Friday, December 18, 2009

HCR, quick glance

I've long been on the side that believes the restrictions on dropping coverage and pre-existing conditions probably make the current health care reform bill worth passing pretty much no matter what other crap is in it, though maybe that's partly because I've never been convinced that we'd get a public option anyway.

Howard Dean jumping off the bus makes me think twice, though.

kung fu monkeys

No, seriously. A Chinese man taught his monkeys kung fu, and they turned on him with their best moves.

And there's a picture of it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Friday Night Lights

Thought I'd give it a shot considering all the stellar reviews it's gotten over the last several years. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it really is an outstanding show. Definitely lacking the gritty realism of a show like "The Wire," and isn't quite as intelligent, but that's an awfully high bar. It's interesting how the show painted a bland, very stereotypically "football show" portrait in the pilot, and has spent every episode since then filling in interesting details and adding color. It sketches out the small Texas town with striking clarity and honesty, letting you see right through the Broderian heartland rubbish into a place that really exists (or at least seems to).

A little personal note about it: my high school played the school the show is based on once or twice while I was there. We got smoked.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Kelly "on brink" of becoming next Irish coach?

Does God love us this much?
Kelly held a meeting last week about the opening with representatives of Notre Dame within days of Cincinnati's Big East championship game against Pittsburgh, the Tribune has learned.

Talks progressed well enough that the official announcement Kelly will be Charlie Weis' replacement could come as early as Friday -- anytime after Cincinnati's football banquet Thursday night.
...
ESPN.com reported "things are heating up" between Notre Dame and Kelly.

Final details over a contract remain, but the university had no plans to deviate from its traditional stance of signing new football coaches to five-year deals, a source said. Asked if Kelly would accept an official offer to coach Notre Dame, a coaching friend of Kelly's answered, "I have no doubt he'd take the job.''

Let's all hope this isn't just another coach using ND's interest to get a better contract from their home school. Brian Kelly has taken three shitty schools and made them champions. Grand Valley State is still a major Division II power, and Central Michigan has had an iron grip on the MAC since 2006, his third year. Cincinnati's the Big East champion for the second consecutive season and playing in the Sugar Bowl because of this guy, kids. Cincinnati.

And check out this nugget from his Wikipedia page:
Among the honors that UC football team has achieved in 2009 is the highest academic rating among teams in the top 10 of the current BCS standings, according to the latest Graduation Success Rates, released Wednesday by the NCAA. UC, which is fifth in the BCS standings, checked in with a 75 percent NCAA graduation rate and a 71 percent federal government rate, the only team in the BCS top 10 to surpass the 70 percent plateau in both.

If he can't right this ship, then the problem is not with coaches.

failure

Public option triggered out of existence in the Senate compromise. I really, really wish I were wrong about this.

Of course, we're all waiting to see what the CBO says about all this, even though they said the public option would save money. After all, if it isn't for wars, it's not free money!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

not the punchline I was expecting

Earlier today I was in a sexual harassment workshop for work. It's exactly like the ones you see parodied on television, where you watch videos of inappropriate behavior and then are asked by the presenter to point out the obvious. We're watching this one where a hoary old professor asks his secretary to send out the "memo" he just sent her. It's already pretty humorous because of the casting choice and stilted lines. It continues:

*secretary opens email and gasps in horror*

Secretary: "Did you mean to send this to me?"

Dirty Professor: "You're supposed to laugh. It's just a joke."

*awkward pause*

Dirty Professor: "I thought you liked animals."

Monday, December 07, 2009

BOTH Clausen and Tate entering draft

Thanks, Clausen-punching irate fan! Idiot.

Seriously though, this is a serious setback, to be sure. Of the two, Tate is probably the toughest hit since no one else appears to be at his level to balance Michael Floyd, while Dayne Crist showed promise in his limited playing time, injury notwithstanding.

Still, imagine for a second what Brian Kelly could have done with Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate.

so much for BCS gate-crashing

Every year for the past 3 or 4 years there has been a great undefeated team from the non-BCS conferences that has crashed the gates of the BCS. Even more embarrassing for the BCS, these mid-major upstarts actually have a pretty good record against the BCS' elite. This year things looked to get even worse with not one, but two such revolutionaries having the audacity to go undefeated, with one of them even knocking off the eventually PAC 10 champions along the way, each one demanding the opportunity to play with the big dogs.

The BCS' answer? Turn the Fiesta Bowl, traditionally the home turf of the Big 12, into the Separate But Equal Bowl. So I guess that makes the new guiding principle of BCS bowl selection "damage control." Matt Hinton of the brilliant Dr. Saturday blog (formerly Sunday Morning Quarterback) doesn't smell any conspiracy:
It's not really that sinister: The Fiesta Bowl made the picks itself, one undefeated upstart (Cincinnati) still has its chance to make good against a powerhouse (Florida) and the only options beyond the championship game and the Gators would have been matching the Frogs and Broncos up with almost equally surprising outfits from Georgia Tech and Iowa. It's not a conspiracy; as with so often in the BCS, the setup ensures that somebody is always getting screwed.

I find it almost inconceivable that the Fiesta Bowl would willing choose both Boise St. and TCU over its birthright, Big 12 representatives Iowa. Nor would I be surprised to find that the BCS is more than confident in Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow's ability to put down the 3rd undefeated pretender.

It's shameful.

It's time for a change, ladies and gentlemen. I present to you the Wetzel plan, 2009 edition. It's a playoff of the same sort played all the other NCAA sports, including Division II football, so I don't want to hear a word about kids playing too many games. All 11 Division I conference champs + 5 at-large bids, with higher seeds getting home field advantage. The bowls can still invite people and play if they want, but they don't take part in the tournament; otherwise, home field advantage would be pointless. There are plenty of reasons to back this system as laid out by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports. If none of that convinces you, though, just take a gander at what this season would look like under the Wetzel plan:


Almost brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it? Right out of the gate in week 1 we get Iowa at Pac 10 champions Oregon, Georgia Tech on the road at Ohio State, Virginia Tech on the blue turf of Boise State, LSU crossing the Sabine river to TCU, and, hoo boy, 2 great powerhouses you never see together: Penn State at Florida.

It's already got more and better matchups than the BCS this year, and we're just on the first Saturday.

Imagine the likely week 2, and you've got the winner of Iowa-Oregon traveling down to Austin to play Colt McCoy and the Longhorns. Cincinnati gets the winner of Va Tech-Boise St. at home. A couple hundred miles south will be a likely match between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

Boise St, TCU, and Cincinnati all get legitimate shots at the Mythical National Championship (as well as East Carolina and several other smaller outfits), but TCU, the one with the highest seed, would have to get past LSU, Florida, and probably Alabama. Boise St. would have to beat Va Tech, Cincinnati and Texas.

This needs to happen. Sooner or later, it will happen. It's inevitable.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

remember, kids, he's pro-life!

Rick Warren refuses to condemn a bill to make homosexuality (or even support for gay rights) a crime in Uganda, sending gays to jail for life, and executing HIV positive gays:
The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.

Unsurprisingly, the author of the bill is considered a "core member" of The Family, the Christian conservative organization on Capitol Hill. When he started catching some flak for this remark, Warren replied that, "Globally last yr 146,000 Christians were put to death last year because of their faith. No one, except Christians, said anything."

Nevermind the highly suspect and unverified nature of Warren's number, what's the lesson here from the good pastor for the kids at home?
1. that one cannot be Christian and gay at the same time;
2. that it's ok to stand by and watch evil happen, saying nothing, if your people were wronged on some previous occasion;
3. that gays can be punished for other people's crimes.

These political pastors, they really live the Word, ya know?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Clausen punched in the face by "irate fan"

No joke. From ESPN:
Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen was punched in the face by an irate fan outside a South Bend restaurant early Sunday morning and has a swollen eye, a person briefed on the incident said on Monday.

That person said Clausen was "sucker-punched" by a fan as he left an establishment after having dinner with his parents.

The fan allegedly said something to Clausen and/or a female acquaintance.

Odd choice of target, since Jimmy Clausen is one of about three people associated with Fighting Irish football who has played as good as he was supposed to.

The bar in question was CJ's, by way.

Monday, November 23, 2009

South Bend to Chicago in 1 hour, by train

This would be huge. The ability to commute from Chicago would practically cause a sea change in faculty recruiting for Notre Dame.

classy, Les

Les Miles is head coach at LSU, a highly successful program with a recent national championship under its belt and the January scalp of the last good Fighting Irish squad. It was in a squeaker against upstart division rival Ole Miss on Saturday, and found itself down 2 points with only a couple seconds left on the clock. LSU could have tried to rush out the field goal team to win it, or alternatively they could snap the ball and take a shot at the end zone since they might not be able to switch out 11 dudes before the clock ran out (no time outs left).

Instead, the quarterback tried to spike the ball with 1 second left to stop the clock, but the clock beat him to the punch, and the game was over before LSU got to make their final play. Miles, incensed, gives a press conference calling out his QB in front of God and everybody for trying to clock the ball and criticizing what was unquestionably a poor decision.

Only problem is one TV network had a camera on the field facing Coach Miles at the critical moment, repeatedly giving his QB the signal to spike the ball:


Of course, Miles won't suffer any repercussions for this sort of thing as long as LSU keeps generally winning, which at 8-3 and facing unranked Arkansas at home next week, probably means Miles will be safe for quite some time.

The lesson here is the same as the lesson currently being taught in South Bend. Jack Swarbrick says that winning "also" matters along with graduation rates and other such tripe, but the truth is that winning is all that matters, whether at a lowly football/party school like LSU or the austere, Gothic heights of Notre Dame. Charlie can boast high grad rates and all the rest, as could Willingham, but they were (or will be) unceremoniously canned on the basis of one statistic alone, in the same way that Les Miles can display all the poor judgment and cowardice he wants and will still get paid millions by the state of Louisiana as long as the tigers keep smoking their opponents in January bowls.

And let's stop kidding ourselves: if ND's next coach lets his kids make terrible grades, has a bad attitude, recruits a bunch of drug dealers and rapists, and makes an ass of himself on television but the Irish beat USC on their way to the National Championship Game, his job will be as safe as Jenkins'. This and previous athletic directors have more than amply shown that the alumni and ticketholders make the final call, and they only care about the W's.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lubbock featured on Dr. Saturday

We've hit the big time. And a special mention for the O-Bar, One Guy's, and Cricket's. Fittingly, too, right after mentioning a bar with Guinness, Bass, Fat Tire, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen, Amstel, and some 70 other beers on tap, it is suggested (in all caps, no less) that the beer of choice should be ... Keystone.

And why not, really? Half the people in Cricket's are usually paying $4 for a pint of Coors Light, anyway.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

the Plus-one, or an alternative to the playoff

We've heard a bit of talk the last year or two about the possibility of moving to a "plus-one" system in college football (rather presumptuously referred to here as the "Mandel plan"). Under a plus-one system, the bowl system remains intact except for the BCS bowls themselves, two of which shift to a 4 team playoff with no. 1 and 2 hosting, an extra BCS bowl to keep 10 BCS bids (not sure why that matters), and a 6th BCS championship game a week later. Using Mandel's example for this year's teams:
• Jan. 1 Rose: No. 8 Oregon (Pac-10 champ) vs. No. 11 Penn Sate (replacement)

• Jan. 1 Sugar: No. 1 Florida (SEC champ) vs. No. 4 Cincinnati (Big East champ)

• Jan. 2 Cotton: No. 5 Alabama (first at-large) vs. No. 6 TCU (third at-large)

• Jan. 4 Fiesta: No. 2 Texas (Big 12 champ) vs. No. 3 Iowa (Big Ten champ)

• Jan. 5 Orange: No. 10 Ga. Tech (ACC champ) vs. No. 12 USC (second at-large)

• Jan. 12 title game: Sugar Bowl winner vs. Fiesta Bowl winner

This has one advantage over the current system: it at least allows the top 4 teams a shot at the championship, rather than just the top 2. That makes it better than the current system.

Of course, this setup is still worthless compared to an actual playoff with more than four teams. For one thing, non-BCS teams still have virtually no chance at getting into the playoff, despite the obvious silliness of handicapping teams like Boise St. and Utah who have made quite a name for themselves humiliating top 10 teams. There's also still a high probability that national championship contenders even from BCS conferences will be snubbed. Last year, for instance, there were 7 undefeated or one-loss teams just in the BCS games, including Southern Cal, Penn St., Utah, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. How many of those do you think there will be at the end of this season?

Essentially, the plus-one still allows very little margin-of-error for an evaluative system (BCS rankings) that is highly, highly flawed and subjective.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

what Obama has done in the Oval Office

An interesting take.

various elections results

Republicans win both gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, but lose both congressional elections, including the much-publicized race for the NY-23 seat they've held since the Civil War. LGBT equality loses in Maine, but civil unions appear to have prevailed in Washington.

Or as the AP calls it, "a GOP sweep."

Let's establish that the people who tell you this is a rebuke of Barack Obama don't know what they're talking about. Thanks to Marc Ambinder for having the presence of mind to head off this nonsense. Suffice it to say, Obama's approval ratings in these states are very close to his election numbers from last year, and the voters themselves say it wasn't about him.

It's an off-year in a bad economy after 2 straight massive Dem waves, folks. These things happen. And still the Democratic party increases its congressional majority.

Bush vs. Clinton, "uncensored"

I'd bet you $100 it won't be nearly as cool as it sounds. Bill Clinton, despite his caricature in the media, has always used kid gloves on George W. Bush because that is what's expected of former presidents.

Besides, George W. Bush pretty much single-handedly resurrected Clinton's legacy!

Seriously though, you have to figure that you've held an office with so much power and responsibility, and one that fewer than 50 people have ever held (only 5 of whom are currently living), you know there's some mutual respect there, as silly as the thought is of a man like Clinton having respect for a man like Bush.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

torture is now officially legal

Remember Maher Arar, the Canadian returning home from vacation who was stopped in JFK, accused of being a terrorist, and shipped off to Syria to be tortured before the government admitted that he had nothing whatsoever to do with any terrorist organization?

Remember how he sued the United States when he got back?

The Second Court of Appeals just dismissed his case on the following grounds:
It [the court] held that even if the government violated Arar's Constitutional rights as well as statutes banning participation in torture, he still has no right to sue for what was done to him. Why? Because "providing a damages remedy against senior officials who implement an extraordinary rendition policy would enmesh the courts ineluctably in an assessment of the validity of the rationale of that policy and its implementation in this particular case, matters that directly affect significant diplomatic and national security concerns " (p. 39).

In other words, the practice of shipping an individual -- any individual, visitor, immigrant, or citizen -- to another country to be tortured is de facto deemed legal because to even hold a trial on it could theoretically threaten national security.

A court in the United States has just officially sanctioned the use of torture.

Monday, November 02, 2009

ND in the BCS

No, this isn't a prediction that we'll get in.

I've talked with several people about Notre Dame's arrangement with the BCS, and about the possibility of ND being guaranteed a slot under certain circumstances (in particular, 10 wins).

This is incorrect. From The BCS's page at FOX Sports:
Notre Dame will have an automatic berth if it is in the top eight of the final BCS Standings.

It takes #8, not 10 wins. Eight is extremely unlikely even at 10-2, considering the recent turn of events for both of ND's losses (USC suffered a 4 touchdown beatdown by Oregon, likely losing their first conference championship in 8 years, while Michigan has dropped 4 of the last 5, including a 38-13 drubbing at the hands of heretofore hapless Illinois).

Not that this conversation is necessarily even worth having anyway, as 10-2 is also extremely unlikely given Notre Dame's, ahem, uneven performance so far this season. Pittsburgh is the only ranked team left on the schedule, but the three final opponents are all dangerous if incomplete teams (and, of course, Navy, who's always a bigger pain in the ass than everyone expects, and this year's Midshipmen nearly put down Ohio State). In every case, it will depend entirely on which team "shows up."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Joe Lieberman plans to run for re-election?

I find this incredibly hard to believe. Lieberman's numbers have been consistently negative in Connecticut since his last re-election; in fact, I remember polls only months after the election showing that Ned Lamont would win a rematch handily. I can easily see all of Joementum's backstabbing and sudden shifts in position being cynical plays in the service of some crazy re-election strategy, but for the life of me I can't figure out what that strategy would be. It truly escapes me how campaigning for Republicans and against Barack Obama and the public option could possibly benefit Lieberman electorally, unless he thinks he can still split the Democratic vote and win over the GOP like in '06. Even still, the path of least resistance is obviously Joe securing the Democratic nomination.

I suppose the more plausible explanation is that Lieberman's head has gotten so bloated from all the years in the Senate, the VP nod in 2000, the victory in '06, and all the media attention since, that he must think he's untouchable. The polls are meaningless, as the Democrats wouldn't dare try something in 2012 after what happened last time. Besides, by then he will have beaten down President Obama so completely that it will be a Republican wave year and he'd coast over any liberal opposition.

I sincerely hope his people are doing their best to convince him how crazy this is. Better yet, I hope they aren't.

the link between news and opinion on FOX News

As perfectly presented by Jon Stewart.

Paranormal Activity

Got to go see a horror movie at the theater for the first time since, God, Blair Witch, maybe? Go figure, the movie we saw was pretty much Blair Witch 2009.

Despite the occasionally cringeworthy dialog and the protagonist's annoying obtuseness, as well as the hilarious way that every shot in the second half of the movie centers on Katie's rack, it was a fun movie. I had forgotten how much fun it can be to watch scary movies in the middle of an audience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Clausen

The best column I've seen on Saturday's game yet, from Dan Wetzel.

Vaccinate.

I love that, for this article on people's worries about the H1N1 vaccine, the South Bend Tribune went to a chiropractor for expert advice.

In other news, the health section of the SBT will be classified under "astrology."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

IN-02: Jackie Walorski (R-Mars) to run against Donnelly

Please, God, tell me the voter of this district are smarter than that. Every time this woman shoves her face into the TV cameras (which is A LOT) she spews her hateful bile all over the screen. I swear she sounds like a tape recorder of RNC talking points. She makes Chris Chocola look like Olympia Snowe, and he was about as lock-step a Republican as they come.

In a lot of ways, she's the quintessential 21st century Republican. She's a belligerent, small-minded, selfish, lily white suburbanite with a bloated sense of entitlement and a chip on her shoulder about not having this country all to herself anymore.

UPDATE: edited to nix an erroneous educational comment. My bad!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

there's a word for this

The insurance lobby is telling us that they will raise our premiums if we dare create a public option or regulate them out of their coverage canceling loopholes. That's what they are doing. Obviously they don't have to do that; they could cut into their recession-defying, eye-popping profit margins, but they're saying they'll just pass all the extra costs to us so that they can keep the same rate of profit.

There is a term for this. It's "coercion," or if we're being less charitable "extortion."

Chinatown in light of recent happenings

An interesting look at Polanski's masterpiece, reading the director's own demons into it. Interesting, at least, aside from the tiresome "pox on both your houses" cop-out.

There is more that can be said here, though. I recently had the opportunity to watch Chinatown, and it is a masterpiece, no doubt. Nevertheless, what O'Hehir hints at but never comes out and admits is that the movie's message, like that of Polanski's "self-imposed exile" and like the maddening neither-left-nor-right ducking of reporters and editors, is rooted in moral cowardice. The central theme of the movie is the futility of good intentions, this is true, and the message telegraphed to the audience at the end is that Gittes' first mistake was even bothering to try to help someone in need. Evil always prevails and the good guys always lose, so you might as well just get yours and get out. It's an emotionally charged philosophy rooted in fear and despair, one just as delusional as the much maligned "starry-eyed optimism," but without its courage or productiveness. As a philosophy, however, it does hold one great advantage: it's wonderfully convenient for justifying all manner of selfishness and criminality, as well as the evasion of the consequences of said depravity.

That, I think, is the most interesting parallel between Polanski's life and work.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

sustainable living: layin' off the sauce (BBQ sauce, that is)

Ezra Klein brings up an important point that isn't often talked about in conversations about living "green": the contributions of a high meat diet to environmental devastation.

Yeah, I know. Meat is awesome. Meat is so awesome that even vegans want the flavor. The pig alone may be the source of more little moments of joy in this world than 100 years of Disneyland. There's no denying it, though: livestock (cattle in particular) contribute to climate change in a number of different ways that other food crops do not, all while significantly contributing to rates of obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure in the process because humans just weren't designed to eat a 1/3 lb. hunk of meat with every meal.

I'm not going to advocate for vegetarianism or veganism. I can understand the allure I guess, and I concede the dietary and environmental advantages of the lifestyle, sure, but I went vegan once for a Lenten fast. It was a harrowing experience involving 40 days of fairly serious legume-induced gassiness, always feeling hungry (does rice just vaporize when it hits stomach acid or something?), and experimenting with soy milk that I think led directly to my obsession with pizza.

Nevertheless, it's a virtual certainty that if you're not a vegetarian or vegan, you're eating too much meat.

An alternative is to slow down on the frequency with which we eat it. I have thus far had mixed success in this area, but I have found that it isn't as hard as one might think to have a meatless dinner at least a couple of times in a week. Usually in our house this happens when we make some big pot o' stuff that can't contain meat (since sap is vegetarian), which I'll have for dinner that night and at least one other night.

One of my most surprising discoveries during this process of finding "big pots o' stuff" is that many of my favorite meaty dishes don't actually need the meat. The vegetarian versions of jambalaya, gumbo, many soups, and chili are very good and plenty filling.

I also discovered that there's more incentive to have occasional meatless dinners when I buy higher quality meat. It doesn't take an Ag Ph.D. to recognize that Americans eat more meat than other people because meat is cheaper here compared with our salaries. Locally and humanely raised chicken quarters are great, but they cost a lot more than the stuff on the shelf at Wal-Mart, so I find myself having the urge to save them sometimes. Similarly, I'm not gonna throw that pound of grass finished ground beef in the chili when TVP will do. My local, free range pork kielbasa? That's for a special occasion.

Trueblood

For some reason, the notion of a brooding 200 year old getting texted by Anna Paquin gives me a chuckle.

O HAI BILL COME TO MERLOTTES 2NITE PLZ LOL KTHX ;)

Also, I'm a little weirded out that the last two shows I've watched have been about a small town girl with an odd first name and magical powers who's being pursued by her bartender, while her best friend is a sassy, intuitive black girl who is secretly in love with the heroine's older brother.

drinking and riding

Atrios:
After taking the subway home from a show last night one of the first things I saw on the teevee was an anti-drunk driving ad. It occurred to me that in all the years I've been seeing these things I don't remember a single one (I could be wrong!) suggesting people take mass transit instead of driving.

This is an odd mental block to see persisting for so long. I recall seeing one or two ads that involved calling a cab (still not really "mass transit"), but most involve making one friend go to the bar and drink coke all night while everyone else drinks to their hearts' content. The only people I've ever really known who do this effectively and consistently are married couples, probably for various reasons. Back in my rowdier, more single days, DD's were rare indeed.

I know that in both my current and former places of residence the local bus system would occasionally run pub crawl-type services or run buses to the party district, and both have ongoing free rides for students, but there was never much hype about it, and I do not recall any real effort to present the service as an alternative to being DD.

On the other hand, it should be noted that national efforts to combat drunk driving are clearly having some effect, as the number of alcohol-related fatalities has been in steady decline since the 1980's, with steep declines over the last 3 years. Of course, we're still talking about potentially thousands of people every year who die because somebody found carpooling, cabs, and mass transit insufficiently convenient.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

TV Tropes

DO NOT GO THERE if you have things to do. It's a magic time traveling website that causing you to instantly skip 3 hours into the future.

One of my favorite lines, from the entry on "Gannon-banning":
Confusing Star Wars with Star Trek in the presence of either fandom is one of the most brutal suicide methods known to man. This troper once saw a troll jokingly ask in a YouTube comment if TNG was "the one with the ewoks".

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"this week's game will be telling"

One always has the tendency to see the next game as one that "will really tell us where the team is at," especially throughout the first half of the season. Thinking about it, though, the last 4 games (Michigan, Michigan St., Purdue, Washington) I think established pretty clearly where we're at: roughly in the middle of the Pac 10 and Big 10. On par with the Spartans and Huskies, potentially dangerous to good teams but probably not a real threat to a team like the Tide or the Longhorns.

I hate to say it, but I think we know all too well who these two teams are that are playing in two weeks; we're just slow to admit it. I would be very surprised if we played at all competitively with Southern Cal. SC loses to an unranked team every year, usually right before they leave blue and gold splatter marks all over Notre Dame Stadium. Last year's Trojan D only allowed four Notre Dame first downs, and this year's D looks very similar so far. Yes, SC occasionally drops one to middling teams, but the better team is still more likely to win any given game.

I think we're started to get a sense of how the season is going to pan out for the Irish. In all likelihood, ND will finish its next game 4-2 with Pitt, UConn, Boston College, and Stanford as the remaining teams to beat. Last season ND went 7-5, meaning we'll have to beat 2 of these teams to show continued progress.

I hate to say, but things look pretty bleak from here for us, and even bleaker for Charlie Weis.

define "riskiest"

I'm going to guess that reporter ad libbed the sloppy language describing this study as describing "riskiest" foods rather than foods most likely to carry pathogens. It would be odd to call leafy greens the "riskiest" food in America without considering the "risk" of heart disease from consumption of partially hydrogenated soybean oil, meats, and dairy, or the risk of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay from high fructose corn syrup. I bet a lot more people every year get sick and die from cheeseburger-induced heart disease than e. coli from spinach.

It's ill-considered language like this that gives fish a bad rep. Our eating habits are bad enough without irresponsible reporters telling people that leafy greens, tuna, tomatoes, sprouts, and berries are dangerous.

Monday, October 05, 2009

the death of punk

I think these conversations are fun to have, even if this particular point is a little stunted. Yes, today's "punk" kids are just buying into a sanitized, corporate, censor-approved mimicry of the original in the same way that sk8ers 15 years ago stopped tearing up their own normal clothes bailing from their boards and started buying $80 baggy jeans from mail order catalogs that also sold skateboards, decals, and sex wax (for lubricating rails and curbs).

Let's take it a little further. Why would the original punks (arguably) not have shopped at Hot Topic and listened to Avril Lavigne? What's wrong with major labels and national chains? There's an anti-authoritarian bent to old punk that extends to "suits," that is, corporations and their soulless, vampiric boards that take things that are fresh and vibrant and raw and sterilize them, wrap them up in pretty packaging, and sell them to entitled suburbanites looking to irk their parents and earn a little hardcore cred.

Admittedly, my experience with punk is limited. Nevertheless, I think I can say defensibly that punk was anarchistic, that is both anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist, but nobody nowadays wants to admit that they ever enjoyed or sympathized with such sentiment. It was this intellectual underpinning that bestowed all the trappings of the aesthetic with "a point," and separates old punk from the shallow, sterilized affect hawked at Hot Topic. At its best, punk was about snapping people out of their consumption-induced haze, about shocking people into waking up and looking at the world around them with clear eyes. Sure, the guys from Green Day might write songs that are critical of George W. Bush, but when the music is buffed to a glossy finish and released by Reprise Records with a mountain of manufactured, overpriced swag, it's just good ol' Starbucks and Apple Computers liberalism, not the gritty, half-smirking, half-sneering, violent thing that punk was.

I would also like to point out that the political lobotomy that punk suffered hardly happened in isolation. What ever happened to the cowboy hedonism and permissiveness toward drug use of outlaw country, and politics at all in rap music? What genre out there is expressing any actual political dissent, other than the occasional country tune supporting orthodox Republicanism or "punk"/rap song supporting Democrats? The only one I remember is a Rage Against the Machine video ten years ago supporting Ralph Nader.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Polanskifest

Since everyone else has already gone so much further into the details of the case than any of us ever wanted to read, I will just make one small contribution to the discussion. I'd like to provide some perspective on relative ages of teenagers and their sexual maturity that I think is sorely missing in this hyper-sexualized and sexually schizophrenic culture of ours.

I had the pleasure, if that is the word, of teaching reading classes to kids of all ages a couple of summers ago. I feel like I taught a healthy mix of urban and rural, rich and poor, white and minority children. Among those kids were somewhere around 100 junior high students and and the same number of high schoolers. New teachers are usually stricken by how young the high school kids look, as I was. The junior high kids, the 12-14 year olds, looked like awkward, oily children. The most "matured" among them could have passed for young, late-blooming high school juniors, but would have looked like little kids on any "high school" TV show.

Think about it: for most of us, the images we have of adolescents come from television, where the "high school age" characters are overwhelmingly played by people in the early 20's. 18 year olds look younger than you probably think. A 13 year old who "looks like she's 18" still looks very much like a kid.

For example, remember Freaks and Geeks? Linda Cardellini (Lindsay Weir) was 24 at the time. Natasha Melnick, who played Cindy Sanders (Sam Weir's love interest) was 15.

And don't forget, Polanski's crime was in 1970, and girls apparently mature a lot younger nowadays.

My point is that the girl he raped was much more a little girl than most people are probably imagining. When Roman Polanski and his apologists try to make his sexual proclivities look more normal by saying "she looked 18," she probably looked less like the lead actress in High School Musical and more like Winnie Cooper, season one.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

guns allowed in Arizona bars

I know there are stupider ideas out there, but none are coming immediately to mind. From AP:
Under the law, backed by the National Rifle Association, the 138,350 people with concealed-weapons permits in Arizona will be allowed to bring their guns into bars and restaurants that haven't posted signs banning them.

Those carrying the weapons aren't allowed to drink alcohol.

Curiously, people carrying guns openly will not be allowed in bars, just the people concealing. I would like to know by what logic a concealed weapon is necessary protection while a visible one is not.

Furthermore, if you bring a concealed weapon, you can't drink if the bar has posted a sign saying "no guns," though of course there's no way for the bartender to know if you're concealing. Even then, however, the sign only counts if it is more than a month old, hasn't "fallen down" (golly, I wonder what qualifies as having "fallen down?"), is a special state-approved government sign, and if the offender is a resident of Arizona.

What a Byzantine, nonsensical system the gun lobby has created.

it's the system

Dan Wetzel unloads on the BCS, and it's only week 4. Florida, Alabama, and Texas haven't even lost yet.

Gonna be a fun year for college football, my friends. And by "fun," I of course mean "infuriating."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

just one more weakness in the NCAA's ranking system

When efforts like this from Texas Tech against a top 5 team yield no gain in rankings whatsoever. One of the most baffling weaknesses in the system is in its inability to contextualize losses. Teams may lose ground for winning badly against supposedly inferior teams, but nobody ever gains ground for losing well against great teams.

The unranked Red Raiders outgained the #2 Longhorns in nearly every category, in Austin, but lost the game on a punt return and a nasty hit on the quarterback resulting in a fumble. For that, Texas Tech lost votes.

This is one of the big reasons, perhaps even the biggest single reason, why we have to spend the first 3 weeks of every season watching the big teams beat up on I-AA schools and the doormats of the MAC. All that matters is "the W."

it's the end of the world as we know it

and they feel fine.

Seriously, this is toads raining from the sky, dogs and cats living together.

College Football Hall of Fame going to Atlanta

It was only a matter of time, really.

Obama why?!


Funny.

Monday, September 21, 2009

the rise of the Washington Huskies

Heh. Southern Cal drops one every year, and usually it's just due to the Trojans not taking the game seriously enough until it's too late. This year, though, you have to wonder when that same fluke winner also scared the hell out of LSU.

I gotta admit, I've been quietly rooting for Washington for several years now, and watching for Jake Locker to mature into the primetime player he has the capacity to be. The kid could have gone anywhere (and I believe was pursued by Pete Carroll), but chose to stay with the home team and help rebuild it. In this era of the mercenary athlete, I have a lot of respect for the few who can show a modicum of loyalty and hometown pride.

Plus, he's fun as hell to watch.

Friday, September 18, 2009

so what's in the damn things?

Been looking online for any news source that bothers to tell us what's in the Baucus plan or the House ones, other than which ones are more "liberal," how much it costs, and whether or not they commit the cardinal sin of providing healthcare to illegal immigrants. After spending a little time finding the name of the Baucus bill (it's "America's Healthy Future Act," in case you were wondering), I found a copy of the early, layman's terms iteration of the bill, all 223 pages of it, which is a little long for a layman to read in his spare time, especially one who doesn't know much about the ins and outs of healthcare policy.

John Dingell's plan (America's Affordable Health Choices Act), however, is over 1000 pages. Pretty much all I can find about it is how much it costs and whether it funds abortions and euthanasia. This bill has been around at least July, when it was endorsed by the American Medical Association, and that's the full extent of its coverage. Great job, journos!

I found only a couple stories and posts that actually deal with the content of the bill: one here from RJ Eskew at the Huffington Post, one here from Ezra Klein on the CBO's quite positive assessment of it, and one here from Forbes. In fact, it looks like Ezra Klein may be the only person in the country repeatedly writing about what is in this bill.

From how it sounds from these stories, as well as what I've read elsewhere, it's really irritating how Baucus seems to look for every way possible to get money from the Treasury into the pockets of insurance companies. It's almost obsessive, like he's deeply apologetic over the slight of making them stop cutting off service to people right when they most need it and looking for ways to make it up to them.

disconnected

Hilarious.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CEO of Whole Foods advocates lower taxes, more Whole Foods shopping

I was driving to Indianapolis yesterday and listening to NPR, when the topic of Talk of the Nation transitioned to John Mackey's controversial editorial and the tension between social and personal responsibility in healthcare. I spent the next 30 minutes listening to several doe-eyed, credulous personalities discuss the merits of Mackey's point, and started to worry that I'm becoming a cynic.

You do realize that John Mackey's editorial was just a concealed pitch for shopping at Whole Foods, don't you? Is the gist of this editorial not: "hey, there's no need to worry your little heads about funding public healthcare. That could lead to higher taxes on me! Just buy these quality organic bananas and you'll be fine?"

Honestly, the not so subtle Randian undertones should have been the first tip-off that he's writing from self-interest. Well, perhaps the second, after the fact that he runs a health food business and is writing about healthcare.

Friday, September 11, 2009

back on topic, people

Yes, we all know that the outburst was highly irregular and a huge no-no for elected representatives. We all have a pretty good idea why President Obama was denied a basic respect granted to every other president in the history of the republic, and grasp the significance of that denial emanating from a representative of South Carolina. It was also not lost on most of us that a Louisiana congressman delivered the rebuttal from Strom Thurmond's old office.

But let's be honest: this is all just political theater. It's bullshit, easily digestible fluff that keeps us from having to talk about an issue that requires thinking.

You know what we don't know?

We don't know what kind of coverage Obama envisions the public option providing. Will it provide coverage for dental cleanings? Eye exams? Anyone have a ballpark estimate on the deductible? The copay? Will it be able to negotiate lower drug prices?

We don't know what the role of Medicaid will be under this new system. After all, Medicaid was created to handle precisely this problem of the poor lacking access to basic healthcare. Will it be scrapped, boosted, what?

We don't know who will be responsible for the public option. Will its administration fall under the federal Dept. of Health and Human Services? Will it be run by the states? A wholly new and separate entity?

We don't know how the Administration plans to enforce the individual mandate on buying health insurance. How will they check to see if we're covered? What happens if someone refuses to purchase it? Will they go to jail?

We don't know what measures, if any, will be taken to address the problem of astronomical premiums for malpractice insurance. Sure, Democrats and liberals are (rightly) suspicious of attempts to curb the ability of regular people to seek damages when they are significantly hurt, maimed, or killed, and apparently the number of lawsuits and amount of damages has been on the decline since the early '90's, but it is clear that high malpractice premiums and the overly common practice of defensive medicine are significant factors in the high cost of healthcare.

We don't know what measure, if any, will be taken to address the exorbitant and unmitigated cost of medical school. The NHSC is a great first step, but the vast majority of doctors are still starting out in the field hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole from school loans, which undoubtedly affects the amount they have to charge for services.

These are pretty basic questions thought up by some wanker on the intarwebs with no inside knowledge of the medical field whatsoever, and yet here we are, past the time of debate and at the "time to act," and there have been (to my knowledge) no attempts even to ask these questions of our representatives, let alone answer them.

And why is that? Because every time the president spends an hour of primetime television trying to bring us back on topic, the conversation gets derailed even before he gets off the air onto Henry Louis Gates, and civility in the House, and death panels, and socialism, and abortion, and the stupidity of Republicans yelling to keep the government out of Medicare.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama's health insurance reform speech

The text here. Remembering the emotion of last year's squabbles between Democratic primary candidates on health care reform, it is notable that the current plan appears to be candidate Obama's insurance exchange plus Obama's subsidies for the poor plus Clinton's insurance mandates, with Edwards' method of enforcement. This is all, of course, leaving aside candidate Kucinich's health plan, Medicare for all, which is still the best plan, but that doesn't really matter at this point.

Judging from the president's words last night, it's pretty clear that the public option he envisions is an anemic thing, capable of providing care but not of providing it well enough to compete for customers who can afford to go elsewhere. That is a shame, and the Reaganites who believe government only works when it redistributes wealth upward will make some serious political hay out of it down the road. I know that sounds like politics rather than policy discussion, but it is in policy where we will pay dearly for this compromise.

Also, we heard it officially tonight: the president's plan will mandate that people purchase private health insurance, and use subsidies to help the poor afford it -- in other words, tax revenue funneled directly into the pockets of Wall Street health insurance investors. Free money for the bad actors who caused much of this mess in the first place. I still don't get this compromise. If you want to achieve universal coverage, why not just create a public option and sign everyone up for it? Then set it up so that the fees and services for the public option begin next year, and add a form to this year's taxes whereby people find out how much they owe for the public option, or can check a box to decline the option if they provide their alternative policy. No policy, no checking the box. No need for fines or other enforcement mechanisms than the IRS' current policies and staff. Universal coverage. Easy peasy.

How is forcing people to pay private insurance premiums preferable from either a political or policy standpoint?

On the other hand, there is this:
Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies - because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse.

It doesn't deal with the issues of millions of uninsured people, obscenely high malpractice insurance premiums, or of various other problems in the health care industry, and will only be as good as the organization charged with enforcing it, but this paragraph alone probably makes the bill worth signing. If the Democrats can't get a workable universal coverage/universal access bill out of the Senate, it would be worth their time to create a separate bill with these provisions alone to put an end to the most barbaric abuses in the system. I'm tempted to say I would prefer that even to universal coverage provided in the rest of the plan.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Joe Scarborough defends the president's speech to schools


I can't believe anyone even has to make this point. The degree of hateful, paranoid hysteria caused by having a president Barack Obama has definitely surprised me. I remember people being a little crazy when Clinton was elected, but I was in Lubbock back then, so it wasn't exactly surprising. This is something else entirely, something harder to understand because the charges often don't match up with anything. After all, I can understand conservatives complaining about Obama being a big spender (I can understand hypocrisy, after all), or being liberal or whatever, but I totally missed the part where he became a bad example to kids.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

reporting politics, not policy

CBS released a poll showing that huge majorities of Americans don't understand the reforms Democrats are pushing on health care. Newspapers and TV networks have been giving us nonstop footage of the parade of crazy going on in town halls across the country. I've even seen some reports on Obama's/Democrats' inability to galvanize support being based on people's lack of understanding of what they're proposing.

So... eh... why don't you tell us? I've seen several online videos that explain the proposals clearly and concisely, often in cartoon form. Why can't the Nancy Snydermans of the various networks do something like that? Why are they all just waiting for an instructive voice to drown out the din on nonsense?

After all, apparently health care literacy is so low, even other journalists need a couple of basic lessons. It would be nice, for instance, for someone to tell Maria Bartiromo that Medicare isn't available to people under 65 (then again, judging from her Celebrity Jeopardy! performance, she might be a lost cause. Yes, CNBC hired this woman to tell you about financial news every day). Or tell other journalists that the public option does not establish a single payer system.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

you just don't get it, do you?

I understand that this article approaches the topic from a health perspective, but if you're looking at things from that perspective, you just shouldn't talk about pizza. Certainly that would be preferable to this blasphemy:
HALL OF FAME
THE BEST PIZZAS IN AMERICA

Next time you're hankering for a pie, grab a slice from one of these premium pizzas.

BEST VEGGIE PIZZA
Pizza Hut 12" Fit and Delicious Diced Red Tomato, Mushroom and Jalapeno (2 slices)
300 calories
16 g fat (7 g saturated)
1,220 mg sodium
46 g carbs

BEST HAWAIIAN PIZZA
Domino's Thin Crust Ham and Pineapple Pizza (2 slices)
294 calories
14 g fat (5 g saturated)
790 mg sodium
30 g carbs

BEST INDIVIDUAL PIZZA
Chuck E. Cheese Individual Cheese
540 calories
19 g fat (8 g saturated)
1,255 mg sodium
69 g carbs

BEST MEAT-LOVER'S PIZZA
Pizza Hut Meat Lover's 12" Pan Pizza (1 slice)
330 calories
18 g fat (7 g saturated, 0 g trans)
820 mg sodium
27 g carbs

Pizza Hut? Domino's? CHUCK E. F**KING CHEESE?? Look, I don't care what the dietary considerations are, you just can't give the "best barbecue sandwich" award to the McRib. Don't laugh; this is serious business. I almost had an aneurysm when I saw "premium pizzas" and "Domino's" appear in the same section.

You, sir, are Hitler. A communist Hitler. A fascist, communist, socialist Hitler if Hitler were also the kiddie-porn-filming love-child of Dick Cheney and Omarosa. YOU WILL ATONE FOR THIS SACRILEGE!

Greenwald on Jenna Bush: Reporter!

Greenwald on Jenna Bush getting hired as a "reporter" on Today at a time when actual journalists are getting fired left and right:
They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it's really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There's a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.
...
Just to underscore a very important, related point: all of the above-listed people are examples of America's Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work -- The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor -- who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice -- is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that's clear.

I lol'ed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

what the public option would mean for Michiana

According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, passing the America's Affordable Health Choices Act would mean in the 2nd district of Indiana:
up to 13,500 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 10,200 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 1,770 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $104 million in uncompensated care each year; and 95,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance.

That would be the one with the public option. These numbers are pretty staggering.

Here's the one for TX-19 (Randy Neugebauer, R - Lubbock), and here for TX-32 (North Dallas, Pete Sessions). The rest of you can look your districts up here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

EMK


The New York Times today has an excellent obituary for the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Moving in a somewhat different direction from the obit, even more than Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy was a link to the world of the mid-20th century, and at the same time was one of the major forces breaking down the old order. It's amazing to see some of the names he defeated or retired. He beat the grandson of Henry Cabot Lodge for his Senate seat in 1962, and the son of Huey Long for Majority Whip in 1968.

In 1990, Jesse Helms released perhaps the most disgusting and overtly racist ad in the history of American television. That ad, "Hands," specifically accuses his opponent of supporting "Ted Kennedy's racial quota law."


As powerful and influential as Ted Kennedy became (I think it's undeniable that he is actually the Kennedy who ended up leaving the biggest mark), he was also a constant reminder of what the United States and the Democratic party was twice robbed of. His power, effectiveness, and willingness to be an unabashed liberal even during the backlash years make me sad to think of what we missed out on in Robert and Jack.

If there's anything from Kennedy's life and work that I hope we'll hear more about and that Democrats will take to heart, it's that Kennedy became the party's single most effective senator not by watering down his beliefs, as the Blue Dogs often do, but by finding points of common ground with individual Republicans and maintaining personal friendships with many of them. There are very few, if any, Democrats of whom Senate Republicans speak so fondly, and that includes all of the centrist Democrats. Kennedy's ability to work with conservatives like Orrin Hatch while remaining implacably liberal should be a model for Democrats, not an outmoded skill set.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the case against welfare: health insurance companies

This is a conversation I would love to see. Atrios:
John Cole:

Hell, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what value the insurance companies add at all. Seems like all they do is skim money off the top, add layers of paperwork, and then screw people when they get a serious illness.


This is correct. More than that, most of "health insurance" isn't really insurance at all, except for a bit of catastrophic insurance which they try to avoid paying out.

There really is no reason for them to exist.

It appeared on CNBC recently, as well, in this interview with Anthony Weiner. At about the 2:00 mark, he has to correct the newsmodel's conflation of the public option with "single payer" (an issue in itself: that's a pretty basic distinction to be f**king up this late in the game) and notes as a sort of throwaway line that he's not sure what private insurance companies are bringing to the table right now. It's a great interview, worth watching in its entirety.

Single payer plans give the government broad power to negotiate lower prices and power to consumers, who have some say over the system via their elected representatives, while dramatically streamlining the system. A public option can do these on a smaller scale, providing coverage to those who need it without discrimination and at minimal expense, while forcing insurance companies to compete with an entity that isn't interested in profits. Co-ops, so the argument goes, gives consumers a say in how their insurance organization is run and they share in the prosperity when/if it does well.

What is the advantage of private insurance? What do they offer? They are more expensive than public plans, less efficient, more capricious with their coverage, and less accountable. The only thing private companies offer, so far as I can tell, is that they will cover as much as you're willing to pay for. If you want a hospital room decked out like the Ritz, they will pay for it (for a price, of course). That's all I see, and that would still be available in most all public plans.

the bar is too high

Another point I'm glad to hear someone else making:
Big domestic programs (other than tax increases cuts) are nearly impossible. The Bush people went 0-for-2 on big domestic proposals. It’s difficult to turn immigration reform or Social Security privatization into a war against the worst enemy ever.

For all the talk about how Congress did whatever Bush wanted—and they did—he didn’t pass much of import domestically, aside from the big tax cuts (something else that’s always easy to pass) and (EDIT) Medicare Part D, a big corporate give-away (these are also relatively easy to pass). The last president to have success with ambitious domestic policy initiatives was probably LBJ.

Castigating Obama for not being another LBJ seems a little unfair to me.

Health care for all, comprehensive climate change legislation, cutting the military budget, and ending a war with anything other than total victory are probably the four most difficult things a president can attempt to do. As it is, Obama has had to put 3 of them at the top of his agenda. No matter what happens with the others, he will likely have to add the 4th as well.

It already looks like he will end a war, which is impressive enough. If he gets one of the others, he will be a model of successful legislating. Three would put him in the pantheon of great presidential lawmakers with the Roosevelts and Johnson. Four is impossible.

Barney Frank has had it with your bulls**t

From Yahoo! News:
DARTMOUTH, Mass. – Rep. Barney Frank lashed out at protester who held a poster depicting President Barack Obama with a Hitler-style mustache during a heated town hall meeting on federal health care reform.

"On what planet do you spend most of your time?" Frank asked the woman, who had stepped up to the podium at a southeastern Massachusetts senior center to ask why Frank supports what she called a Nazi policy.

"Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it," Frank replied.

He continued by saying her ability to deface an image of the president and express her views "is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated."

I don't always like him, but he's a hoot to watch.

UPDATE: Oh joyous day! there's a video!

the Onion on health reform

Nice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

guns at Obama rallies

Josh Marshall is asking a lot of questions about this scary new phenomenon. The gun carriers will tell you it's about exercising their 2nd amendment rights, but of course, that's also what they said when they were standing by the doors of southern polling places in the Jim Crow era.

Of course it's a threat!

What's most worrisome is that, once you get a dozen armed men standing in range of political opponents (or worse, let's face it, a dozen armed white men in range of the supporters of a black president), you're just waiting for that one provocateur -- that white supremacist, that Glenn Beck-listening paranoiac, that delusional psychotic off his meds -- to light the kindling.

What do you think would happen if you had a bunch of armed, angry men staring down a group of political opponents, a picketing and shouting match ensued, and then someone discharged a firearm?

a sign that I'm wound a little too tight

A buddy of mine and reader of this little soapbox decides to josh me by sending me an anti-health care petition. He gets back a several-pages-long defense of the public option because I take it seriously.

Perhaps the best thing that could happen to this country right now is marijuana legalization. Sorry Chuy!

Monday, August 17, 2009

pitying the Joneses

It happens a lot these days, it seems: millions of people lose their jobs, thousands pack the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. event in Los Angeles because they can't afford basic health care, seniors choose between their drugs and their heat, others find themselves needing food stamps for the first time in their lives just as the government cuts funding for the program, but the Washington Post wants me to feel sorry for a woman in a $2.5 million house, a woman who pays her nanny more than my annual salary and receives more than twice my salary in child support.

What the writer calls "standard of living," the rest of us call "conspicuous consumption."

some good work on the current health care debate

Nate Silver is significantly more optimistic than I am on the benefits of a public option-less health reform bill, and has some good points to make. I like his point about how the bill still contains rules preventing insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions or current illness, but my worry is the possibility of loopholes that render these provisions meaningless (e.g., does it also bar them from raising that person's premiums/deductibles/co-pay to the point where they can't afford it?), and also the possibility of Republicans, lobbyists, and teabaggers to turn on those provisions after they prevail against the public option.

Also, Rick Perlstein on the nutball protesters as just the latest iteration of a long-standing national phenomenon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

if I were Obama's strategist

I'd think about sending the president off to do a speech in Los Angeles right about now, say at the Forum in Inglewood, rather than a town hall in Montana.

Just a thought.

is "reform" without a public option worth passing?

In the absence of any discussion of single payer, a robust public option is the only significant reform that is on the table. It is also, coincidentally, the one part of the discussion that health insurance companies violently oppose (which is why they're still ostensibly playing ball with Obama). I've been doing the same Debbie Downer routine since Obama first settled on a date for dealing with health care: there is no way in Hell that he will pass a robust public option. It's not a criticism of the president's will or abilities; rather, it's an appraisal of the forces allied against him.

Let's face it, kids: not even Johnson got health care for all.

Nevertheless, I imagine the Democrats will insist on passing something, so what we'll almost certainly see is a health bill sans the public option, or perhaps with a public option so weak and disfigured that it could never compete with private insurance. What I think we're also very likely to see is a mandate for purchasing health insurance, with an accompanying tax break if there is no public option.

In other words, taxpayer subsidized profits for Cigna and Blue Cross, and a new captive market, to boot. I hope you like your insurance company, because most of you will be paying them twice.

On the other hand, there may be some around-the-edges improvements buried in the bill, money for better record-keeping and such. It won't be much, though.

The question I hope some people are preparing to deal with is what to do when the only two options left are 1) passing a bill that tells people health care is "fixed" when it isn't even improved in any substantial way (and further empowers the enemies of health care reform, at that), and 2) passing nothing.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

On the future of journalism

I don't know who Clay Shirky is.

I do know that he has articulated much of what I've been thinking about the future of journalism in an excellent blog post that I stumbled upon today.

For a few months I've been casually batting around the problem of separating journalists from newspapers - an event that appears to me to be inevitable. Our country was founded after the invention of the press, and wrote it into the constitution.

Now that the press has suffered its final mortal wound courtesy of Craig Newmark, we have a pressing need to separate and sustain the credible journalists as we move into the future. As Clay's post points out, most of the solutions proposed and employed to date are less about preserving the journalist and more about preserving the paper, and as such are destined to fail because news isn't being delivered in paper anymore.

So, what key elements are likely to be in place in the post paper world of journalism?

Here are my guesses:
  • A distinct meritocracy
The information hubs will do their best to promote the "brand" by signing good journalists to exclusive contracts, but generally the cream will rise to the top no matter which hub that particular author signs on to. The rise or fall of any given journalist will be more closely tied to his personal ability than ever before.
  • An expansion of the fringe
I think that social networking tools like StumbleUpon, Digg, etc will allow people to self-sort the type of news that they are exposed to. As such the hard-core elements of either political extreme will be able to find unending mountains of information affirming their pre-concieved beliefs. The idea of a meritocracy will manifest itself here as well, since the most eloquent preacher will be constantly linked to by the choir, regardless of denomination.
  • A loss of operational expenses
Journalism has been a highly subsidized commodity for a long time. The removal of a subsidiary form of income will handcuff individual journalists who require certain travel and salary resources in order to do their work. Text is unique on the internet and in journalism in that the degree to which you hold it back and demand payment it is the degree to which you lose effective distribution of the facts contained within. This means that journalists are going to have to seek a new subsidy instead of direct payment for their work.

Its a brave new world out there, and we're all pushing it along. Here's hoping we figure something workable out.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Donnelly in Mishawaka

Several of us did our best, but the crowd was so packed 30 minutes before start time that we couldn't even hear Congressman Donnelly speak, just intermittent clapping and cheering from the various sides. Speaking of, though, both sides were pretty solidly represented (complete with pro- and anti- protesters), so I imagine everything went ok.

One thing I did learn: anytime anyone does something you don't like, it's just like living in East Germany.

Not a bad idea to take a moment to write the good congressman a polite, if firm letter/email. Everything hinges upon the presence of a robust, viable public option. Without it, there can be no meaningful reform.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

as a corollary to the last post

Despite my deep pessimism of Obama's chances, we still have to stand up and be heard if we want to stand a chance in this fight. Write your representatives, especially if they're Democrats. Those of you in Michiana have a blue dog congressman who needs to hear that we don't want him following his spineless, unprincipled colleagues. The astroturfers will be descending on him on Saturday at 11:30 in Plymouth. It's not far from South Bend, so perhaps a carpool can be arranged?

thousands of journalists covering the B.S.

and only one that bothered to look for the real story:

This right here is how Clinton was defeated in 1993. Incidentally, it was also key in Al Gore's defeat in 2000. Are people that much smarter now than they were in '93, or our media that much better, or our Democrats that much more courageous?

This is why I still believe we'll see expensive, quality health care become the privilege of the rich before we ever see it made public. Everyone making less than $100k/year will eventually have access only to what the free/cheap clinics offer, which is not far from what people in Guyana, Malawi, and Virginia get from Remote Area Medical and Doctors Without Borders. People will convince themselves that they decided to go with these instead of real hospitals, too, that they found a great way to cut costs. That's how it always works.

Thanks, Blue Dogs!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

the death of an MMORPG

The end of an MMO is a strange thing to contemplate. On the one hand, it's like closing a bar or a coffee shop, a place where lots of people spend a lot of their free time. It must feel very strange to suddenly be unable to go somewhere you're used to spending several hours a day visiting. There's also the narrative side of the event, though: all MMO's tell a story, one that is intended to be continuing, but the staff is now tasked with bringing that story to an end. As you can imagine, sometimes the plug is simply pulled at midnight with no resolution or climax, but occasionally you'll have a staff and clientele sufficiently invested in the story that the cataclysm seems to convey everyone's emotions in the game's final moments.

So it goes with the Matrix Online.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

making Jesus weep

Ok, kids, I try not to be a grammar Nazi and try not to step on anyone's toes, but this trend is getting silly. Here's a writer at Echidne complaining about changes marked out in her library book:
All references to god that rely on a personal pronoun have been capitalized, i.e., "he" to "He".

Yeah, that sucks, but can we talk about your refusal to capitalize "god" even when you use it as a proper name? Because unlike capitalizing pronouns that refer to h/Him/it/Her/them, which is a matter of personal preference, capitalizing proper names is mandatory. If you are referring to the term "god" as a type of being, you affix an article, as in:
I do not believe in a god.

If you are referring to a group of beings, you don't need an article or a capital:
I do not believe in gods or goddesses.

If you use the word "god" as a proper name, however, you must capitalize it instead:
I do not believe in God.

No, the lack of belief does not entitle you to forgo the capitalization. Note how this statement is similarly incorrect:
I do not believe in santa claus or in zeus and hera.

There is no defense for this rank politicization of grammar that I see among otherwise urbane, capable writers. Even the atheist area of about.com concedes the point!

I have seen some people try to justify it by claiming that they see God as a concept, like karma or justice or something. I see the argument, but it still does not hold water. "Godhead" or "a deity" or "divinity" is the concept; "God" is the being. Besides, if we really wanted to wax Platonic, we could say that any mythic being is a concept, but that does not give one license to start tossing "apollo" and "batman" about, does it?

Am I way off base here?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Harry Potter and the twisted panties

Even on the "liberal paper of record," Americans can be such frakin' prudes.

There's a pattern in a lot of the hand-wringing in this article (and, I suspect, elsewhere) that's worth pointing out. For example:
“Hermione is such a tightly wound young lady, but she’s liberated by some butterbeer,” she said. “The message is that it gives you liquid courage to put your arms around the guy you really like but are afraid to.”

and later:
“I hope parents can talk to their kids and tell them even though Harry Potter made that seem fun, that it isn’t O.K.,” said Dr. Welsh, the author of a 2007 article about alcohol use in the Harry Potter series, published in The Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse.

I find it interesting (as does Amanda Marcotte in a pretty good post) that these people don't want anyone conveying the message that alcohol "gives you liquid courage" to express your feelings or that drinking is fun. That's a bit odd, though, because these two statements are undeniably true. Alcohol does lower inhibitions and drinking is fun.

Have any of these people considered the implications of keeping your kids from certain behavior by lying to them about it? It isn't like there aren't any bad things about alcohol you can tell them truthfully. Why risk losing the trust of your kids the second they find out that drinking really is like liquid courage?

I think Amanda may be right, furthermore, that this lack of openness about alcohol and our zeal in trying to keep it out of the hands of everyone under 21 probably has contributed to the apparent increase in college binge drinking, particularly in the strange way that college kids look at alcohol as if it's a priceless commodity that can never, ever go to waste and must be drunk NOW NOW NOW.

I think too many temperance movements and too many ad campaigns and too many Wars on Drugs have really warped our perspective on alcohol and drugs. We as a society should take a step back and reevaluate what we think about alcohol and drugs (everything from caffeine to heroin), what we know to be true, and what the dangers actually are. It doesn't do us much good to tell our kids that EVERYTHING WILL KILL YOU IF YOU TOUCH IT, only for them to discover that we were lying. The end result is the same as if we told them nothing at all: they will rely on experience and their peers to find out the truth.

William Shatner recites Sarah Palin's farewell speech

This is why Conan > Leno.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I have come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him.

Greenwald in a particularly shrill, and true, post on the death of Cronkite vis-a-vis Russert, and their stances on opposite ends of the journalism-stenography spectrum.

Also, a clip from Cronkite that no one wants to talk about. I wonder why?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

jury duty: One spin through the system part 4

Thursday:

I hadn't slept very well the night before. I was positively sick anticipating the outcome of the day. On my drive to the court building I considered what moral and ethical obligations I had and what actions I could take.

I could send a note out asking for the judge to re-clarify those things that we were to consider during deliberations with the hint that someone among us was bringing baggage into the jury room. I could do nothing and allow the process to just happen. I figured that when we re-convened that the judge would ask us if we were absolutely sure that we could not come to a unanimous decision. That could be an opportunity for me to express my desire for more deliberations.

I knew certain wheels were turning and I didn't have much time to change the course of this if it was going to get done. I still had the power of the foreman title, but I also had a room full of disheartened jurors who were tired from the long week, disappointed in the outcome, and ready to leave. I had a judge and set of attorneys that believed we were already hung and were no doubt taking the appropriate next steps.

When we all got situated in the jury room together Rachel Ray was again cooking on the television. iI turned her off. We continued our non-case related conversations for a while, but an awkward kind of tension was clearly hanging in the room. I was getting frustrated, so I asked the group "You guys want to keep deliberating this thing?" Everyone seemed relieved and positive answers came from all corners, save the holdout. I buzzed the bailiff and asked him if we could keep deliberating. He said he'd tell the judge, and we shut the door.

"OK, so is everyone still pretty much where they were last night?"
Nods all around, including the holdout.
The lawyer/juror spoke up.
"How about instead of listing the problems with the case we look at the things that are credible?"
I loved that.
"Alright, cool. What do we think is pretty much solid truth in this thing?"

I started collecting a large array of answers. Her ability to describe his penis in great detail. The consistency of her story from a year ago to this week. The fact that her body got excited (no one would make that up). The willingness of the family to act quickly on her behalf. Despite his sloppiness, the quick and firm decision of the cop meant that he was sure convinced. I argued that her inability to identify her stepfather was another one of those things that you would never make up. The man in the room was unquestionably her stepfather, and a coached or premeditated liar would do the opposite of misidentifying the man. A liar would point and say "that's him."

After a while I suggested a show of hands. Someone else wanted to do another secret ballot. I acquiesced, because I figured it would be easier for our holdout to change his position in secret than in public despite the fact that doing so with either method would be public regardless.

I had improved my paper tearing skills. I took four sheets of paper, folded them into thirds and tore them at the folds. We passed them around, wrote our votes and compiled them in front of me. I opened and read them privately as I had done before.

12 guiltys.

"Well, it looks like we're unanimous."

A sigh of relieve escaped the room, and all eyes went to the holdout.

"What changed your mind?"
"Well, I spend some time with my bible last night. I prayed and I talked to God."

Hey man, whatever works. I got the charge and filled it out while someone else pushed the button for the bailiff. All of the sudden we were all laughing and joking. It felt good to get it right, and we were all kind of basking in it. When the judge reconvened and we were lined up outside of the juror's entry I'm positive that we were laughing and joking loudly enough to be heard in the courtroom. The bailiff opened the door, said "all rise" and the twelve of us worked quickly to straighten out our faces and look somber as we walked into the room to deliver what was a heavy verdict.

Judge Adams asked me to stand. He asked if we'd come to a unanimous decision. I answered "We have."

The judge read the verdict and the charge from the paperwork that we had filled out. He advised us that we were going into the punishment phase, and the prosecution resubmitted its case and rested. The defendant slowed down a bit, and whispered to his lawyer. The lawyer whispered back. The defendant pulled his headphones down. He sighed, leaned back in his seat and looked at the ceiling. He closed his eyes. He re-composed himself, put his headphones back on, and resumed the stoic stance he'd maintained all week.

His lawyer called the girl's mother to the stand as a character witness. She was clearly intimidated by the setting, and did little to sway us.

Oliphant gave a still emotional but more logical closing. She noted that if we issued one year for each time he molested her he'd have surpassed the twenty year maximum before the girl had turned fifteen. She called him a monster. She reiterated his selfishness. She explicitly asked for the max and asked us to rule out probation.

The defendant's lawyer was more collected and reasoned as well. He noted that in voir dire we agreed that we could issue probation even if we convicted this man of that crime. He pointed out that this man was a model citizen outside of his transgressions with his daughters. No other convictions in his past. Great work history. He suggested that the defendant would never again be in a position of power that would allow him to abuse his other stepdaughter, and would pose no threat to anyone else. He then explicitly asked for the minimum sentence of probation. He noted that probation was no cake walk and that if the defendant screwed it up he'd go straight to prison.

We retired to deliberate sentencing.

Our options were a prison sentence of 2-20 years and a fine up to $10,000. If we sentenced less than ten years, we could recommend probation in lieu of immediate incarceration. We were hungry and decided to break for lunch before getting into heavy deliberations.

I did my usual routine of eating and then sitting and resting my brain while looking out over downtown from the seventh floor window. The building was beginning to grow on me.

Back in the jury room we took a blind poll to see approximately where we were at from a sentencing standpoint. It was pointed out that this man has already served a year and a half, and that would be counted against his sentence. He could also cut any sentence we hand down in half with good behavior. I passed out slips of paper and asked for three things: a number of years, a fine amount, and a yes or no on probation.

I wrote 8 years, $10k and no probation on my slip, then collected the rest. I cleaned the white board and started tallying the results on it.

Years
-----
20 x 2 votes
18 x 1 vote
15 x 1 vote
10 x 2 votes
9 x 1 vote
8 x 1 vote
5 x 2 votes
2 x 2 votes

Fine
-----
$10k x 2 votes
$0 x 10 votes

Probation?
----------
yes x 1 vote
no x 11 votes


We were all over the map and we had to come up with a unanimous decision on this as well.

The biggest hurdle was clearly going to be the amount of years. I wasn't dug in on a fine, and I figured the probation issue would resolve itself as well. I told the group where I was at and why.

"I put down eight years and ten K with no probation. My thought is that he always wanted her to cooperate. He never just grabbed her and violently raped her. If he had done that I think we'd come up with an easy twenty, but he did allow her to turn over and reject him. I figure that the max is reserved for the most violent version of this crime, and I thought a combination of years and the heavy fine would be the appropriate thing."

"But he would never be able to pay the fine. That family is poor, and good luck continuing to work at a liquor store with a felony conviction on your record. I mean, what's he going to do? What's his family going to do?" One of the Hispanic ladies.

The discussion had begun, and we took quite a while hashing it out. I gave in quickly on the issue of a fine given that we could increase the amount of years that we send him away for. I also pointed out that we needed to err on the high side because he could reduce a sentence that is too high with good behavior, but if we let him off too lightly we were just out of luck. I also pointed out that he was pretty likely to conduct himself in a way that would actually lead to a reduction in his sentence. It was cool hearing our holdout re-engage in the debate and make solid points about how and why we should come up with a number.

We had a scare at one point in the deliberations when it was pointed out that when he went to prison as a convicted child molester he was going to be toast. One of the ladies became very upset about this and started to dig her feet in about recommending probation because she didn't want to send him off to his death in prison. She was one of those who had initially recommended two years because she barely came down on the guilty side anyway, an wanted to err on the low side on sentencing. The room immediately became very conciliatory and it was stressed that this was an exaggeration. He'd be fine. We promised.

I started trying to broker a deal.

"OK, raise your hand if you'd be ok sentencing him to eight years."

Ten hands went up.

"Alright, what about twelve years?"

Ten different hands. Great. We continued debating. We were sure to leave out considerations about what would happen to the family. We talked about how this number was really a representation of what we, as members of the city of Dallas, felt that a crime like this was worth.

Eventually we settled on eleven years, no fine, no probation which happened to line up almost exactly with the averages of our initial gut feelings. We buzzed the bailiff, filled out the paperwork, and reconvened.

The verdict was read into the record, we were thanked for our service, and we again retired to the jury room. We were told that the lawyers were going to come back and talk with us a bit about how we felt the case was litigated, what mattered, and how we came to our decisions. I thought that was a little odd, but I welcomed the opportunity to express my perspective to all sides.

Back in the room all three lawyers arrived at once, and conducted themselves as friends. A few of the jurors had already left to catch up at work. I expressed my level of respect for the defense lawyer. I thought he generally did a great job punching holes in the prosecution's witnesses, and I offered my critique of his closing statements. He explained that the judge was moving things along very quickly, and he didn't have as much time to prepare as he had hoped. I told the prosecution that the cop nearly hung us. I said that the girl's ability to describe her stepfather's actions and his organ in such minute and consistent detail was what sealed the case for us. I said the emotional stuff during closing did nothing for me.

We asked them about the jury selection process, because we were curious about the makeup of the jury. One lawyer, one person who's sister had been molested, and a relatively diverse group. They explained that the people who expressed that they couldn't follow the law were struck first. The prosecution immediately struck all of the people who ranked rehab as the number one reason for imprisonment on their initial questionnaire. They all figured (correctly) that the lawyer/juror had worked both sides of the bench, as most lawyers do. They expressed surprise that he was not elected fore. He explained that he wanted to keep his professional life as far away from the actual jury deliberations as possible.

At the end of it, I came away very happy with the process. The girl reached out. The stepfather was arrested. A trial took place, and he got a very solid defense. He obviously did it, and we shipped him away. It was all very satisfying. The process dodged several bullets during the proceedings, and probably countless more in the months leading up to it, but with all of us pulling on the same rope as reasonable and intelligent individuals we made it work.

As I was walking out one of the prosecutors told me about the girl's reaction when she heard the news. She said she was so happy that someone believed her.