Saturday, November 30, 2013

My annual "What's wrong with Duke?" post

I could just repost every Duke post I've ever written as an explanation for why they lost just about any game. Coach K has the same issues every year. For all his greatness, he has several blind spots that get exposed by good teams or bad match-ups. Their two losses this year haven't been bad losses like we've seen in the past. And the team is built a bit differently than most recent Duke teams. But even their wins have exposed some serious problems for this team. In short, Coach K doesn't value rebounding enough and falls in love with his "scorers" even when they aren't shooting well. Let's look at the 3 close games they've played so far to see how this plays out.

First, the way this team is different than previous years is that Duke finally has not just one, but two very talented small forwards in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. This position has been a black hole for production recently. So Coach K is justifiably excited about those two guys and wants to play them together as much as possible. That's smart. But he's putting them at the wrong positions when they play together. Parker tops out at probably 6'9 and isn't very wide or muscular. Hood is about the same size, but probably a bit thinner and not was wide.

They are fairly prototypical small forwards. But Coach K puts Parker at power forward and Hood at small forward instead of Parker at small forward and Hood at a shooting guard. This forces Parker to play more around the basket than what is probably natural for him. He's talented enough to do it offensively, though posting him up in order to get him the ball slows down the offense. Defensively he can hold his own at times. But he has trouble moving bigger guys around, instead relying on his athleticism to make up for it. Why is this a problem?

Duke is 211th out of 351 in total points given up per game. That's terrible regardless of what pace the offense is playing, which is probably pretty fast considering they are 19th in total points scored per game. They gave up 90 points to Vermont at home. That shouldn't happen, even against good teams. Vermont only made 4 threes and shot 30% from three. But they shot 75% on 2 point FGs. It wasn't a rebounding problem. They just flat out couldn't stay in front of the ball and keep them from getting good shots. Kansas shot 56% overall and out-rebounded them 36 to 21. Duke's two big men combined for 3 rebounds in 54 minutes. And that's their only role on the team, to play defense and rebound. The only legitimate center on the team, Marshall Plumlee played 3 minutes. He played only 1 minute against Arizona last night. And to my knowledge he is healthy. So I have no idea why he doesn't play more.

Consider the Arizona game last night. Hairston and Jefferson, Duke's "big men", got a combined 7 rebounds in 39 minutes. Arizona's Aaron Gordon had as many rebounds in 8 fewer minutes. I'm focusing on rebounding because while we don't do a great job of guarding the ball, we are only allowing teams to shoot 45% against us, 27% from 3. So aside from Vermont, it's not like every team is getting layups against the defense. The problem is that we are 294th in total rebounds. So when the other team misses a shot on offense, we aren't getting the rebound often enough, thus giving them another opportunity to score. And when we miss a shot on offense, we are letting them get the ball too often, thus giving them more opportunities to score.

When the offense is playing well this isn't a big deal. But when we aren't scoring well it makes it even harder on the offense because they aren't going to get the ball as often as they should in order to make up for inefficient shooting. And that brings me to Coach K's other flaw aside from not valuing rebounding enough, and that's deference to the "scorer". Jabari Parker is this year's "scorer". He's the Kobe Bryant of the team. He can "create his own shot". The problem with this traditional thinking is that it often ignores how efficiently the "scorer" is shooting. Michael Jordan wasn't a great offensive player because he took a ton of shots like Kobe or Carmelo Anthony do. He was great because he made half the shots he took, whereas guys like Kobe and Melo only make about 45% of their shots.

When Parker is playing well offensively he can be efficient. But being a freshman, he doesn't always have good shot selection, forcing up difficult shots that will likely not go in and end up in the hands of the other team. When Coach K lets Parker take inefficient shots he is not only making it harder on the defense because of the other team getting the ball without us gaining points, he's taking away shots from other players. And when Rodney Hood is on your team, it's a bad thing when he isn't allowed to take a more efficient shot than the ones you're letting another player take. Hood is shooting 62% on the year. That's insane, especially considering he takes almost 3 three-pointers per game, of which he's making an insane 63% of. Hood shoots that well in part because he's good at driving and getting a shot close to the basket, which is the most efficient shot on the court, depending on how well you can shoot the 3. He can do this because he's more athletic and stronger than many of the players defending him. So when Parker isn't shooting well or taking bad shots, it's not like Coach K doesn't have other options.

So what should Coach K do different in order to avoid the problems the team has had so far? The thing he has the most control over is who is on the court and at what time they're there. I think Marshall Plumlee has to play more, assuming he's healthy. He isn't as athletic and strong as his brothers were. But he's very tall. And while you don't have to be really tall (in relative basketball terms) to rebound well, it certainly helps. It's worth a try considering Hairston and Jefferson hasn't shown the ability to do it. Though, while I don't love those two players, I would still play them a significant amount of time, but mostly at their more natural power forward position instead of at center. At PF they won't be at as many size disadvantages as they are at center. If for some reason Plumlee just sucks, then I'd play Hairston and Jefferson at the same time more often, placing more emphasis on rebounding instead of playing so many guards and small forwards at one time.

This would allow Parker to move to his natural small forward position and Hood to shooting guard when he'd have an even bigger advantage than he does at SF. This would also keep the very inconsistent Sulaimon and Thorton off the floor more often. Neither has a consistent shot and I don't think they're that good defensively. So my main players who get full time minutes would still be Parker, Hood and Cook. But I'd give Plumlee at least 20 minutes a game (more depending on how well he plays) and I'd cut down on Sulaimon and Thorton's minutes. I think this would directly improve our rebounding (it can't get much worse) and overall defense and indirectly improve the offense by giving it more opportunities to hopefully not let Parker jack up bad shots.

But if Coach K doesn't do this or figure something else out this team will continue to struggle against both good overall teams and teams that can rebound well. And that will lead to another good but disappointing season for Duke, one which largely wastes the talent of a very good player in Jabari Parker. The weird thing is, Coach K should have already learned this lesson when, during the middle of the season, he started playing the 7 foot Brian Zoubek more. Once Zoubek got more playing time the team immediately began playing well and rode it all the way to the national title. I'm not sure Marshall Plumlee is as good as Zoubek. But we won't know until he actually plays.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Contraception coverage will go to Supreme Court

I've been retweeting some good questions that news of the SC deciding to hear a case about mandated contraception coverage by employer-provided health insurance. The basic story is that a corporation like Hobby Lobby thinks it's a violation of its religious freedom to have to provide contraception in the health insurance they give their employees. The questions I've been retweeting deal with what could happen if the court agrees with Hobby Lobby and lets any corporation do whatever they want based on their religious beliefs:









We could go on and on with these types of questions. And that's because you can claim anything is your "religious belief" and try to claim protection for implementing that belief under the 1st Amendment. I somewhat jokingly tweeting that it's my religious belief that incomes over $1 million shouldn't pay under 60% in income taxes. Seriously though, why isn't that a "religious belief" in the same way Hobby Lobby is claiming opposing contraception is their "religious belief"?

The pope actually wrote recently about how the rising inequality being fostered by economies around the world is bad and that we should be doing more to help the poor. So if I were still catholic (or even if I'm not), couldn't I legitimately claim that my religion dictates that high incomes can't be taxed below a certain level because God mandates that we have to give X amount to the poor?

I doubt the court will address the question of what dictates a religious belief and what doesn't. It will probably just address whether a corporation is entitled to the same 1st Amendment religious protections as an individual. And even though many of the conservatives on this court are Tea Partiers in disguise, I think at least Kennedy and the liberals will rule that corporations don't get 1st Amendment religious protection. It's uncertain, though. And that's scary because if the court rules in favor of the likes of Hobby Lobby it could have huge ramifications for a number of issues and the sanctity of the 1st Amendment.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Being a man and being a feminist

Ta-Nehisi Coates had a typically great post about the appropriateness of certain words. For the most part he talks about the word "nigger". I don't have anything to add to that discussion. But TNC mentions the word "feminism" in the post and then addresses it more at length in the comments:

To pick this up, I have no issue with the word "feminist." I think people who try to get cute and pretend that if we invented a new word, sexism would be easier to confront are delusional. Feminism has the connotations it has because it is a movement opposed to people with power. This is not a naming issue.

But I also think it's important for people to have a space of their own. I don't really have to be in that same space to agree and sympathize with the movement. Susan B. Anthony and Ida Wells are heroic to me. I'm suspicious of a need to obviate the differences in who we are in order for me to say that.

And those differences are important. If I am honest, I must admit that a significant portion of my brain is on "How you doin...." time. A good part of my work in attempting to be an honorable person is making sure I don't interact with women from that space--that I see everyone as whole and complete human beings, not simply as attractive bodies. That's my fight. It's part of who I am. It feels somehow false to stand in a space and speak on my belief in liberation, while half of my brain is...what, shall we say, carnal?

I don't think women should have to deal with that. And maybe, more honestly, I don't want have to deal with that. I know my heart. It is not clean. There something about calling myself a "feminist" that feels mad self-congratulatory. Truthfully, whenever I see heterosexual male writes calling themselves "male feminists" alarm bells go off. That may not be fair. I don't know. I know dudes. I know what I am.

My support for reproductive rights really comes out of that knowledge. It comes from knowing my own impulses and imagining what I might do if there were no break on those impulses. I don't know much about intersectionality. But I believe empowered women--actually empowered, not "strong women" cliches--are essential to a democracy. I'm sympathetic to feminism, not out of any bleeding heart sentimentalism, but because I think that it is imperative that women have power to protect themselves from men. And I don't just mean "those men over there." I'm a man. I am part of what women need protection from. Given absolute power, I have no idea what I would do. Calling myself a "feminist," just feels pretending away something that is very real.

Women should have spaces where they are free of my BS. I don't need to be everywhere to be in sympathy.

That's where my brain is as well. The impulse seems natural. How we choose to act seems very socialized. Whatever guys want to call themselves, it's on us to not define women purely sexually. It's a battle. But it's one that can and should be won.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Can't believe I hadn't thought of doing this before I saw this ranking of every episode from Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/ranking-every-episode-of-buffy-the-vampire-slayer?bftw I'm not going to rank every episode, just list some of my favorites.

Tabula Rasa

"Randy Giles? Why not just call me Horny Giles or Desperate for a Shag Giles?" The shot of all the gang screaming when they open the door to a few vampires is one of the best shots of the series.

Fool for Love

Spike backstory is always gold. Love the interaction between him and Buffy at the end.

Lover's Walk

Spike returns to Sunnydale after Dru cheated on him, looking for a love spell. Reminiscing about killing a homeless guy is disturbingly funny. I don't care about the Buffy/Angel relationship. But it was fun to hear Spike tell them the truth about their relationship. If Spike is anything he's honest.

Passion

Angel watching Buffy and Willow get the phone call that Ms Calendar was dead is brutal. And an important episode beyond the feelings because killing her made things more intense and legitimized the threats to Buffy and the gang.

Band Candy

"Blow it off. I'll write you a note." And Snider still kind of being Snider, but younger. And of course young Giles, who apparently had sex with Joyce.

Pangs

"You made a bear. Undo it! Undo it!!"

Becoming, part 1

They had already killed Ms Calendar by this point. So we knew they weren't screwing around. Heavy stuff is going to happen and they aren't afraid to knock off important characters. But damn, these two episodes really go for the gut. Kendra wasn't loved but she was important in the context of the scene. With her dead, Giles is taken, Willow is unconscious and Xander is beat up pretty good. Great cliffhanger.

Becoming, part 2

Obviously heartbreaking to watch Buffy have to kill Angel, even though at this point I hated Angel and wanted him to die. Even more powerful than that moment to me was when Buffy breaks down talking to her mom about being the Slayer and what that sacrifice has meant for her life. She doesn't always wear the reluctant hero on her sleeve. But we're reminded of what it takes out of her and what she gives up when she kills Angel.

But my favorite scene in this episode and one of my favorite in the series is when Spike confronts Buffy to ask for her help defeating Angel and everything after that until Spike and Joyce sit in the living room together, sharing uncomfortable silence until Joyce asks if they've met before.

The Body

A sledgehammer to the heart. One of Anya's best moments. Dawn falling to the ground is the most brutal thing ever.

The Gift

The ultimate hero moment for Buffy. She was already a great hero before sacrificing herself. But this solidified her status right up there with the likes of Batman for me. And seeing Spike break down and the gravestone was so beautiful.

Chosen

I loved the nostalgia of this episode. Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles having a typical Buffy conversation for one last time. Buffy again gets to be the hero, overcoming being stabbed. Spike finally being a hero sacrificing himself. And then fully realizing the main theme of the show, allowing women to realize their inherent power.

The thing about Buffy is that it's great at both the individual episode level and on a season by seasons and overall series level. And beyond being great in and of itself, it's an important show for me personally. I started watching during season 3, at which point I was a bit younger than Buffy on the show. I couldn't really relate to Buffy or anyone since I went to an all guy catholic high school. But I realized that I was watching something different. The hero was a girl, the dialogue was different, and the story was more emotionally stimulating than anything I had experienced before.

Buffy opened the door to a whole new way I experienced tv, and eventually all media. In a way, it also helped me change my view of the world. Part of that is just being exposed to Joss Whedon and then following the rest of his work. But seeing a show that subverted so much of what I had previously seen coincided with my questioning of the rest of the world. Even after the show ended I would come home from class in college and watch reruns to the point where I've seen every episode almost as much as I've seen Seinfeld. Like Seinfeld, it became such a reference point for everything that it's become part of who I am.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Government reopens, but for how long?

Democrats finally used the leverage they had (by benefit of holding the presidency and a majority in the Senate) and waited for Republicans to realize they wouldn't cave to their ridiculous demands. For future reference, Democrats, that is how it's done. Please repeat as necessary. And sadly, I think it will be necessary sooner rather than later. A fairly short term continuing resolution was passed during the last big shutdown in 95. A deal wasn't worked out and there was another shutdown. It was only the second time when Clinton refused to give into all of Newt Gingrich and the GOP's demands that they came to an agreement. I think we're likely to see the same thing happen.

Let's start with what Republicans want, because they are clear about it. They want to cut as much spending from just about everything (maybe not defense, but even then I'm not sure since they seem to be accepting the sequester cuts). If they could do anything they wanted, they would at the very least enact something similar to Paul Ryan's budget proposals. Those proposals include such things as ending Medicare by giving people vouchers to buy health insurance on their own and cutting Social Security benefits, among many other ridiculous things. More than any of that, Republicans want to cut taxes on rich people and corporations.

I'm less sure about the specifics of what Democrats want. But they obviously don't want to cut taxes on the rich. If anything they want to raise their taxes, or at least keep them at current levels. There's always talk about "closing tax loopholes" from both sides. But there's no way Republicans will endorse whatever that looks like in actual policy if it raises taxes on the rich at all. At best, it will involve some technicality that just moves money around but doesn't actually raise any more revenue. At worst, Democrats will cave and give the rich more defined benefits through the tax code.

Some Democrats say they don't want to cut Social Security and other entitlements. But others, such as Obama, seem very open to "entitlement reform", which is just code for cutting benefits. Democrats already cut Medicare spending in one of the few places that wasn't a direct benefit cut (payments to doctors). And Republicans screamed bloody murder when they did it. So I doubt Medicare will be part of "entitlement reform". That probably leaves Social Security and chained CPI, which amounts to a benefits cut. There's just no way Republicans will agree to anything but cuts. And for some reason, Democrats seem open to this. Unless something changes and Democrats decide to make a stand on not cutting entitlements, I think a deal is likely to lead to chained CPI. And unless Republicans rediscover their love for defense spending, I think the current spending levels will remain in tact. We'll get a bare bones budget that drags us and the economy along until the 2014 elections.

Is there any way to avoid that scenario? Well, Democrats will continue to have leverage in the fact that nothing can pass the Senate and be signed by the president without their approval. But they will have less leverage than they did these last few weeks because Republicans probably won't be asking for something ridiculous like defunding Obamacare, thus fewer people will blame a shutdown or debt limit breach on them. But I think if Democrats can negotiate effectively, they can minimize the damage Republicans can do. The first thing I think they need to do is ask for a lot of stuff initially; stuff like infrastructure spending, a reverse of the sequester cuts, a 3% increase in income taxes on incomes $250k and up, and the complete elimination of the debt ceiling.

They won't get any of that. But if you ask for that and gradually back off some of those demands it makes it look like you're negotiating and conceding things to Republicans. I don't really know if I'd raise taxes on those incomes if I could because I don't care about the short term deficit. But starting at a 3% raise, backing down to 1.5%, and then making a "huge" concession by saying you'll abandon the tax increase completely in favor of something like not doing chained CPI is worth trying. I'm not very confident this will happen. Obama in particular seems to have a negotiating strategy that involves starting with the minimum of what you want and conceding from there, offering to do accept things you don't want, thus making Republicans ask for more. If that happens like it did in 2011 this deal will end up being pretty bad, assuming we get a deal at all.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Government shutdown

A quick analogy to highlight how ridiculous Republicans are being: imagine Romney won the presidency in 2012, Republicans gained control of the Senate, but lost House control to Democrats. Then imagine that instead of passing a budget or a continuing resolution, Democrats in the House (where spending bills have to originate) say they will let the gov't shut down unless the Senate and Romney agree to very strict gun control policy. That would be ridiculous. What's beyond ridiculous and a lot more dangerous is threatening to not raise the debt ceiling while advocating the same policy.

And that brings me to a point Matt Yglesias made today in regard to negotiations (I'm too lazy to link to his post. If your interested go to my twitter page.) He says that Dems and Obama shouldn't just sit back and wait for Republicans to cave and inevitably pass a "clean" CR, meaning it contains nothing about defunding or delaying Obamacare. He thinks their stance should be to also raise the debt ceiling, or actually, to get rid of the debt ceiling all together since it doesn't really serve any good purpose. I certainly agree with that as policy and as a negotiating tactic.

If I were Democrats and Obama I would think about going further and telling Republicans that I won't support a CR that doesn't get rid of the sequester cuts that were implemented as part of these same negotiations (or really, hostage taking) last year. Democrats don't like the sequester cuts because they hurt important programs they care about. Republicans also don't like the sequester cuts because they hurt important programs they care about. That was the point of the sequester, to force both parties to come to an agreement so that they could avoid something no one wanted. That didn't work and both parties seem to have rationalized maintaining the cuts. But even if Democrats aren't serious about getting rid of the sequester cuts I think it might not be a bad negotiating strategy.

Say Obama comes out in a speech talking about how bad this shutdown is and trying to convince everyone to blame Republicans for it and lays out what he wants as part of a negotiating tactic. He says at the very least he wants a "clean" CR. There will be absolutely no deal without that. The second thing he wants is what Matt says, a raise of the debt ceiling and an abolishment of it forever so that we don't default on our debt and create big economic problems. And the last thing he wants is to remove the sequester cuts from the CR because they are hurting the economy and important gov't programs.

If Obama were to spend the first round of negotiations pushing really hard for all of those things Republicans likely wouldn't budge at all and would likely try to get the press to blame him for asking for too much, thus extending the shutdown. The press may even play along and cast Obama as the main person to blame. Obama could then go back to the negotiating table and say that he'll accept a "clean" CR and debt ceiling raise but not the sequester cuts so that they could end the shutdown. Then Obama could say he's the one making concessions for the good of the country. And if Republicans don't agree to his concessions, he could try to shift the blame to them.

The problem with trying to move the debate to the left by demanding more than you would actually agree to in the end is that you have to convince Republicans that you are making a legitimate demand and you have to appear to be willing to hold out until you get it. I'm not sure Obama can convince Republicans of those things. And I'm not sure how willing they would be to getting rid of the debt ceiling once and for all. They were successful last year in using it to get something they wanted. So they would probably view getting rid of it as a concession instead of just a thing we as a country are obligated to do. All of these problems are why I only say this negotiating strategy should be considered. I'm not sure it would work. But it's at least worth thinking about.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Polling on the deficit

Kevin Drum points us to a NYT/CBS poll, specifically a question about the deficit and whether people approve of the way Obama is handling it:

54 percent of the public disapproves of Barack Obama's handling of the deficit. And yet, as the chart on the right shows, the deficit is shrinking dramatically. Last year it dropped by $200 billion, and this year, thanks to a recovering economy, lower spending from the sequester, and the increased taxes in the fiscal cliff deal, it's projected to fall another $450 billion.

Bottom line: It's unfortunate that the deficit is falling so fast. It's a headwind against the recovery that we don't need. Nonetheless, the deficit is falling fast, and no one seems to know it yet. The chart above is one that deserves much wider distribution. Be sure to show it to your conservative friends at every opportunity.

I strongly suspect Kevin is right that most people are thinking about that question in terms of cutting the deficit. So while I disapprove of how Obama is handling the deficit (it shouldn't be falling, at least that rate, we need to be spending more to help the economy) and think everyone should agree with me, the vast majority of that 54% very likely aren't disapproving because it's falling too fast.

I went to the actual poll to check the wording and what other questions they were asking. What I found was several questions about the deficit that prime people to think of the issue purely in terms of cutting it instead of increasing it. For instance, here are some of the questions under the section heading "The Budget Deficit":

Overall, what do you think is the best way to reduce the federal budget deficit?

Cut federal spending 33%
Increasing taxes
Combination of both 60%
Don't know/No answer

If you HAD to choose ONE, which of the following programs would you be willing to change in order to cut spending ?

Medicare 20%
Social Security 14%
The Military 49%
Don't know/No answer 17%

The first question assumes that the deficit should be cut. They don't even ask if people think it should raised or kept at the current level. Maybe this is why so many people think the deficit should be cut, that's all they ever hear from politicians and the media. Perhaps if people were asked a question like, "Would you support a deficit increase if the spending could help the economy grow faster?" they might not just assume the deficit always has to be cut.

In general, do you think it is acceptable for a President or members of Congress to threaten a government shutdown during their budget negotiations in order to achieve their goals, or is that not an acceptable way to negotiate?

Acceptable 16%
Not acceptable 80%
Depends
Don't know/No answer

Notice how this one pins the idea of threatening a shutdown on both the president and congress. In reality it's Republicans in Congress that are threatening a shutdown if Obamacare isn't defunded, not the president. And they don't even ask the more important question, whether Republicans should threaten not to raise the debt ceiling. This whole thing is a mess. Not only do most people not have a great understanding of these issues, they are being asked skewed questions while not being asked other questions that would be relevant to the issue. We should never put too much stock into any given poll. But we should especially not put much of any in this one and any like it.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

House will vote on CR, including defunding Obamacare

Speaker of the House John Boehner announced today that he would put a continuing resolution (CR) up for a vote later this week. The CR is just a budget placeholder that continues current levels of federal spending. Nothing too crazy in simply doing that, aside from the fact that it contains sequester cuts and general austerity while the economy is still not doing well. But that's probably about the best deal that can pass the House. And we probably won't get a better deal if we let Republicans shut down the gov't. So all things considered it's probably best to swallow a crappy CR and move on.

The really ridiculous thing about Boehner's announcement is that the CR will include a provision that defunds Obamacare (or ACA). This has been the Republican hobby horse from the moment the ACA passed. The reason (aside from Republicans just being crazy) is that they see this as a political winner for them. Their opposition kept the bill moderate in the first place. And since it's passing, they have complained about how horrible it is, helping push public opinion about the overall bill in the negative (though when you poll people about specific parts of the bill they generally support it).

After opposing the ACA loudly during its passage and in the run up to the 2010 midterm election, Republicans made big gains in Congress, gaining control back from Democrats in the House and taking away Democrats' super-majority in the Senate. Republicans interpreted that outcome as an indictment on the ACA and evidence that the public supported their preference for completely getting rid of it. So combine what they view as a great political opportunity with something they seem to believe is a good thing ideologically and you get Republicans voting for 30 something times to "Defund Obamacare".

Not winning the presidency in 2012 and only making very small gains in Congress didn't deter the defund Obamacare effort for many Republicans. But as recently as this past March, Boehner realized that there were limits to the effort, telling some crazy right wing talk radio host that the House couldn't pass a CR with a provision to defund Obama and avoid gov't shutdown (Chris Hayes played the audio on his show tonight). He was explaining that to the right wing because they are crazy enough to want a gov't shutdown (or even worse, default after not raising the debt ceiling). And Boehner understands the problems that caused Republicans in 1995 and that it will likely hurt his party if they do it again. Given that, why would Boehner now allow the House to vote on a CR that includes defunding Obamacare?

I don't think Boehner changed his mind on the prospects of getting a CR passed. He still doesn't want to shut down the gov't. But he hasn't been able to convince enough Republicans in the House that they can either get the Senate and Obama to defund Obamacare or understand that a gov't shutdown will hurt them. So my best guess as to why Boehner chose to schedule a vote this week is to try to placate the tea party wing of the House. Some of them could be crazy enough to think they actually have a chance to defund Obamacare. But maybe some just want to be able to tell their constituents that they did all they could to defund it after they finally have to let Boehner pass a CR they don't like.

This CR will pass the House and die quickly in the Senate and we'll be left with the looming threat of a gov't shutdown. At that point Boehner will either be dealing with tea partiers who have learned their lesson and are willing to negotiate in order to pass a CR or he'll have to reach out to Democrats in the House in order to pass a CR. My best bet there is that tea partiers really are that crazy and will not negotiate. So it will be up to Pelosi, Reid, Obama, Cantor and McConnell to come up with a CR everyone can live with. Tea partiers in the House and Senate will scream bloody murder that Obamacare is still around and the gov't didn't shut down and move along to trying to defund it in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. And I expect both deals to avoid a shut down and default to be pretty crappy, thus giving the tea party and Republicans part of what they want, all the while the country continues to suffer under a poor economy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Breaking Bad: Ozymandias

Spoilers to follow...

It's been a few days and I'm still trying to wrap my head around everything that happened in this incredible episode. You've probably read a bunch of recaps and analysis elsewhere (I have). So I won't be repetitive in that sense. What I did want to talk about a bit was Hank, whose fate I probably had the strongest reaction to. I wrote about Hank and how his sense of masculinity had big effects on his actions. In that post I also linked to this post from Pajiba talking about how masculinity affects everyone on the show.

Hank's macho personality made him a bit ridiculous, funny and kind of annoying in the early part of the show. And as I said in my post linked above, it almost gets him killed in the middle seasons. But we don't see the same Hank as we did in the first season or so after he is almost killed by the cartel twins. I'm not sure if that experience was a symbolic way of killing off that hyper-masculinity or if it just served to grind it down and make it extremely focused on his quest to catch Heisenberg. My guess is that it's a bit of a combination, but with it being more of the former.

Hank no longer walks around the office making ridiculous remarks. He doesn't have the same bro-like relationship with Walt and Walt Jr. He's still kind of a jerk with Marie. But even with her and Skyler, he doesn't joke around with her and the rest of his family. So at least the outward projection of Hank's masculinity is gone. Emotionally, he is consumed with Heisenberg. I watched the last few seasons in marathon form. So I could be missing things. But since the hyper-masculine behavior is gone, I'm going to assume those norms that were driving him before aren't the main force driving him in his quest to get Heisenberg. I think it's more a matter of who Hank is at his core, which is a law enforcement officer who cares deeply about justice.

Hank even says in the beginning of this last season when him and Walt stand in his garage, having found out Walt is Heisenberg, that he doesn't care about family anymore. He doesn't care what the ramifications will be on Skyler, the kids and Marie. Contrast that with Walt who just tried to justify his actions to Hank based on helping his family. Walt is still driven by that gendered norm that a man has to be the one to provide for his family. He even pleads to Todd's uncle for Hank's life by invoking the fact that Hank is family. But Hank knows they are beyond that. He dies having rejected Walt's deeply twisted understanding of what it means to be a man and provide for his family. That's why Hank has been the most interesting character to me. He is driven by what is objectionably right, not by what might be best for his family or even his own career. While that would eventually lead to his death, he never broke bad.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gif of the day

What Tennessee Republicans make me want to do:

TN Republicans hate job creators

Bruce Bartlett explains:

Consider the case of Bob Corker, the Republican senator from Tennessee, and Volkswagen, the German automaker that employs 2,000 workers at a plant in Chattanooga. As my colleague Steven Greenhouse reported last week, the company is working with the United Auto Workers on a plan to unionize its factory so it can establish what is known as a “works council” in Germany.
...
In an interview with the Associated Press, he called Volkswagen’s decision to engage in these talks “incomprehensible” and said the company would become a “laughingstock in the business world” if it went ahead with the plan.
...
The lawmakers say they are worried that a unionized Volkswagen plant would somehow ruin the investment climate in the state and compel other companies not to invest there. A more realistic explanation for why the lawmakers oppose the U.A.W.’s foray into their state is that they fear it will support the state’s Democratic party.

The strangest thing about Mr. Corker’s and Mr. Haslam’s criticism of Volkswagen is that Republicans are usually on the ones telling everybody else in government not to meddle in the affairs of profit-making businesses. After all, it’s their mantra that businesses, not lawmakers, create jobs. But I guess none of that matters in this case because even a company as successful and profitable as Volkswagen, which is competing with Toyota and General Motors to be the world’s largest automaker, must be deluded if it’s entertaining the possibility of working with a dreaded union.

The hypocrisy is apparent. What is less apparent is the fact that TN's economy isn't exactly booming. We are in no position to turn down companies that want to develop jobs in the state. But as with the decision to not expand Medicaid, TN Republicans are showing that they don't really care about the well-being of the people. They only care about making ridiculous ideological statements. These people are an absolute disgrace. It's a shame no one can seriously challenge them electorally because until then the people of TN will continue to get screwed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben Affleck will be Batman in Man of Steel sequel

He wasn't one of the names floated to play Batman. Some wanted him to direct the next Batman solo movie. But given his comments about not liking playing Daredevil I guess people just assumed he wouldn't be up to playing another superhero. But Batman isn't just another superhero. I'm not sure how you turn this role down. I'm not sure if there's another job in the world I'd rather have than playing Batman in a movie, even being president. So I doubt it was a tough decision for Affleck.

I'm optimistic about the choice. He's got the look. He's 6'4 with a solid build. He's 41, which is only two years older than Christian Bale. And he's a good looking guy, not that Bruce Wayne necessarily has to be good looking. I'm not sure he's as versatile an actor as Christian Bale. How many are? But I think Affleck has the ability to be a good Batman. Most of his roles lately have been more serious than those of his early career. He spent much of Argo (which was good but a bit overrated) brooding, which is an important aspect of Bruce/Batman. And he spent much of The Town being intense without overdoing it, which is another thing Batman is asked to do. The key will be switching from the brooding, rage filled Batman and non-public Bruce to the billionaire playboy persona of the in-public Bruce. Based on his Kevin Smith movies I think he can bring the charisma when he needs to.

So again, I'm optimistic. But I'm not going to make any predictions or give a more definitive opinion because we just can't know how it will come out. Everyone loves George Clooney. But Batman and Robin was terrible. I'm not sure Christian Bale could have done much more than Clooney with that script. The script is the bigger question than Affleck's ability. If the role is written well and the plot is intriguing, I'm sure Affleck will be fine. If not, he might have trouble pulling it off. Making movies is a team effort. Hopefully it all comes together to make a great movie. Congrats to Ben Affleck and good luck.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tennessee judge changes kid's name because Jesus was too awesome

I feel sorry for kids who could catch crap just because their parents gave them a certain name. But my sympathy can't justify any kind of limitations on the choices parents have in naming their kids. And the 1st Amendment can't justify this:

A judge in Tennessee changed a 7-month-old boy's name to Martin from Messiah, saying the religious name was earned by one person and "that one person is Jesus Christ."
...
The boy's parents were in court because they could not agree on the child's last name, but when the judge heard the boy's first name, she ordered it changed, too.

"It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is," Ballew said.

It was the first time she ordered a first name change, the judge said.

Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration's annual list of popular baby names.
...
"The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ," the judge said.

A lot of names could put kids at odds with other people who don't like their name. But as this judge admits, this is the first time she has ordered a first name changed. So why is this the first? Because the judge finds it offensive that a parent would name someone with a title that she personally holds religiously significant.

The judge might have an argument if a kid was named something like "Ihatejesus" or "Fuckchristians". The kid could reasonably be threatened because of its name. I'm still not sure we should force the name to be changed because it's still the responsibility of other people not to hurt the kid. But it's a stronger argument than what the judge gives in regard to Jesus' title, which clearly violates the 1st amendment and should lead to some kind of punishment for not understanding this basic tenant of constitutional law. But this is Tennessee, after all. I'm sure this will put her on the fast track for becoming governor or senator in this ridiculous state.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Breaking Bad's Hank and masculinity norms

As with all tv it seems, I'm a late-comer to Breaking Bad. Luckily for people like me, AMC has been showing the series from the beginning leading to up to the final season's premiere this Sunday. I've got three episodes left in the 3rd season. While the show had been good through about half way through the 3rd season, I didn't think it was great. But my brother said that it gets better. I trusted him and the general consensus that the show has been great of late. So I figured the further I got the more it would pay off.

Well, I think the latter half of the 3rd season has taken a step to the next level from good to very good. Everything had kind of been building to the moment when Hank tracks down the RV, which he thinks solely belongs to Jesse, but which he doesn't know also belongs to and at that moment, contains Walt as well. This might have been the most tension-filled moment of the series up to that point and it helped create some dramatic moments shortly thereafter, such as Hank beating the crap out of Jesse and Hank almost being killed by the cartel twins.

I mention Hank a lot because I find him to be the most compelling character on the show. Walt is obviously interesting. But he's turned into such a monotone asshole that he's grown unlikable, if he ever was likable. Skylar is ok. I mostly just feel bad for her having to deal with everything. Jesse is ok. I feel a bit more sympathy toward him than I do Walt at this point. And I'm intrigued by how far down a similar path to Walt's he's headed. But the most interesting arc so far is Hank's.

From the beginning, Hank is depicted as a bombastic, enthusiastic, hyper-masculine DEA officer who is good at his job and therefore has a fairly high moral standing. He seems to genuinely care for Marie and the rest of his family. He is particularly friendly with Walt Jr in a very stereotypically masculine (almost bro-like), uncle way. And he is very supporting of Walt upon hearing of his cancer despite not wanting to appear overly emotional, which wouldn't be very manly of him. That masculinity Hank depicts is what I found interesting even early on because while he displayed it well, he never seemed fully comfortable with it. It always seems like kind of a show, especially when he was at work, which, being a cop, is a very male-oriented environment. But ever since he killed Tuco he's been suffering from what seems like post traumatic stress disorder.

Before being promoted and leaving for El Paso, he throws Tuco's teeth in a river because that event has been haunting him. But that didn't make his problems go away. He was constantly having difficulties dealing with pretty much every part of his job in El Paso. Seeing Danny Trejo's head explode, killing and wounding his fellow officers just sent him into and even more pronounced state of PTSD. The difficulties are transparent to us as viewers, and even in part to Marie. But Hank can't come out and say he is having problems related to those two events because he's scared of the social ramifications. Not just that, but he can't even fully confront the issues he is having because admitting he has problems in the first place is just not something men do.

This stuff isn't said explicitly. So technically I am speculating. But I'm pretty sure Hank doesn't open up to Marie sooner or tell his boss the truth about why he doesn't want to go back to El Paso because showing emotion isn't the "manly" thing to do. Hank feels like showing any emotion other than strength is a sign of weakness. Not talking or making jokes is easier than opening up. But he has a gradually harder time dealing with things because his feelings are so overwhelming that he can't just hide them or laugh them away. Holding those feelings is causing him to lash out violently and keep him from sleeping. The struggle between social norms and PTSD symptoms are eating him up inside.

It's only after breaking down and telling Marie what's wrong that he starts to think clearly and does the right thing in regard to beating up Jesse and his status as an active officer. Of course, right after that is when he's nearly killed by the cartel twins. But by finally opening up he was able to make a good decision and hopefully fully confront what has happened to him.

Update: Just one episode after I wrote this Hank seems to have hardened, not opened up. He snaps at Marie about a hospital bed in "his" house and says he isn't leaving the hospital until he can walk. So far it doesn't look like almost dying has changed Hank.

Update 2: Wanted to post this fantastic overview of the entire show through the lens of masculinity, not just Hank: http://www.pajiba.com/think_pieces/the-heisenberg-masculinity-principle.php

Monday, August 5, 2013

Explaining conservatives, part...I lost count

There's been a debate on the right lately about whether the conservatives movement has any room for libertarian populism, whatever that is. I'm not sure there is such a thing, at least not in country with our past. But assuming it can, some liberals have offered their thoughts on the debate and have come up with some good stuff that conservatives/libertarians should do. First from Noah Smith:

The five big pieces of Conservative White America’s Grand Strategy that I think need reevaluation are:

1. “White flight” to suburbs and exurbs
2. Rigid and inflexible “family values”
3. Hostility toward immigrants and minorities
4. Excessive distrust of the government
5. Distrust of education, science, and intellectualism

Completely agree. But Mike the Mad Biologist explains why those reevaluations very likely won't happen, much less actually lead to change, which is taken from his excellent piece on Sarah Palin and why she was loved by conservatives:

In Palin’s case, it’s an emotional appeal to a romanticized, mythical past of “real America.” And that’s why I think the fixation people have on Palin’s complete policy incoherence and ignorance is missing the point.

Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…). Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?
...
But that romanticism is at the heart of Palinism. It’s not a forward-looking utopianism, but a desire to return to a mythical, halcyon America that was Christian, low-tax, small government, and had less racial and ethnic discord (the latter is the most absurd, but, if you were white, there weren’t racial problems: you were white–no problems!). This vision has not existed for decades, if at all, but it is a predictable reaction to the loss of primus inter pares status of Christian whites; they are no longer the default setting.

What’s potentially dangerous about Palinism is that it is not the usual form of ‘identity politics.’ Even in its crudest, bluntest form–or when policies influenced by identity politics are implemented poorly–identity politics are ultimately about inclusion: a group believes it has been excluded or marginalized and wants to be included into the mainstream. What makes Palinism worrisome, and why I think it can be labelled ‘para [or proto]-fascist’ is that it is marginalist. For ‘real Americans’ to take back ‘their’ country–and note the phrase take back–they, by definition, are taking it back from an Other, whether that Other be a religious minority, racial minority, or some other group.

Sorry to quote so much but I think he really gets at the core of modern conservatism. I'm not sure we can completely overlook their policy preferences in explaining conservatives. But I think those, what I like to call 'tribal', feelings are a very important component to what is driving conservatives. Tribalism drives everyone to a certain extent, even liberals and the Democratic party. But liberal tribalism is different. They seek inclusion into the mainstream just as conservatives do. But they do so from within a larger group that seeks to include everyone. Conservative tribalism seeks inclusion, but at the expense of excluding those they don't want, which are non-white people.

It's easy to lose sight of this when people like Palin aren't leading the party, or when you don't listen to FoxNews or conservative radio. But even those latter two have done what Republican politicians have learned and couched those tribal motivations into political rhetoric often in advocation of specific policies. So you kind of have to decode what they're saying to get at the heart of the matter. Palin was loved by the right and loathed by the left because she largely didn't speak in code, or if she did it was crafted in a way that we all knew exactly what she meant anyway.

Back to Mike for what it all means for the 'libertarian populist' debate:

When you strip away the Palinist impulse, you’re left with Bruce Bartlett or David Frum–and they aren’t just in the minority, they are considered apostate and heretical.

Movement conservatism is grounded in a virulent politics of mythical identity. It, at its core, is not a set of policy objectives, but a comprehensive belief system. Like all belief systems, it is incredibly resistant to change. For many, to abandon it will require some kind of personal trauma (though it could be collectively experienced)–one doesn’t change or alter identities based on a few speeches.

Hopefully, I’m wrong, but I think movement conservatism is only at the beginning of the forty years in the wilderness. Much to the detriment of us all.

I hope he's wrong too. But I fear he's right.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Man of Steel sequel announced, will include Batman

By now you've probably heard the news from Comic Con that Man of Steel will be getting a sequel and that Batman will appear in the movie. Head over to Modern Myth Media for the official press release and to Batman of Film for Bill's thoughts on the news from the perspective of one of the biggest Batman fans out there. When I heard this news yesterday my immediate reaction was a lot of excitement. I enjoyed Man of Steel and I thought it showed a lot of potential for what could become a great Superman franchise. And obviously I love Batman. So the prospect of getting more of that character is always welcome news.

Having slept on the news I'm still mostly excited about it. I have my concerns about how they will portray Batman within Superman's world given the obvious difference that Batman has no superpowers. You can't make Batman look overwhelmed by every other hero or villain or else you risk making him insignificant. And you can't invent too unrealistic things to bring Batman up to a level he isn't overwhelmed by superpowered people or you risk him not being taken seriously by the audience. There's also the question of who they cast. Christian Bale couldn't have been more perfect IMO. And he's still going to be pretty fresh in people's minds when this comes out in 2015. So there are a lot of potential obstacles in the way when it comes to making this sequel.

Bill over at Batman of Film says he heard that the studio wasn't completely satisfied with the success of Man of Steel, thus possibly prompting the decision to put such a proven commodity as Batman in the sequel. But the fact that it's a sequel to Man of Steel is significant because it strongly suggests it will continue to focus primarily on Clark as did Man of Steel. Making Batman a sort of secondary character takes some of the pressure off how he will be viewed by the audience. And by setting Batman within this world that has already been built in Man of Steel they can shape him to fit within it easier than if they had to create an environment for Batman out of thin air like in Batman Begins.

The way I see this playing out is that Bruce Wayne was present in Man of Steel all along (as the Wayne Enterprises satellite suggests). We just didn't see him because this was Clark/Superman's origin story. And Batman makes his presence known in the sequel because he witnessed all of the crazy stuff that happened during Man of Steel and he's worried about everyone's safety. Seeing as Batman is kind of neurotic to begin with and has devoted his life to protecting people, it makes complete sense to me that he would at the very least have some suspicion about Clark and his ability to destroy things and hurt people. So the basic outline to me would be Clark doing his thing as Superman and as a reporter at the Daily Planet while Bruce keeps tabs on him to make sure he's not going to fly off the handle. Meanwhile, Lex Luther kind of parallels Bruce as a corporate competitor and someone who is suspicious of Superman after the events of Man of Steel.

Bringing in Lex as the villain is a way to walk that line with Batman between not having to worry about his lack of superpowers making him look insignificant and still having a threat big enough that justifies having Batman and Superman team up. Having Bruce and Lex be competing businessmen is a way for Clark to get involved with them, likely through investigating their business practices. And having Bruce and Lex interact within their competition allows for Clark to be suspicious of Bruce since it appears he is the same type of person as Lex. That's that basic conflict of the film, that three people of enormous (though different) power are worried that each will abuse it for their own ends. And it's a natural way for Clark and Bruce to play off their secret identities, which also creates tension.

That's basically how I see it. I don't think it would work very well to have Batman just show up in Metropolis and try to befriend Superman and offer him his help. There's no arc there. And there's not much of a reason for either one of them to trust the other right away. After all, one guy can fly, shoot fire out of his eyes, and is basically indestructible. And the other is a guy who dresses up like a bat and fights criminals with his bare hands every night. Having Clark distrust Lois and humanity, and vice versa, initially was a big part of Man of Steel. The trust had to be earned. The same should go for Clark and Bruce. That raises the question of what happens to Batman if Superman doesn't trust him? Can't Superman just crush Batman at any second? First of all, after killing Zod in Man of Steel, I'm pretty sure Clark will establish a no kill policy. Second, Bruce doesn't know that and he can't take that chance. So you have him study Superman and try to find a weakness. Batman is a great detective after all. Or maybe that's what Bruce and Lex's companies are focusing on, finding a weakness in Superman so that they can protect people.

Those are my thoughts for a basic outline of what the sequel will look like. I'm excited. I have a lot of faith in David Goyer and Zack Snider. It should be fun to get a new director's take on Batman. I'm sure they don't need them, but if they need any ideas I had a few just for fun. For the opening scene, I think it would be cool to fade to black from whatever logo they choose and then fade to the blackness of the Batcave. Have a few bats fly through the frame. And then cut to the back of a large chair that sits in front of a big computer screen. The pointy ears of the cowl poke up from the top of the chair. The camera moves in to show Batman reviewing footage of the events of Man of Steel. The camera pans around from that footage onto Bruce as he watches with concern. Cut to Alfred walking into the Batcave to discuss the events with Bruce. Aside from just being a cool way to open the movie I think this would be a good way to remind the audience what happened in the previous movie and the put forward the idea that Batman is suspicious right away.

Another idea for a short scene I had was we have Superman doing a pretty standard saving people scene in Metropolis. He does his thing and flies away. As the camera pans out to show him flying off, we see Batman sitting on top of building, cape blowing in the wind, doing some recon, studying Superman. Superman could even stop, think he saw something, turn to see if he did and have Batman disappeared from his perch. That's all I've got for now. I'm sure more will come to mind from now until what is looking like will be an incredible summer of 2015.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Bridge: Sonya and introverts

I was going to write this post about how Sonya from FX's new show The Bridge is very introverted and how I can identify with her. But I checked wikipedia to see how to spell her name correctly and I found out that she isn't so much really introverted as she has Asperger's syndrome. Though that's kind of like a heightened form of introversion. So I wasn't too far off. In fact, just a quick skim of some articles suggests that we don't know a lot about introversion and Asperger's.

There seem to be some overlapping traits; isn't comfortable around people, quiet, reflective (why Sonya is probably a good detective). But there don't seem to be many agreed upon definitions as to what introversion is and how far away it is from being autistic or having Asperger's. That link I posted right above suggests that maybe these things exist on a scale where different people have varying degrees of one characteristic or another.

I identify a lot with Sonya because of the many introverted traits she possesses. Like her, I'm uncomfortable around people I don't know and I enjoy my solitude. But even though I'm far from a great people person, I seem to be much more able to navigate social situations than Sonya. She has a very difficult time communicating effectively. And it often comes off as her being cold or indifferent towards people. But whereas I can often understand when I'm doing that and act to avoid it, Sonya doesn't seem aware that she's having that effect. Often times I want to react the way she does. But I guess I care enough about how others are going to react to me and what they think of me that I resist.

I like how they've handled Sonya so far. You don't seem many characters like her on tv (Abed from Community is the only other one that comes to mind). Part of that is just that the nature of tv and characters is that they have to interact at least a bit with other people. Another part of that is introverts or those with Asperger's aren't very well understood by society at large. So I hope that beyond just being an interesting character on a tv show, Sonya can expose more people to different personalities and show that it's ok to be different.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

James Madison on gov't power

Charles Pierce posts a quote from James Madison every night because James Madison is pretty awesome and should be read every day. So thanks to the also awesome Charles Pierce for that. The post from last night from Federalist 46 discussing concerns about federal and state power was interesting:

The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject; and to have viewed these different establishments, not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other. Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents.

Basically, he's say that it's the voters' job to limit or expand the power of their state and federal gov't as they see fit. If people don't like the way things are going, get off your ass and do something about it. Of course, I realize that collective action problem there. So few people vote and stay involved in the political process that it's difficult to make any change. And many of those involved have much more power than us. But that's the challenge democracy and the founders gave us. Elected officials can and will make crappy decisions. It's up to the people to decide if they are going to live with it or not.

A solution to local tax revenue problems?

The Memphis city council passed a budget a few weeks ago. The city isn't in great financial shape, thus it was difficult for the council to figure out where to cut or how much to raise taxes. Likewise, Shelby County (which is where Memphis resides) is in a similar financial situation. They have recently been debating whether they should raise property taxes in order to pass a fairly modest budget.

One way to generate more revenue without raising rates would be to get more people to start paying property taxes. That would entail changing zoning codes around the county to allow more construction and get more densely populated areas, making that housing cheaper and therefore open to new taxpayers. But that's going to be limited by the state of the housing market and the demand associated with it. Another way to generate revenue would be to start charging property taxes on already existing entities that don't pay anything. I've written about this before. Matt Yglesias has another post on why subsidizing churches and other non-profits is a bad idea:

One huge problem with it is that of all the ways you can come up with subsidizing a worthy nonprofit organization, a property tax exemption has just about the worst incentive structure you can imagine. If you look at the list of things that churches and other religious institutions spend money on, "acquiring land and buildings" has got to be one of the least socially beneficial and worthy of encouragement. And it's the same with universities. The tendency of administrators and the fundraising-donor complex to plow more and more money into more and more buildings is something policymakers should be looking to restrain not encourage. And the distributional impact is perverse. Property tax subsidies give the biggest benefit to the nonprofits with the healthiest financial base. The colleges that do the most to serve the marginal college student get the least benefit from this form of subsidy, while well-endowed institutions reap vast benefits.

But this approach is also nutty as urban development policy. Level property taxes encourage land owners to transform valuable parcels of land into high-value uses that generate useful economic activity throughout the city. George Washington University is using prime land at the corner of 20th and H NW as an open air parking lot.

Two examples close to me are a church that uses it's vast swath of land for a baseball complex and literally, a field of nicely mowed grass. One of the biggest churches in the area uses it's even bigger swath of land for an even bigger sports complex and a huge building supposedly used for a seminary, but which is empty every time I drive by. How any of this is being used for the benefit of society at large is beyond me. These churches can obviously afford to pay some property taxes if they can afford to build a fucking baseball complex.

I'm sure some of these organizations do some fine work that really helps society. For those that can demonstrate as such I'm in favor of finding ways to give them a break. But I agree with Matt that letting them buy up huge amounts of land that they use just to build ridiculously big buildings and sports complexes is a bad policy and it's costing local governments money that they could be using for things that actually benefit society, like fully funding fire and policy departments.

Friday, July 12, 2013

This is the Republican party

They can't make any more clear who they are as a party than what they did with the Farm bill:

House Republicans successfully passed a Farm Bill Thursday by splitting apart funding for food stamps from federal agricultural policy, a move that infuriated the White House and congressional Democrats who spent most of the day trying to delay a final vote.

....The vote made clear that Republicans intend to make significant reductions in food stamp money and handed Republican leaders a much-needed victory three weeks after conservative lawmakers and rural state Democrats revolted and blocked the original version of the bill that included food stamp money.

....The White House said late Wednesday that President Obama would veto any Farm Bill that fails to comprehensively address federal farm and food aid policy. In a statement, White House officials said they had insufficient time to review the bill.

To recap, they just voted to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for farm subsidies and nothing for food stamps. They purposefully separated the food stamp funding from the larger Farm bill because they want to significantly cut the funding. This is the most clear and blatant demonstration that Republicans care vastly more about rich, white people than everyone else as I can remember. These self-identified christians think the poor in this country have it too well, or that not letting them starve is just holding them back. But they think farm corporations are the ones being held back by, something, I guess. They are the ones that need money from the gov't because the gov't giving money to people is bad unless, something, I guess. I've almost run out of ways to be disgusted with this party.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chuck series finale: memories and love

I've mentioned that I'm rewatching Chuck. I'm at the end of the series where Sarah loses her memory of Chuck because of the intersect. If you're unfamiliar with the show, Chuck was a computer geek who worked at the show's equivalent of the Geek Squad. He was implanted with a dataset (the intersect) of all the government's intel and secrets by an old friend as a way to keep the intersect out of the wrong hands. Sarah, a CIA agent, was sent to watch over Chuck. Long story short, they had chemistry right away and after a few seasons of well-handled will they, won't they stuff, they fell in love and got married.

Stuff happens in the final season that brings Sarah to the moment that she has to install the intersect (this version equips the person with combat skills and intel) in her mind so that she can save Chuck. But this version of the intersect is faulty and it causes Sarah to lose the memories of the last five years. She has no idea what happened or who Chuck is. My initial reaction to this was slightly negative. I understood why they would go this route. It made for compelling tv. But it also seemed to be a bit harsh for characters I had grown to love. Losing your memory is losing a part of yourself. Aside from your body, your memories are you. Being deprived of them is akin to have never lived that part of your life. The series ends with Sarah starting to remember a few things and with a hopeful tone. So we are meant to think that eventually everything will work out and Sarah and Chuck will go back to being the same.

But watching it for the second time got me thinking about what would happen if Sarah never got her memories back. She would obviously feel very confused. But since she doesn't remember feeling love for Chuck she can't feel the loss of having loved him before and not loving him now. In a way, she is spared. I think it's Chuck that would suffer a lot from knowing that Sarah no longer shares the same feelings he does. I don't think that would change the fact that Chuck loves her. But I think it could change the nature of that love.

There seems to be two different kinds of love; the unconditional love and romantic love. The difference as I see it is that the latter is more conditioned on the other person reciprocating the same feelings you have for them. In other words, I think it would be very difficult to love someone romantically if they don't love you back. In a way, part of why you love a person romantically is that you know they love you in the same way. You don't need that to love a family member. Your kid or sibling could deal meth and be a complete asshole that doesn't want anything to do with you. But you'd probably still care for them. If your wife or husband all of the sudden decided they hated you and wanted to deal meth you would probably still care for them on some level, but you probably wouldn't want to continue the romantic relationship.

As I said, this doesn't seem to be a problem for Chuck. Sarah seems to be getting her memories back at a fairly quick rate. So while Sarah can't fully reciprocate the same love Chuck has for her, Chuck can at least hold on to the hope that one day soon she will. But if she couldn't and there was no hope, I don't think he could continue to feel the same way he had before she lost her memory. And Chuck having the memories of that love would make not having them hurt even more. I think that's why myself and a lot of fans had a negative reaction to the finale at first. We just felt horrible for Chuck. I actually haven't rewatched the last episode yet. After thinking about it some more I'll probably have a better reaction the second time. I'm already hopeful after seeing the great scene where Sarah watches the diary she made of her days as Chuck's handler and her admitting to herself that she loves Chuck. So I'm hoping that the memory I'm left with after finishing the show is of Sarah and Chuck being in love and living happily ever after.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The 7th Annual Pajiba 10 and my 5 freebies

It's time for one of my favorite internet traditions, the 7th Annual Pajiba 10. Get all of the details and see who is already in the Pajiba 10 Hall of Fame at the link. In short, you pick the five people you would cheat with if you had immunity. All the votes are tallied and the 5 people from each sex with the most votes make up the Pajiba 10.

Here are my votes from last year. I went with Alyson Hannigan, Alison Brie, Krysten Ritter, Aubrey Plaza, and Anne Hathaway. As I explained last year, I take into account whether someone is already in the Pajiba Hall of Fame (Alison Brie made it last year) and I weight their current or recent work more than their earlier work. I also don't include anyone who is in my Hall of Fame, which I'll post at the end. So here's my 5 freebies for 2013:

Krysten Ritter
Anna Kendrick
Jenna-Louise Coleman
Yvonne Strahovski
Amy Acker

Ritter is the only holdover from last year. Don't Trust the B in Apt 23 was canceled. But she will likely not be out of work for long. Beyond being uniquely gorgeous, she is very talented. Anna Kendrick hasn't quite gone mainstream yet. But she is so adorable and funny (follow her on twitter, she's great) that it won't be long before she's a star. Jenna-Loiuse Coleman was the latest companion of the Doctor on Doctor Who (I just started watching this season). I'm not sure if she will continue in that capacity. But at worst I hope she does and at best I'd like to see her as the new Doctor. Yvonne Strahovski is best known as Sarah Walker from Chuck. I've been rewatching that lately and she is just incredible. If she isn't at least thought about for every kick-ass female part in movies then casting directors need to be fired. And Amy Acker is a long time favorite of mine from her days on Angel where she played Fred. Most recently she is in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. Beyond her work, she has the most beautiful smile ever and just seems like a genuinely sweet person.

Krysten Ritter is one more list away from getting into my Hall of Fame. Next year she will look to join a group consisting of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kristin Kreuk, Alyson Hannigan, and Alison Brie. And because Pajiba and myself are progressive, for my female and gay readers I'd like to offer some suggestions: Tom Hardy, Jake Johnson (from New Girl), Daniel Craig (James Bond), Chris Pine (Captain James T. Kirk), and Henry Cavill (Superman). I would have said Christian Bale and Timothy Olyphant but they are already in the Pajiba Hall of Fame.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Gay marriage and religious rights

I mentioned the good news on gay marriage at the end of my last post. I didn't feel the need to comment more since it's so plainly right and pointing out how wrong those who oppose it are would be, at this point, redundant and exhausting. But Charles Pierce brought my attention to Ross Douthat's response to the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA and I couldn't resist:

Unless something dramatic changes in the drift of public opinion, the future of religious liberty on these issues is going to depend in part on the magnanimity of gay marriage supporters - the extent to which they are content with political, legal and cultural victories that leave the traditional view of marriage as a minority perspective with some modest purchase in civil society, versus the extent to which they decide to use every possible lever to make traditionalism as radioactive in the America of 2025 as white supremacism or anti-Semitism are today.

So because more and more people might see the anti-gay marriage view for being the bigoted bullshit it is, religious liberty on the issue will be destroyed. For Douthat, religious liberty isn't about being able to think what you want to think. It's about having a lot of people agree with what you think and not be demonized for having a bigoted belief so that you can try to get the gov't to enact that belief into law, at which point everyone who doesn't share your religious belief will have sacrificed their religious liberty so that yours can flourish.

In short, Ross Douthat doesn't understand the concept of religious liberty, nor the concept of the 1st amendment and the basic framework of how our gov't and legal system operate. For him and his fellow conservatives, freedom only matters when it benefits them and them alone. Otherwise liberty is being destroyed. And they wonder why young people who aren't brainwashed by their parents and non-white men aren't voting Republican.

And quickly, I have to disagree with Pierce when he says, "(The government can't make a church do anything.)". Well, it can in the sense that if a church decided it believes in virgin sacrifices the gov't could prevent it from partaking in that practice. As long as a church isn't doing stuff like that, the gov't shouldn't make a church do anything. Nor should a gov't do something just because a church wants it to, which is the concept that escapes many like Douthat on the right.

Update: I was think about this a bit more (because this is where my mind wanders sometimes) and I noticed something odd about the quoted part above. Douthat is complaining that the "traditional" view of marriage will become the minority perspective if us liberals keep pushing it the way we are. But that assumes this whole marriage issue is a zero sum game for us. It's not. We are simply pushing for gay marriage to go along with what they call "traditional" marriage. We don't want to get rid of anything.

Therein lies the implicit bigotry in Douthat's view of traditionalism. Traditionalism for the sake of traditionalism wouldn't be a problem on this issue if gay people weren't excluded. If they hadn't been, us liberals would be arguing in part for keeping a good tradition alive. Douthat only argues for traditionalism because it's what matched his beliefs. If it didn't, he wouldn't be concerned about it.

And of course, his traditionalism has an arbitrary time limit. He hints at it above, I think, when he says, "civil society". I think that's a very vague acknowledgement that there are forms of "traditional" marriage in societies Douthat doesn't consider civil that he doesn't agree with, probably forms like polygamy and arranged marriages. So what these arguments about tradition are really about are just hiding bigoted religious beliefs.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This week in racism

Race has been in the news a lot this week with the Supreme Court's ridiculous decision to rule parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, the affirmative action case (especially Thomas' concurrence) and with Paula Deen saying racist stuff (I've always found her extremely annoying). Alyssa Rosenberg has a good post about Paula Deen and how people like her trying to change the narrative. Check that out here. Dustin Rowles over at Pajiba has a good post describing his experience being born in the south and dealing with racism. Before you check it out, beware the horrible picture of Deen. You've been warned. Dustin's experience felt similar to mine, which I posted in the comments over there which I'll put here as well:

I was born in Memphis and have lived here most my life. It's a clusterfuck of racial tension. Words like "nigger" are rarely said in public. And people have gotten very good at using code words and couching their arguments in what appears to be non-racist motives. But as a white man I've heard it first hand from my family and from people who didn't know I was a non-racist liberal. There are Paula Deens all over the place.

I'm not sure they really belief they aren't racist. I think it could be more the fact that it's such a taboo to be seen as racist that they say whatever they can to avoid that label. And people like Deen are so shut off from people and a world that would call them out on their racism that they don't have to confront it until they are called out on it in a public way.

Public shaming is a very powerful thing. But like many other instances of public shaming, people don't seem willing to admit a fault and ask forgiveness. They would rather deny any wrongdoing and wait it out until they are around their yes-people and they can live in ignorance. That's easier than opening your mind and seriously thinking about what kind of person you are.

I had a few things to say on Twitter about the Supreme Court decision on the VRA and affirmative action. I don't have much to add aside from the fact the majority is just factually wrong. It's not apparent to these elitists who probably never interact with anyone outside their little social circles. But racism is obviously still alive. This was so apparent to Congress back in 06 (where there were still plenty of crazy people) that they reauthorized the VRA with near unanimous consent. It's 10th amendment and states' right bullshit to say that some states and districts shouldn't be treated differently when it comes to voting laws. And Thomas saying the pro-affirmative action argument is the same as the segregationist argument is incredibly simple-minded and again, factually wrong.

Not all was bad with the SCOTUS this week. This morning they ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, which should have been one of the easiest decisions the court has ever made. Sure enough, bigots like Scalia dissented and will go down in history as terrible justices. I'm obviously happy with that decision. But I'm still pretty depressed that we seem to have stalled in our progress when it comes to race in this country. People like Paula Deen should be publicly shamed for being racist. But along with that shaming, I think we need to find a more constructive way to deal with racists because the status quo doesn't seem to be working too well.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Farm Bill clusterfuck

Because about half of this country seems to have always hated the poor, food stamps (or SNAP) funding has been a part of what is know as the farm bill for a while so that it would have an easier time passing than if it were left to be voted on by it's own merits. It's actually the biggest part of the farm bill, which also includes subsides for people like Rep. Stephen Fincher who can use those subsides for their corporate farms to get rich and run for congress where they lecture people on how Jesus really didn't care about the poor unless they put in a full 60 hour work week, or were a farmer like him.

This process by which we throw a few bones to poor people so they can afford to eat while giving wealthy farmers millions of dollars usually goes off without much of a hitch, because of course it does in our corporatocracy. But this year's vote in the House brought it down in spectacular fashion when the combination of some Republicans disliking the fact that the bill didn't cut food stamps enough and Democrats actually taking a stand and not liking that it cut food stamps as much as it did defeated the farm bill. Here's congress' prominent dogfighting proponent, Rep. Steve King, making the argument for cutting food stamps:

"[W]hen we see the expansion of the dependency class in America, and you add this to the 79 other means-tested welfare programs that we have in the United States ... each time you add another brick to that wall, it's a barrier to people that might go out and succeed," Rep. Steve King said during Wednesday debate.

If by "barrier to people that might go out and succeed" you mean not fucking starve, then I guess he's right. I never ceased to be amazed by how much these people hate the poor. Not only that they hold the belief, but that they think it's ok and good for their reelection purposes to say so in public. But remember, this is a christian nation. And Jesus was famous for putting conditions on receiving empathy and charity.

And that's only part of the clusterfuck. The reason this horrible bill didn't pass was that Boehner didn't secure enough votes, which is a big part of his job as Speaker. Unless his goal was to have it fail on purpose so as to leverage either a better bill or something else, this doesn't look good for him. Normally I would be pretty happy when a horrible bill gets voted down. But I don't really see a scenario in which a better bill passes the House and then passes again when it's revised in the Senate. And that's not to mention that Obama did the right thing and said he would veto it. In the end I suspect the need for Republicans to give money to corporate farms will outweigh the need for Democrats to give money to poor people so they can eat and grease the wheels in the hopes of passing immigration reform and we'll get a really shitty farm bill. Because making sure rich people have more money is the most important thing for this country.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Man of Steel review

I've never been a huge Superman fan. I respect the character. And while I also respect the original Superman movies for breaking new ground, I have major problems with them. Superman Returns wasn't bad. And Smallville had some decent stretches. But I was hoping that my lack of love for Superman was a problem with filmmakers just not getting it right rather than an inherent flaw. So I wasn't as excited for Man of Steel as I was for The Dark Knight Trilogy. But I was excited enough to go to a midnight screening.

My first impression of the movie was kind of...meh. It was pretty good, but not as good as most of the early reviews said it was. The first half of the movie worked well. I was emotionally invested in Clark and the story. But the second half kind of lost me. I didn't feel much tension within the many fight scenes. And I didn't care for what had to be a ton of civilian casualties as a result of the massively destructive fights. Visually everything was very good (except for the almost Star Trek-level lens flares). But I'm so used to films looking great that well done CGI doesn't impress me as much. Story and character are vastly more important than those things.

But I was determined to give it another shot. So I saw it again today and I came away with a more positive view of the movie. It's no Batman Begins. But it's a pretty solid start to what could become a very interesting larger story. Spoilers from here on out.

The movie starts on Krypton with Clark being born. Russell Crowe is fantastic. There's just something about him that I find inherently compelling. So I wasn't surprised that he made Jur-El compelling. I felt for him and Laura having to give up their child while they face certain death. Zod's reasoning behind trying to implement a coup was enough to make me buy that he wasn't just nuts. And Michael Shannon did a good job of balancing anger and genuine concern for his people. The opening ends with Clark being sent to earth, where upon his ship landing on the Kent farm, we shift into Batman Begins mode where see Clark in the present timeline while getting flashbacks of when he was young.

Clark as an anonymous nomad and the flashbacks are my favorite parts of the movie. To me, Superman is an inherently unrelatable character. He's so powerful and so emotionally stable that he feels distant. But Clark at least appears relatively weak and unsure of himself. It's when he's trying not to be Superman and trying to fit in as a normal human being that we relate to him and therefore emotionally invest in him and his journey. Granted, none of us know what it's like to have to adapt to seeing through things and have fire shoot out of your eyes. But we all know what it's like to be scared and be seen by our peers and society as an outcast. And both young Clark and nomad Clark conveyed those things well.

I could have used more of Clark trying to find himself. The one thing that might have been missing for me was a greater sense of why Clark felt the need as a child and feels the need as an adult to help people. His father is constantly trying to get him to not help people so as not to risk everyone freaking out about his power. His mother doesn't really say much. It isn't a big problem. I can buy that Clark is just an inherently good and caring person. But I think things could have come together a bit more if we got kind of a mission statement from Clark.

The rest of the movie involves Zod escaping the phantom zone and coming to earth to find Clark and continue the Kryptonian race at the expense of humans. This was all executed well enough. I don't have any major problems with it. Some minor problems are the heavy-handed Jesus symbolism and the fact that I didn't care about any of the innocent people harmed in the fights. After my first viewing the vast amount of destruction bugged me and the fight scenes felt a bit flat. But I've come around on those two things. The fight scenes were pretty entertaining and I think the destruction served (or hopefully will in the next movie) a purpose to the plot and Clark as a character.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it was necessary to make Zod the first villain and have him push Clark as far as he did and destroy as much they did. Perhaps I'm missing the point with not having Clark spell out a more definitive mission statement because he hasn't fully formed one yet. He doesn't know what his calling is until Zod and his fellow Kryptonians almost destroy the earth. It takes having Smallville and what has to be the vast majority of Metropolis destroyed while Zod almost indiscriminately killing people for Clark to become Superman. Without that kind of threat Clark has no reason to reveal himself to the world. Zod in essence creates Superman.

That's what this movie is about, getting from a guy that is just Clark Kent to a guy that is both Clark Kent and Superman. I think they were largely successful with that. Like Batman Begins, Man of Steel left me with a feeling of the start of something special. As we saw with the LexCorp tanker and the Wayne Enterprises satellite (my favorite geek moment), there are a lot of exciting directions they can go with from here. I didn't have a problem with Lois. I'm thankful they didn't get too much into her and Clark's romantic relationship (I despise how much the original Superman movies focus on it). But I hope they delve deeper into their relationship and give Lois more to do than be obsessed with Superman. And I hope moving forward they expand on the solid foundation they have laid with Man of Steel.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kevin Drum on chutzpah

This is a fine example of chutzpah Kevin Drum alerts us to, from Senator Jeff Sessions on why he opposes immigration reform:

This increased GDP will be at the expense of poor and working-class Americans. The benefit will go to the business owners while the wages of U.S. workers—which should be growing—will instead decline

I want to print out that quote and throw it at Sessions every time he contradicts it. My arm would get tired pretty quickly because as Drum points out, Session and Republicans have never given a shit about the expense of the poor and working class. If they did the business owners and rich of this country wouldn't have been making the vast majority of economic gains at the expense of the rest of us for at least the past 30 years. I'm so sick of the elite white men of this country being assholes that soon I'll have to start giving myself pep talks in front of the mirror so I don't hate myself for being one of them, well, except for the elite part.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why is the US involved in Syria?

It was reported recently that Syria has used chemical weapons on some people. And for some reason, killing some people with those weapons is completely different than killing many, many more people with other weapons to the Obama administration. Thus they decided they had to do something more than what they were doing, which is openly arming rebels against the Syrian gov't.

There are big questions as to who among those rebels we should arm, not to mention the more important question of whether it's a good idea in the first place (see Afghanistan for perhaps the best example as to that problem, more recently Libya). I've tweeted links to smart takes on those questions. I didn't blog about it because I don't think I can add much to them. So I'll leave you to comb my twitter feed if you're interested in the specifics as to why it's probably not a good idea to arm rebels or do much of anything to escalate our involvement in the situation. It sucks to have to come to that conclusion because our instinct is to try and save thousands of people being killed. But history has shown that it's just very difficult and our involvement could just as easily backfire.

So back to the question of why we're involved. I'll give everyone some benefit of the doubt and say that most of why they care about the Syrian situation is all of the people being killed by the current regime. That's obviously the catalyst of the concern over the country. Though forgive me if I don't assume complete and pure motives here because frankly, many of the people who are concerned don't exactly display the same level of concern for human suffering in other cases (see Republicans and the poor in the US, and Democrats in places in the world that aren't the middle east). That brings me to this point made by Charles Pierce:

Again, I say, blowing the hell out of Syria will convince Iran not to build any nukes, which it may not be doing anyway, how exactly? It will scare the Russians into doing what, precisely? Enmeshing the United States more deeply in a civil war in which we know practically nothing about anyone on the side that we are supposed to be helping is a tough way to keep the King Of Jordan out of the toaster.

First off, I love Pierce's writing. He's smart, concise and funny. Second, I think he touches on a big reason so many in our leadership are concerned about Syria beyond humanitarian reasons, which is Iran. One thing both parties seem to agree on is that Iran is the most scary country on earth and that they can't be allowed to get nuclear weapons because they will destroy Israel and then shortly thereafter, the US. I won't rehash why that's misguided (which I have numerous times on this blog). But they believe it and they are terrified of Iran gaining or maintaining any influence in the region. So as the person who Pierce is responding to above says, we have to show Iran that we aren't screwing around when it comes to regimes in the region exerting power in a way we don't like.

What those people don't seem to understand is that (as Pierce points out) aggressive action on our part likely just serves to make Iran more nervous than they already are about the US. Trying to convince a nervous country that they don't need nuclear weapons to protect themselves against a military with thousands of nukes of their own and a military budget bigger than the next almost dozen countries combined is not an easy task. And while I'm not very familiar with the poli sci work on homicidal dictators and transitions of power, I'm not sure our escalating involvement in Syria is a very good way to persuade Assad to stop killing people. So no matter the reason, it's really hard to justify our further involvement in Syria. Again, I hate coming to that conclusion. But it's a situation where there are only bad and worse choices.