Wednesday, November 25, 2009


First, Judge Smails passes along the good news that the aforementioned pay-for-prayer silliness, while in the HELP version of the bill, did NOT make it into either the House bill nor the merged Senate bill that is currently under consideration. So that's good.

Over at, Tom Schaller has a really nice summary of arguments centered on the Constitution. Check it out. Two of my favorites:
First, there is the fallacy that anything not specifically prescribed by the Constitution is unconstitutional. True, the Constitution doesn’t mention health care; but neither does it mention air traffic control. Is the FAA’s safeguarding of our skies from commercial crashes therefore unconstitutional? Of course not. First, there is the matter of the “necessary and proper” clause. And second, just because the Founders clearly meant to avoid the whole business of constitutionalizing specifically policies--see point #3, below--doesn't mean they didn't want the government to have any policies. If they did, why create a legislature?

Fifth, if you want to be a strict constructionist, fine, but be one even when it’s inconvenient. Imagine if the Second Amendment read as follows: “A woman’s ability to survive childbearing being necessary to a free state, the right to abort a fetus shall not be infringed.” Now, do you think the anti-choice movement would simply ignore the leading clause and resign themselves to the idea that a woman has an unconditional right to abortion? Not a chance, and they'd be right to fight because the language clearly implies a conditional right. And yet we almost never hear gun rights advocates mention the actual Second Amendment’s leading clause, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state….,” which at least suggests a collective right—indeed, obligation—to an armed defense of the state, rather than an individual’s right to use arms to protect himself and his property. For the record, I support gun rights with some restrictions, but that’s besides my point, which is that you can’t be so selective in citing the language in the Constitution that you chop off inconveniently ambiguous parts of the same sentence upon which you base a categorical claim.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where to begin?

The always-observant Ms. McGee passes along this article, about an odd part of the Senate's health care bill, sponsored by John Kerry, Ted Kennedy (um, he's dead, right?) & Orrin Hatch:
The three senators have quietly inserted a provision into the Democrats' healthcare overhaul that would allow the Christian Science church to receive remuneration from the federal government for prayer treatments as medical expenses.

According to Hamburger and Geiger, the proposal would have a negligible overall cost on the bill, as the Church has fewer than 1,800 branches worldwide and continues to see membership declines. Prayer treatments cost from $20 to $40 a day -- which the church describes as competitive with medical care.

Leaving aside the nonsense that praying for someone is medically useful, what aspect of prayer costs $20 to $40 a day? Are we buying indulgences? Don't get me wrong, I do believe that thinking you'll get better helps -- the placebo effect is strong and real -- but the idea that you could pay for prayer and that would somehow make you get better? I don't get it.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Two stabs at my grammar question, plus a bit more on Belichick. First up:
I think adding "might" puts it in the subjunctive mood, which (confirmed by some half-assed googling, turning up several ESL sites, interestingly) takes the infinitive (i.e. "to apply") in the present tense. In the "probably" version, the verb isn't plural, it's just the 3rd person singular form of "to apply" (i.e. I apply, you apply, he/she/it applies). (Actually, come to think of it, most regular verbs lack the "s" in the plural conjugation, but have it in the 3rd person singular. English is funny, eh?)

Also, while I too was initially surprised, almost horrified, that Belichick went for that 4th and 2 last week, I've come around to thinking that is certainly wasn't a bad decision, and probably even was indeed the smart play. What's annoying is that no sports announcer seems to get this. For example, in the Cal-Stanford game yesterday, Stanford faced 4th and EIGHT deep in their own territory, down by four points with under 4 minutes left. (Despite my support of Belichick's call, I think Stanford has to punt here, as the circumstances are quite different than those the Pats faced.) The announcer of the game asks whether the Stanford coach is going to "pull a Belichick," which is now apparently synonymous with "go for an ill-advised fourth down attempt." Jerks. (Stanford went on to lose the game.)

And Judge Smails:
Might is a helping verb; probably is an adverb. I assume therein lies the difference.

The counter-argument to Nate/Your thesis is that legislatures are built over time by evolutionary elections. The fact that all the Senators are arguably blowhards is decent, although by no means dispositive, proof that talking alot is perhaps a positive quality if your goal is to stay in office.

Hmmm, subjunctive mood... I'm having flashbacks of Sister Gloria Jean yelling at us 7th graders about the subjunctive mood... so that might probably be right.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Grammar Q

In my previous post, I originally wrote: probably applies to....

Which I then changed to: might apply to...

The verb goes from plural to singular, and while I know that is correct, I have no idea why. Any ideas?

Oh, he's a horse's ass

Apparently that was a favorite expression of my grandmother, usually in response to some suitor for one of her several daughters. And at least according to Nate Silver, it might apply to Senators, too -- the notion that you should just shut up, because the more you talk, the less people like you. He looks at the varying fates of Max Baucus and Jon Tester -- both Democratic Senators from Wyoming, but one of whom (Baucus) decided to make himself front and center during the health care debate and has seen his approval ratings drop 20 points, while Tester simply shut up and still has very high approval ratings. Now, to be fair, there are a lot of other mitigating factors, most notably that Baucus was chair of the committee that needed to pass health care, but still, he didn't exactly shun the spotlight.

In general, I think politicans over-estimate how much the public cares about their particular positions. Rather, a lot of the time, the public just gets tired of hearing about a given politician, and thus sours on him or her. In other words, just stop being a horse's ass and do your job without me having to hear about it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In an attempt at consolation, Paul Hogan writes in:
Not writing to rub salt in the wound. Just thought the "controversy" over Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th and 2 from the Colts' 30 could be a good topic for your blog post. From what I'm hearing so far, the vast majority of pundits and talking heads are saying the decision is terrible. I haven't done the math myself, but it's fairly straightforward calculation:

Probability of converting the 4th down + [(1 - Probability of converting the 4th down) * (Probability of stopping the Colts' from the Pats 30 with 2 minutes left)]

You could also take into account probabilities of stuff like the Colts scoring right after a failed conversion, and then the Pats scoring again after that, but I think that would only be a very minor factor.

Anyway, I don't have the raw data to calculate whether or not Belichick's decision was mathematically correct according to the equation above, but I suspect it's close. What really bothers me is that 99% of analysts, including former football coaches, don't even bother to think about the math and just say automatically say that the correct decision is to punt. I think most analysts and coaches automatically choose the "playing not to lose" strategy without actually doing a full analysis of the situation.

I think Belichick's decision may have been an example of an instance where there is incentive for an NFL coach to make uncontroversial, yet mathematically incorrect, decision because most GMs and fans (i.e. the people with hiring and firing capacity) are too ignorant to actually evaluate the merits of many coaching decisions. Fortunately for Belichick, he is pretty untouchable at this point.

Well, one calculation I know for sure is that the Pats Super Bowl chances just decreased by about a factor of 10.

I forget where I read it, but apparently going for it on fourth down is worth it a much larger chunk of the time than conventional wisdom suggests.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

This story in today's Washington Post details how China hacked into both the Obama and McCain campaigns during the summer of 2008 to gather sensitive data.

If one is of the mindset to view the 21st century as an impending conflict between China and the USA (and I'm not) this news would be pretty frightening. But it also would make you question military strategy. The US spends billions of dollars annually, even in peacetime, on things that blow up other things. This sort of technology has its limits, as we've painfully seen over the last decade. Emphasizing intelligence is not only cheaper, but it is more, well, intelligent.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bill Clinton was on Capitol Hill today, to give a pep talk to Senate Democrats and presumably to warn them about the dangers of not passing a health care bill, I guess in case none of them have aides or a functioning internet connection. But really, good for him. And it reminded me that I should analogize Hilary Clinton to a good third base coach in baseball -- the less you hear about her, the better a job she's likely doing. As evidence for this, I still remember the names of Wendell Kim and Dale Sveum as 3B coaches for the Red Sox, because they were terrible. Secretary of States should aim to be like good third base coaches. Or something like that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

House vote

Health care passed the house on Saturday night -- and yes, I spent my Saturday night watching CSPAN -- and I'm a bit puzzled by the logic of Democratic House members voting no, if there is any logic to it. I suppose some are actually against the bill, but the cynical side of me says that their actual feelings have little to do with their vote, but rather political calculation dictated their vote. Most of these folks are from red areas, so perhaps they are thinking that voting no will give them cover come 2010. But if voters in that area want a Republican, won't they just vote for one? Put another way, what argument do they make to voters -- reelect me because I'll vote like my opponent?

Certainly there are a multitude of votes where it makes sense to buck the party. But on the whole, Democrats' fates will rise and fall together in 2010. And folks in red areas, should conditions still suck in a year, will be the most vulnerable. So what good is the argument that I tried but failed to obstruct the signature legislation of this Congress?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Okay, I'm hooked again, having been in front (and not "on" as I kinda wrote earlier) of the TV for the past few hours. Deeds losing in VA is a non-issue is he, apparently, sucked from the outset. Corzine losing is not a total shocker, but according to my local source (i.e. my mom) is disappointing. I don't know why Corzine left his cushy Senate gig to run for governor anyway, especially to be replaced by almost-90-year-old Lautenburg. In other words, Corzine gave up a pretty much guaranteed Senate seat to have a shot at first doing something noteworthy as NJ gov to then run for President. But since that failed, NJ now has a Repub gov. and a potential GOP pickup when Lautenburg runs for re-election.

Anyways, we also have Maine voting on gay marriage. Now, I'm just reacting to the recent spate of anti-gay referenda in various states, but when was the last time the referendum was actually useful?

There's also the special election in upstate NY. I'd really hate to see the pundit interpretation if the Repubs sweep the three elections tonight, so I guess I want Owens, even though I have no idea what Owens like. But I know that Palin likes Hoffman, so that's pretty much enough.

On a side note, since I like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Pirates and the Who, I really want to see Pirate Radio.

Vote '09

Plopped my butt on the TV to watch election coverage, as there are a few vaguely interesting races going on. Of course, in 2008 this was a pretty frequent occurrence, so I guess I built up some sort of tolerance for the screaming pundits, but wow, after a year's withdrawal, it is really hard to watch.