Friday, December 30, 2011

the anti-incumbent election myth

Some perspective on the some of the more idiotic tea leaf reading going around regarding next year's elections from Larry Sabato.

If you hear someone say the words "triple flip" in the context of next year's elections, you know you don't have to listen to them anymore because they don't know what they're talking about.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The End of an Error

The war in Iraq officially ended today. I honestly wasn't sure I'd ever see this day.

I've written, spoken, screamed, argued, spat out, and drunkenly slurred so many words on so many occasions damning this war and those who started it, and now on the day of its end, I'm having trouble finding thoughts to contribute.

It's hard to eulogize a war when one can't even articulate why we fought it. I still don't know. In fact, with every year I think the war has made even less sense. Maybe Bush really did think Iraq had nukes and ties to Al Qaeda. If so, perhaps one day, when we can speak honestly about Iraq, we can take a lesson from it about qualities to avoid in a presidential candidate. It is certainly a warning against electing charismatic dimwits, people with no intellectual curiosity and a philosophy of decision-making "from the gut."

Maybe in the future, Americans will force themselves to keep their cool in the aftermath of an attack, telling themselves: "don't do anything rash or allow yourselves to be conned. Remember Iraq."

Iraq could prove the anti-WWII. Neoconservatives, for instance, think war is always the answer, citing World War II as historical precedent. Every foreign leader becomes Hitler, all of their crimes become the Holocaust, every American president has the choice to be Chamberlain or Churchill.

Perhaps Iraq could become a catch-all reason to keep our cool and not listen to those who would con us into war. Perhaps every "bad guy" could become Saddam Hussein, unarmed and besieged, wrongfully accused of being a threat to the US but unable to admit he has no super-secret nuclear program because it's the only thing keeping Iran at bay. Every ostensible reason for invasion becomes Iraqi WMD, existent only in the fever dreams of the administration. Every warmonger could become Colin Powell, dangling falsified evidence that the proponents of war call "ironclad." And every president is in trouble of becoming George W. Bush, blinded by the need for revenge, manipulated by his underlings and advisors, impervious to all countervailing evidence, firing weapons inspector and weapons inspector when they return to report that the enemy's mobile weapons labs are a myth.

I'll end by recalling that it was the terrorist attacks of September 11, and the need for revenge, that were a primary cause of the war. As of today, 4,487 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, about 1,000 more than the total casualties of 9/11.

Friday, December 09, 2011

money > cans

Interesting research from Matt Yglesias shows that food pantries and charities get much more value out of donations of cash than of canned food. Essentially, charities have cut deals with supermarkets to score food for pennies on the dollar:
All across America, charitable organizations and the food industry have set up mechanisms through which emergency food providers can get their hands on surplus food for a nominal handling charge. Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food providers can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.” She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost you $2 per pound retail.

Beyond the better pricing, Yglesias points out that sorting cans involves a lot more work and space than depositing a check, and the charity can use the check to buy things they know the families will actually like and know how to prepare. Plus, hey, you can document your donations for tax purposes much more easily if you wrote a check.

message to Obama: hire Ron Paul's ad guy

Seriously, this ad is fantastic. Political advertising has gotten pretty stagnant, and negative ads can be so rankling and formulaic: a black background, black and white unflattering photos of the other guy, that smarmy woman or that old dude doing the overacted voice-over: "Mitt Romney saayyyss..."

This could be a movie commercial. Well done.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

a long time coming

Finally dug in and modernized the look of the ol' blog. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

better Plan B than Plan C

The Washington Post:
In a rare public split among federal health officials, the Health and Human Services Department overruled a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to make the drug available to anyone of any age without a restriction.

In a statement, FDA Administrator Margaret A. Hamburg said she had decided the medication could be used safely by girls and women of all ages. But she added that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had rejected the move.

“I agree ... there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential,” Hamburg said.

“However, this morning I received a memorandum from the Secretary of Health and Human Services invoking her authority under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to execute its provisions and stating that she does not agree with the Agency’s decision to allow the marketing of Plan B One-Step nonprescription for all females of child-bearing potential,” she said.

Had Kathleen Sebelius not made the unprecedented move of overturning the FDA's decision, Plan B would soon be available in the same way as aspirin, preventing Lord knows how many unwanted pregnancies and allowing young women more freedom to make their own family planning choices.

This decision has a significant impact on our lives. It's a perfect example of everything conservatives could rightly rail against. This is some bureaucrat wielding the power of government to enforce her personal opinions (Sebelius is Catholic). This is a perfect example of big government nosing its way into our lives and personal decisions. This is over-regulation at its worst, forcing the market's hand because of airy fairy feelings and fear of special interest groups.

Of course, we won't hear anything from them, neither condemnation for the things they claim to believe in nor praise for things they actually believe in. But this isn't really about them, is it? This is about the Obama Administration stopping a major, necessary policy change by the FDA that would grant young women a tremendous degree of reproductive freedom. It would have changed millions of lives for the better, but oh well, what's more important: changing millions of lives for the better or giving parish priests one less reason to bash Democrats in Mass?

Kevin Drum articulates my sentiment pretty well:
This is the first time an HHS secretary has ever overruled the FDA, and it's a blow to those of us who believe that Democratic administrations are more willing to be guided by scientific evidence than Republican ones.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

the BCS: sigh, so we're doing this again.

As many of you no doubt already know, it's time for the BCS to decide for us who will be playing in the national championship game, based on the opinions of coaches who don't watch most of the games and computer formulae that outside observers have generally dismissed as "nonsense math." This year will be one of the worst years for the BCS, as there's only one undefeated team in the country, LSU, so they have to pluck one of the one-lossers up to join them in the national championship. The difference in caliber between the various one-lossers? We have no earthly idea, because for the most part, they haven't played each other, nor have their respective conferences played each other except for one or two games.

Dr. Saturday sums it up thusly:
In the meantime, congratulations to Alabama and Oklahoma State (and Stanford, and Boise State, and Oregon, and Wisconsin) on outstanding seasons. You are all worthy. All but one of you is about to get screwed. This is the system you're forced to play in. As for the rest of us, we don't have to play along.

The whole post is great, by the way. Even better is Dan Wetzel's annual takedown of the BCS, this year brewed a little heartier because the system is exposed even more than usual. If you want to know exactly how the system is flawed, check it out. Wetzel's case is ironclad.

He releases a bracket every year to show what games we'd be watching if we scrapped the BCS for a 16 team bracket, and this year it's going to be outstanding.

But back to the BCS: does anybody still defend this system? Dr. Saturday put it best: holding a vote to decide who's the better team, in a game that keeps score, is stupid. What defense could you possibly muster for this asinine system? Tradition? We should keep engaging in this ridiculous exercise because we were stupid enough to do it last year?

And remember, nobody else does this, not even division II college football. They use a playoff, and there's rarely any scandal about a team unfairly left out.