statement.

The lack of enthusiasm for all things environmental is pretty easy to explain: It's the recession, stupid. Yet climate change skeptics -- a camp that includes both the hired guns of the fossil-fuel industry and some true unbelievers -- like to claim they are winning the debate.
Americans' interest in cutting emissions has sagged almost in lockstep with the rising unemployment rate. Who has time to worry about melting glaciers when the mortgage payment is late or the supervisor is shuffling pink slips?

I don't have anything to add since Kate nails. I just wanted to say that I think this is also the reason for the lack of coverage of foreign policy and civil liberties that are affect by foreign policy/national security. The attack in Benghazi captured the media's attention for a while. But soon after they were right back onto the horse race of the campaign and the economy.

Obama's terrible record in regard to drone strikes or even things considered good by most people (like killing bin Laden or Iraq ending) are largely ignored by the media. If Bush had killed bin Laden before the 2004 election it would have been in the news constantly. Also, if Bush had implemented Obama's drone policy before the 2006 election it would have been in the news a lot and liberals would be raising much more concern about it than they are currently.

Not only is the wellbeing of the economy important in and of itself, it's also important for non-mainstream issues like climate change and foreign policy in general. Without enthusiasm for solving problems regarding those issues nothing happens.

The conservative narrative on jobs

Andrew Sullivan points out the duality of how conservatives talk about the relationship between the gov't and job creation:

"As president, I will create 12 million new jobs," - Mitt Romney, October 16.

"The government doesn't create jobs," - Mitt Romney, October 16.

The latter quote is the one that is bullshit, in theory I mean. I doubt that 12 million number is much more than pulled out of thin air or derived from a "study" not much more thorough than this blog. But I think it's pretty clear that the gov't can create jobs, and that Romney believes so.

As political narratives go, this one is pretty straightforward. Romney and conservatives don't like to acknowledge that except on the campaign trail and in certain contexts because it goes against their supposed belief that gov't is largely useless and just gets in the way of businesses and people's interests. But they obviously have to give the appearance to the public that they are doing something to help them. And they know the public cares a lot about the availability of jobs.

So you get contradictory claims in the same day because you have to appeal to your base that hates the gov't and believes the narrative you have been pushing on them for decades and you have to appeal to moderates who are worried about the economy and jobs. Again, pretty straightforward. But as a way to keep myself focused on narratives I wanted to post it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The narrative on entitlements

I've been meaning to do a lot more posts on how things in politics (or anything) are framed and how that framing shapes discourses, opinions and policy. With the election in the headlines and debates going on, framing and the narrative the framing creates are more apparent and in full effect. I only watched a minute or so of the VP debate. But the one question I heard was a great example of framing and the narrative that creates around a policy. Glenn Greenwald has the details:

"Let's talk about Medicare and entitlements. Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process.

"Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive?"

That social security is "going broke" – a core premise of her question – is, to put it as generously as possible, a claim that is dubious in the extreme. "Factually false" is more apt. This claim lies at the heart of the right-wing and neo-liberal quest to slash entitlement benefits for ordinary Americans – Ryan predictably responded by saying: "Absolutely. Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. These are indisputable facts." – but the claim is baseless.

The first few lines are the moderator's question. As Glenn says, the way she frames the issue is not true. But since it fits Ryan's ideology he goes along with the narrative that the media and DC politicians have created. Even Obama and some Democrats have gone along with this narrative that social security and medicare are "going broke" as a way to appear tough on the deficit.

Ezra Klein talks about how the "going broke" narrative plays into politicians' desired policy goal when it comes to social security, one those politicians like to tout as being courageous:

Of course, those who say we should raise the Social Security retirement age — either the age of eligibility or the age for full benefits — don’t get laughed at. It’s considered a very thoughtful, courageous effort to deal with our entitlement programs. People who mention it often make a joke of how brave they’re being. For instance, here’s New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) at an American Enterprise Institute event:

You are going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security! Whoa! I just said it and I am still standing here. I did not vaporize into the carpeting.

Christie is far from alone in having this policy preference. Obama put it on the table in negotiations with House Republicans. But most of what the public hears is people like Christie or Paul Ryan claiming that the country is going to go bankrupt if we don't fix social security. People don't know that the country won't actually go bankrupt or that there is a fix to the "problem" that won't hurt the most vulnerable.

The issue is framed in a way that the only alternative is the policy Ryan prefers, and foremost that there is a problem to begin with. Once the issued is framed that way a narrative arises in which the issue is only talked about in the way it has been framed. And by the time someone like Greenwald or Klein tries to talk about different policy preferences some people have already made up their mind. So it becomes very difficult to talk about the issue and get the best policy passed.

Here's more from Ezra on why this isn't a courageous policy preference yet why it's so popular with the media and DC politicians:

The people wandering around calling for a higher retirement age will never feel the bite of the policy. Think tankers and politicians and columnists don’t retire at age 62, or even age 65. They love their work, which mostly requires sitting down in air-conditioned rooms. They stick around pretty much until they’re about to die.

The courage it takes to call for a higher retirement age is the courage to say that other people who don’t have it as good as you do should be the ones to pay to shore up Social Security. It’s the same kind of courage as a poor person calling for higher taxes on the rich, or a sitting congressman calling for a war he’ll never have to fight in.
As it happens, lifting the payroll tax cap would also end up costing eminent think tankers and journalists and lobbyists and politicians a whole lot of money. Perhaps consequentially, it’s a rather less popular policy idea in this town. Many consider it an easy way out, even though it would be much harder on them. Courage and sacrifice for thee, but not for me.

That is how the issue should be framed. But it's increasingly hard to implement policy based on those facts the longer the "going broke" narrative goes on.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Constitutional interpretation: Scalia edition

Richard Posner reads and critiques Scalia's new book:

In United States v. Eichman, for example, he voted to hold a federal statute forbidding the burning of the American flag unconstitutional, and it was certainly a vote against his ideological grain. But it is a curious example for a textual originalist to give. The relevant constitutional provision—“Congress shall make no law abridging ... the freedom of speech”—does not mention non-verbal forms of political protest, and Scalia and Garner insist that legal terms be given their original meaning lest the intent of the legislators or the constitution-makers be subverted by unforeseen linguistic changes. “In their full context,” they assert, “words mean what they conveyed to reasonable people at the time they were written—with the understanding that general terms may embrace later technological innovations.” That approach is inconsistent with interpreting “freedom of speech” to include freedom to burn flags, since the eighteenth-century concept of freedom of speech was much narrower than the modern concept, and burning cloth is not a modern technological innovation. According to William Blackstone, whom Scalia and Garner treat as an authority on American law at the time of the Constitution, freedom of speech forbids censorship in the sense of prohibiting speech in advance, but does not prohibit punishment after the fact of speech determined by a jury to be blasphemous, obscene, or seditious. And so an understanding of free speech that embraces flag burning is exceedingly unoriginalist. It is the product of freewheeling Supreme Court decisions within the last century.

I wanted to post all of that to give you an idea of what Posner is doing with his review of Scalia's book. But reading the intro to Posner's article, notice what Scalia is doing. He isn't claiming to be an "originalist", one who interprets the constitution based on the original intent of the founders. He's claiming to be a "textualist", one who interprets based strictly and purely on the text and the text alone. That's a sly attempt at a distinction. I think he's trying to make a distinction because there is no original intent. There were many founders and they had different views on these issues. I call it the "But, Hamilton" issue of constitutional interpretation.

What Scalia is trying to do by claiming he is a textualist is to avoid the "But, Hamilton" problem wherein an originalist points to a founder's opinion and someone responds with an opposing opinion from a different founder, thus nullifying the originalist's method of constitutional interpretation. Instead, Scalia claims to just point to the text, which on the surface is a safer method of interpretation. And even for a judge completely different than Scalia, an important part of interpretation.

But what Posner is showing is how difficult it is to adhere to the textualist method in practice. Judges are humans. They aren't a-political. We would like them to try to be. But I don't think it's realistic to completely remove any and all partisan leanings from their thought processes when ruling on a case. What we should expect is for them to make a good faith argument and be consistent with their logic. These are things Scalia has problems with. That and his tone are why liberals hold him in lesser regard than other conservative justices.

And just for fun, more from Posner:

Similarly, the book’s defense of the Heller decision fails to mention that most professional historians reject the historical analysis in Scalia’s opinion. Reading Law quotes approvingly Joseph Story’s analysis of preambles—“the preamble of a statute is a key to open the mind of the makers, as to the mischiefs, which are to be remedied, and the objects, which are to be accomplished by the provisions of the statute”—but fails to apply the analysis to the preamble of the Second Amendment, which reads: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State.” The preamble implies that the Second Amendment (which creates a right “to keep and bear arms”) is not about personal self-defense, but about forbidding the federal government to disarm state militias. Contra Story, Justice Scalia treated the preamble dismissively in his opinion in Heller.

Davone Bess and Brian Hartline, elite WRs?

That's not a question I thought I'd be pondering coming into this season. The consensus was the opposite, that Bess and Hartline would make up one of the worst receiving corps in the league after we traded Brandon Marshall. But that hasn't been the case. Let's look at their standard stats.

Hartline: 29 catches 514 yards 17.7 yards per catch 1 TD

Bess: 22 catches 346 yards 15.7 yards per catch 0 TD

Hartline is leading the league in yards and Bess is 19th. Hartline is 8th in YPC and Bess is 18th. They aren't catching many TDs. But they are really racking up the yards, and with a rookie QB throwing them the ball. So by standard stats they are doing very well. The advanced stats show them in even better light.

Bess leads all WRs in win probability added. Hartline is 16th. This is significant because win probability is telling us how much a player is helping his team win. Brian Burke explains it here. Long story short, Bess is ranked so high because he catches passes in important situations, such as 3rd downs. Hartline is lower because even though he has caught more passes, those plays haven't come in as many situations that increase the team's chances of winning the game as Bess has. Still, Hartline is doing very well by the WPA metric.

Even Dolphins fans are having trouble understanding what this means. They have seen Bess and Hartline play for a few years and not produce like elite WRs. So when they see that they are rated so high by these stats they think something is wrong with the stat. Win probability isn't telling us that Bess is necessarily the best WR in the league (at least by conventional standards). It's not telling us him or Hartline are the most talented WRs. It's just telling us how effective they have been at making plays that help the team win and avoiding plays that hurt the team's chances of winning.

There are a few biases I see in regard to Bess and Hartline that prevent people from accepting what the stats are telling us. Hartline's white, doesn't run a great 40, and isn't physically imposing. He doesn't look like a stereotypically good NFL WR. Bess is similar. He doesn't run a great 40 and isn't physically imposing, like a Calvin Johnson. Combined with how they look, they don't run the flashy routes that show up on highlights. And finally, they haven't generated the eye-popping stats that the stereotypically good NFL WR gets (>1000s yards and around 10 TDs). So based on what we are told by the sports media, they don't look like what the best WRs are supposed to look like (both physically and on paper in regard to their production).

Until now, I think a lot of their lack of elite production has been due to the fact that they haven't had good QBs throwing them the ball. Wes Welker was similar to them during his time in Miami. But Welker didn't all of the sudden develop new skills in NE. To my knowledge, he didn't get any faster and his hands didn't get better. The difference is that in NE had a good QB and he was getting thrown to more often. The latter is often overlooked. Currently, Hartline is 7th in total targets (passes thrown to him). Bess is 27th, and that's with a teammate getting the 7th most targets. So they are both being thrown to a lot, whereas last year we threw to Brandon Marshall a ton, 8th most in the league. While Bess and Hartline ranked 52nd and 63rd last year.

So the reason they are producing so well this year is due to the fact that they are getting more passes thrown their way and they are performing efficiently (catching a lot of them) when the pass comes to them. Some are having a hard time believing they are producing like elite WRs because they have never done so before and they don't look like the typically elite WRs (aside from Wes Welker). That's not to say Bess and Hartline (or Welker) are as physically talented as someone like Calvin Johnson. But they are producing like them. And that should tell you something about how, in general, we evaluate WRs and value the skills we covet in WRs.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

This is what my stomach is thinking

Or maybe it's what I wish it was doing.

The infield fly rule

I'm a Braves fan. So obviously I didn't like the ruling. But objectively, even if that were the Mets, I wouldn't have liked the way they ruled it. My biggest problem is how far the ball traveled. Being a bit generous, it ended up in shallow left field. It was clearly closer to the outfield than it was the infield. There doesn't seem to be a defined area of the field at which the rule does or doesn't apply. But it seems implicit in the rule and explicit in the title of the rule that the ball has to be hit in or near the infield.

I'd also say it's implicit in the rule that the ball has to be close to the infield because the point of the rule is to protect the runners. In a normal infield fly situation, the fielder could easily fake like he is going to catch it and let it drop at the last second in order to catch the runner off base. The further the ball is hit, the less able the fielder is able to do this since he would have to throw the ball further to get the runner out.

Last night during the play in question, the Braves' runners were off the base and ready to advance because the ball was hit further away from the infield than a normal infield fly situation. And the short stop ended up pulling up because he knew he was running way beyond the infield and was getting to the point where the outfielder was better able to make the catch. So the way the players were behaving made it seem like they knew it wasn't an infield fly situation.

To me there has to be a point at which the rule doesn't apply. Presumably a fly ball could be hit so far and so high that an infielder could use normal effort to catch a ball that ends up on the warning track. I'm not sure how you do that without still having it be a judgment call by the ump. But hopefully this situation gets the league to put more strict definition to the rule.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Redefining justice

Glenn Greenwald explains how the Obama administration is trying to change the meaning of "justice":

President Obama has repeatedly vowed that those responsible for the Benghazi attacks will be "brought to justice". That term is Obama-speak for: I will order people summarily executed without a whiff of due process or transparency, based purely on my say-so and my suspicions (just as it was Bush-speak for the same concept).

In other words, Obama "justice" means summary assassinations ordered in secret without a even a pretense of due process. As Glaser wrote, the reported Libya approach "demonstrates their preference to kill suspected perpetrators as opposed to apprehending suspects and carrying out a transparent trial in court, something the administration seems long ago to have abandoned in favor of night raids or drone strikes." Moreover, just as "terrorist" means "those the US government accuses of being a terrorist," the term "responsible for the Benghazi attack" means: those whom the president secretly decides is guilty.

Trying to apprehend people you think committed crimes and then punishing them once their guilt is proven in a duly constituted judicial tribunal is so obsolete and wimpy: so pre-9/11 and inconsistent with the Age of the Proud Progressive Warrior.

I guess this isn't specific to the Obama administration. I'm sure most Republicans and the American public in general would define justice in a similar way, despite the fact that it's not how our legal system defines it. But the Obama administration is actually carrying out policy based on this made up definition.

This is covered in Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne wants to kill the man who killed his parents. He tells his long time friend Rachel Dawes that doing this would bring justice. Also, his mentor, Ra's al Ghul, says that justice is balance. But Rachel says that Bruce wouldn't be enacting justice. He would be getting revenge. This difference is why Batman doesn't kill people. It's not justice.

What the Obama administration is doing is even worse than the Batman Begins example. At least Joe Chill was tried and convicted of killing Bruce's parents. As Glenn points out, these people the Obama administration is claiming they can kill haven't been tried and convicted of anything. That isn't justice.

Presidential debates

Last night's debate was terrible. It's a bad format to begin with. Most issues can't be fully or very intelligently debated in 2 minute spans. So if your goal is to flesh out people's position on issues, this just isn't the format. No one will watch for as long as it would take.

Even if you don't want to assume that the premise is flawed, last night was handled poorly. Jim Leher asked the most vague questions possible. Unless you are going to tell the candidates the questions before the debate, they need more than 2 minutes to explain their differences on "entitlements". Maybe then they can sum up their positions quickly. But even then I'm sure important things would be overlooked.

The other problem I had with Leher is one that I have with every moderator, which is that they can't challenge the candidates and truly moderate the debate properly. The moderator needs to be able to call out bullshit and push the candidates to explain themselves without bullshitting. Doing this would allow the audience to see how the candidate thinks and how they react to stressful situations. Those are qualities you probably need to have in order to be president.

Until these issues are resolved I don't see much value in watching the debates. Plus the reactions to them are pretty firmly based in confirmation bias. The few people who haven't made up their mind might be influenced. But they don't really matter that much.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Should we stop churches from advocating partisan politics?

Stephen Colbert has a guy on arguing that it's a violation of the 1st amendment to prevent churches/religions from advocating partisan political views. He's got a point. In very strict terms, he's right. You should be able to say what you want and advance whatever party or candidate you want. But there's more to it than that.

The way the gov't keeps (supposedly) churches from advocating politics is by allowing them to not pay taxes. This is where Colbert's guest goes too far. He wants to be able to say what he wants and keep the tax exemption all at the same time. The problem as I see it is that state gov'ts let churches buy and maintain land without paying property taxes while everyone else has to.

This seems unfair to me. I don't see any reason a church/religion should get special exemption. I would be willing to keep the status quo if I thought that the exemption and threat of having it removed kept churches from advocating politics. I strongly suspect it doesn't. So I think a fair thing to do would be to officially let churches say what they want and force them to pay taxes like the rest of us.

The biggest deal here is the tax exemption, which allows churches to own huge pieces of lang at low prices while driving up prices for everyone else. The free speech issue here is really more a matter of theory because in practice this restriction isn't much of a burden. As a preacher or whatever, you can practically walk outside your church and onto the sidewalk and advocate whatever/whomever you want and their tax exemption would be fine.

So this guy on Colbert is really just whining about a technicality while the rest of us actually pay a literal price for our tax policy towards churches. And that's the real injustice here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Romney isn't George W Bush on taxes

I mean that in a bad way. He's worse. Here's what Bush's tax cuts look like for each income bracket:

It's comparing them to Pawlenty's plan, which isn't ideal. But it was the best I could find with the income brackets listed like that. The main point is that Bush cut taxes for everyone across the board. Though he did cut them more the high up the income bracket you were. This is what's known as a regressive tax cut. Taxes were cut the same rate across the board, which ignores the fact that 5% of one's income means more to someone making $20,000 than it does to someone making $20,000,000.

Compare that to Romney's plan which Kevin Drum shows us:

As Kevin says, there's a reason Paul Ryan doesn't want to talk about this tax plan. Bush's was bad enough. Romney's is even worse because he keeps the cuts for the higher income brackets while actually raising taxes on the lower income brackets. Bush at least had the sense to hide the fact that his tax cuts were primarily for the rich by saying he cut everyone's taxes (while not mentioning that they were regressive). Romney can't hide the fact that his tax cuts are purely about giving rich people more money.

Dolphins vs Cardinals

I always find it interesting to look at this and put some numbers on what happened Sunday. I don't know how to get the graph pasted here. So if you're lazy and don't want to follow the link I'll note some key plays and performances. (Note: These numbers aren't the whole story. But I think they're a good starting point for further discussion)

We were at .95 wp (out of 1.00 for us being the road team, and .00 for Arizona) just after halftime. That's surprising since we only had a 13-0 lead with about 25 minutes left to play.

We dropped below .50 wp (the probability of a win being a toss up) after Arizona took the lead. We got back up to .55 wp after a 20 yard gain by Bess on the ensuing drive. And then Naanee happened.

We went from .55 wp for to .15 wp against on the Naanee fumble. That's obviously a huge swing.

The Sean Smith INT and the Hartline 80 yard TD gave us another huge swing back up to .85 wp.

As for the players, Burke's numbers give Tannehill a modest performance. But that has to be because of the two turnovers late in the game, which were certainly not all (or even mostly) on him. Naanee's one play basically wiped out Bess and Fasano's production combined. Hartline was great (.39 win probability added, 11.3 expected points added). But Bess was really good as well (.31 wpa, 7.3 epa). So it's saying a lot that Naanee's one play (-.43 wpa, -8.9 epa) was worse than Bess' entire output.

For the season so far, Tannehill is now in the positive as far as win probability added. But looking at adjusted yards per attempt instead of win probability, he's in decent shape for a rookie. Even with a mediocre performance Reggie Bush is playing very well. To my surprise, Devon Bess is leading all WRs in win probability. That doesn't mean he has necessarily been the most productive. He hasn't. But that does suggest that he has been very productive in important situations. Given his history and my eyeball test, I'd assume that's because he is great on 3rd down. He is a big difference in punting the ball away and keeping possession. And possession is an important aspect in win probability.

Defensively, Wake has been pretty good. He ranks pretty high in WP and expected points added. Randy Starks has been about as good from the DT position. Sean Smith's huge game against Arizona puts him in the top 10 in terms of wpa and epa for CBs. We won't be facing Kevin Kolb every week. But hopefully Smith can come close to matching his performance thus far.

If you just looked at our win/loss record you could come away with a fairly negative impression of this team. And don't get me wrong, we have some big issues. But I think there's a fair bit to be optimistic. A few plays here and there and it's a pretty different outlook on the season.

Feminism's war on penises

I don't have any commentary on this. I just wanted to quote this from Jessica Valenti:

Unfortunately, there are too many men who—despite their penchant for tattooed hipster girls—won’t submit to eating soybean products, so feminists have had to create an additional strategy: we are fucking the hard-ons right off of you. That’s right. You may not know it, but men’s penises actually wilt in the presence of a sexually independent woman. Laura Sessions Stepp gets it—nothing a turns a man off more than a lady who wants to sleep with him.

Rush Limbaugh may have let the world know what feminists are actually up to, but his truth-telling will not stop us. Because if our soy/sex plan doesn’t work out, we can always send our underground army of harpies. Don’t make us do it, guys.

In case you're having a case of the Mondays (I don't quote Office Space enough), that's sarcasm. Though I'm all for sexually independent women fucking the hard-ons off me. I'll gladly accept the trade-off of my penis shrinking.