Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spin it like a record

While I was originally upset by this Gallup poll and its accompanying headline, "Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism," another way to describe these data is that, since 2000, support for creationism has dropped 15% while support for 'secular evolution' has nearly doubled.  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is Joe Biden dead?

I know that Biden hasn't been as high profile a VP as, say, Cheney.  But he has been non-existent during the past month.  You think he'd be useful for bucking up the Democratic base.

Like the San Andreas fault, I think the longer we don't hear from him, the more likely, the next time we do, it will be eventful.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


UNH overcame a sloppy second quarter to pound down B-CU in their first game of the I-AA playoffs.  I was able to watch on NCAA.com, and it was so pleasant to have just one announcer.  There was no annoying banter, no going on and on about the same point, no disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing.  He called the game.  He told me what was going on that I couldn't see on my screen.  Contrast that to Monday Night Football, or that Fox team that inexplicably allows Tony Siragusa to talk whenever he wants...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Calvin & Hobbes

One of my favorite gags in the old Calvin and Hobbes strips was when Calvin would ask his dad a question, and if the dad didn't know the answer to it, he'd just make something up.  I need to get better at that, because the wife just asked me why the Borders bookstore located in Chestnut Hill is having a blow-out, going out of business sale -- why not just ship the books to another Borders that isn't going out of business and sell them at full price?

Is it too costly to ship them?  Is storage space the issue? 

Hard not to be depressed

about where this country is headed.  We're currently having two debates in Washington about how horrible our deficit is, and thus we need to tighten our belt by doing things like ending unemployment extensions, but we're also deciding that tax cuts, which are completely not paid for and ballooning the deficit, well, those need to be extended.  The party on the ascendancy is riddled by insane ideas -- that we can fight wars forever and have a gigantic defense budget with no apparent consequences; that gay people shouldn't even be allowed to serve in the armed forces, unless they choose to live a lie; that, apparently, scientists around the globe are either involved in some vast conspiracy or are just incredibly stupid, because the idea that releasing tons of CO2 into the air might have consequences is ridiculous; that there are large swathes of people living in this country who, because of the language they speak, the religion they practice, or the city they live in, are not "real" Americans.  It is depressing.

It is depressing that there is 10% unemployment but Wall Street continues to hum along, with finance taking up as big a (completely non-productive) role in the economy as ever, that our best students are choosing jobs playing poker with other people's money rather than working to improve anyone's lives but their own.  It is depressing that the middle class in this country continues to shrink as we start to look more like a banana republic in our income distribution.  It is depressing that the unemployment rate for black men is 16.3% and white men 8.9%.  It is depressing that the only countries that execute more people than the US are China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, while Pakistan and Yemen nip at our heels for 4th place.  It is depressing that we are but two years removed from electing someone who saw these things, was depressed by them too, but was unable to do anything about it. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wait, which party is he the head of?

So today I read two things:
1) Obama calls for a pay freeze for public sector employees.
2) Democrats are likely to budge on letting the Bush tax cuts expire on the wealthiest.

And not a lot of Democrats showed up to vote in 2010.  Go figure.

This is classic Obama, compromising before he negotiates.  Infuriating.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Who is this man?

In the realm of sports, think of someone famous, someone everyone who follows sports has heard of, who you have no idea what he looks like.  He's not an athlete, not a coach, not an owner, not an agent.  Make your guess, and scroll down...

Keep scrolling...

He's Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon in Alabama, who tells you that your star pitcher, RB, etc. has ruined his .

Monday, November 22, 2010

I love airlines

While booking some tickets, saw this:
Note: An infant who turns 2 before or during travel requires a child's fare.
What if you're on a red-eye and junior turns two after departure but before landing?  What if you cross the international date line?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

History happened here

Winter is a time that many brewers decide to put out a seasonal mix of beers.  Saranac, for example, used to have the 12 Beers of Christmas, which included several beers that they only made that time of year.  My roommate in grad school and I would make a night out of, well, drinking the whole thing.  This year they have a Vanilla Stout that I'm interested to try.

Anyways, Sam Adams does the same thing, but they don't have 12 different beers, but basically two six packs.  That's fine.  But for years, they insisted on including a Cranberry Lambic, and not just one of them, but two.  No one would touch the Cranberry Lambic.  You could visit someone in March and still, sitting in their fridge, would be two Cranberry Lambics.  Maybe you'd get lucky and some unsuspecting person (read: a female) would drink it, but no one makes that mistake twice.  Eventually you just throw it out, or find some night where you're a) too drunk to care and b) there's no more rubbing alcohol in the house.

A few months ago, Jim Koch, the founder of Sam Adams, was a guest on the Planet Mikey show on WEEI, a sports talk radio station in Boston.  My friend called up and asked him, on air, why he insisted on including the Cranberry Lambic in the Winter Classics collection (thus turning a 12 pack into a 10 pack).  Koch answered tersely, "because I like it."  Well, friends, let it be known that the Cranberry Lambic has been removed from the Winter Classics collection!  And not only that, but it has replaced by the White Ale!!!  I love the White Ale, as for many years is was the Spring seasonal beer (replaced this past year by the forgettable Noble Pils).

So, P.Y., the world owes you, for finally ridding us of the Cranberry Lambic.  I think I'm going to go out and buy a 12 pack right now...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Line of the day

Votemaster wraps up his 2010 coverage with a summary of what we're looking at in 2012.  In speaking about what Republicans could do to keep Palin out of the race, he writes:
Offering her the job of ambassador to Russia (so she can work from home) just won't cut it.
The Votemaster is a good writer, so worth a few minutes of your time to read the whole thing.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Glimmer of hope

From today's NYT:
Representative John Mica of Florida, the senior Republican in line to take the reins of the House Transportation Committee in January, is unhappy with the way the Obama administration awarded $10 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail projects.
“I am a strong advocate of high-speed rail, but it has to be where it makes sense,” Mr. Mica told The Associated Press in a post-election interview. “The administration squandered the money, giving it to dozens and dozens of projects that were marginal at best to spend on slow-speed trains to nowhere.”
Mr. Mica said he would like to redirect the rail money to the Northeast corridor, which he described as possibly the only place in the country with enough population density to financially support high-speed train service. 
High-speed rail makes a ton of sense in the Northeast, to hook up Boston, Philly, New York, and DC.  It doesn't make sense pretty much anywhere else, except maybe California.  So this is very good news if it can actually be acted on.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What you need is a good bleeding!

A few thoughts from last night's results:
1) Very surprised that the House and Senate were so different.  Looks like the Dems will only end up losing 6 Senate seats, but they got creamed in the House, and historically speaking, the large disparity is an outlier, as generally House and Senate track fairly well together.  Not sure how to interpret that, indeed, if there is anything to interpret.

2) If there is actually a debate between those who thing divided government is good or bad, put me down as an agnostic in general (and certainly historically you can find evidence for divided governments actually getting things done) but I don't think the GOP deviates much at all from their playbook for the past two years, which basically had one play in it, and it was "don't let Obama do anything." 

3) From the turnout numbers, it is clear that the reason Dems lost is that young people made up a much smaller proportion of voters than did old people, relative to 2008.  This shouldn't be a surprise, as midterms usually have that property.  But still, I take it to mean that you should take everything you read about the election's "meaning" with a big grain of salt.  That said, I think Obama has to shoulder some of the blame for low turnout among young voters (am I still a young voter?  hmm...)  I think issues that the young in particular care a lot about -- environment/energy & gay rights, to name two -- were basically low priority for Obama, and it wouldn't surprise if that led to some disillusionment on the part of young voters.  Put another way, while health care may have been a big deal to the Kennedy generation of Democrats, I don't think it is as big deal to Democrats born in the 80s. 

4) I said it at the time, and I'll say it again, Obama/Reid/Pelosi made a big mistake by not going hard at the Republicans to make them take tough votes on bank regulation in the summer and fall of 2009.  Or, really, making them take tough votes ever. 

5) So what, if anything, do last night's results mean for 2012?  Well, if you wanted to write a positive story for the Democrats, I think what you'd have to focus on, given the horrible economy, is that they were very competitive, and even won, a lot of state-wide races in which they ran incumbent politicians in key electoral battlegrounds.  Sestak in PA, Sink in FL, Strickland in OH -- they didn't win, but they were all very close.  Likewise, they held on to the seats they should have held on to, generally: Senate seats in CA, WA, and, impressively, CO and NV.  Now, that's not to say there aren't tremendous red flags, too.  But you saw a lot of Democrats at the state-level do pretty darn well, all things considered.  Put another way, Obama can afford to lose states like Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, which he won in 2008, so long as he can hold the more traditional swing states of PA, OH, and FL. 

6) I'm not sure this is a lesson anyone will learn per se, but I was happy to see that the two candidates who were egregious in their insistence that they didn't have to talk to the media or answer questions or undergo any vetting at all, really, both lost: Sharron Angle & Joe Miller. 

7) I'm a little bummed that the huge margin of victory in the House obscures the fact that the Tea Party likely cost the GOP the Senate -- certainly O'Donnell in DE, likely Angle in NV, and Buck, if he counts as a Tea Partier, in CO.  Circular firing squads are always fun to watch.

8) Assuming that Murkowski wins in Alaska, does she pull a Lieberman and occasionally find ways to piss off her former party?  Remember, the GOP stripped her of her committee chair when she decided to run as a write-in candidate (which the Dems did NOT do with Lieberman, he got to keep his seniority status).  This is likely wishful thinking on my part, but might she start joining in a bit more with Snowe, Collins, and, newly, Ayotte from NH in a female-kinda-centrist-faction of Republicans?  Worth keeping an eye on, at least.

9) Marco Rubio is being talked about as the Next Big Thing in the GOP.  I started to write him off, but then realized that he could be an ideal VP pick.  Would certainly help in Florida, and probably New Mexico too. 

10) So now the race for 2012 begins.  Seems like, every time around, some politician tries to skip the process of spending long, cold nights kissing the asses of voters in Iowa and/or New Hampshire.  And every time, pundits wonder if this will be the candidate who can pull that off, if this candidate is just so popular or national or whatever that it won't matter.  And that candidate never wins.  Personally, I do not want Sarah Palin to run for president, because if she runs for president, there's a non-zero chance, however low, that she actually becomes president.  But man, I would love to see her talk to some cranky old farts in New Hampshire who wouldn't put up with her vapid responses. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fun with numbers

Last night, while listening to Tim McCarver drone on and on about something that eventually go to Joe Dimaggio's hitting streak, I wondered what the chances were of seeing something like that again.  So I did some very simple calculations, using what seemed like decent stabs at integrating the variety of baseball history.  Came out very close to even odds.  Here are the steps I took:

1) Assume a 0.300 batting average, which translates to a 0.700 non-batting-average

2) Assuming 4 plate appearances a game, there's a (0.700)^4 = 0.2401 chance of being held hitless, or a 0.7599 chance of getting at least one hit

3) So, the chance of getting at least one hit is 56 consecutive games is (0.7599)^56, or 2.1 x 10^-7, or a 1 in 4.76 million chance.

4) 4.76 million divided by 162 games in a season, divided by 30 teams, divided by 9 batters per team, divided by 108 seasons in the World Series Era (i.e. back to 1903) and you are left with: 1.0077, or damn close to even odds.  So yes, it pretty much makes sense that someone has hit in 56 consecutive games, which means there's also a decent chance we'll see it again before I'm dead.

I should add that, as MG pointed out, if you assume a 0.285 batting average, the odds drop to about 1 in 5 against, while a 0.315 batting average makes it 5:1 in favor.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good Idea of the Day

I've never done a football suicide pool, but they seem fun.  The basic idea is that, each week, you pick the result of one NFL game, and if you're right, you survive to the next week, but if you're wrong, you're out.  To prevent people from just riding really good teams (or just always picking against really bad teams) you can even things out by either using the Vegas line or limiting the number of times you can bet on or against a given team. 

The problem with this set-up, though, is that people very quickly get eliminated: give or take, about half the league will be out after Week 1, another half after Week 2, etc.  So unless you have hundreds of people, it'll be over by Week 6 or 8. 

One way around this (and here's my good idea) is to allow people to come back to life by picking more games correctly.  For example, the week after you get a game wrong, you must now pick two games right.  Don't hit?  Now you gotta pick three games.  If you succeed in resurrecting yourself, though, you're back to one game a week.  Or maybe you don't have it escalate, you just have a loser's track that stays on two-games-a-week until they get both right, then they're back on the winner's track.  The winner is whomever has the best winning percentage, rather than just who's alive at the end. 

Or maybe the best way to do it is reserve half the prize for whoever survives the longest without losing (i.e. the suicide pool aspect of it) and the other half for overall picking percentage. 

A decent twist, I think.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tax mushiness

At some point, the Senate will decide to:
a) extend all the Bush tax cuts
b) extend some of the Bush tax cuts
c) temporarily extend all the Bush tax cuts
d) temporarily extend some of the Bush tax cuts
e) do nothing and let all the Bush tax cuts expire

To me, though, a = c and b = d.  See, we have elections for Congress every two years, and this year being divisible by 2, it means we have them this year.  And whatever Congress does now can be undone by Congress later.  And the people in Congress now are likely to be different from the people in Congress later, with a lot more having an R next to their name in the future. 

So if you are Democrats in charge right now, or, god forbid, the head of the party because you happen to be President, you might want to stake out some definable position that plans for Republicans being in the majority come 2011.  To be more clear, if Obama thinks that extending all the Bush tax cuts indefinitely is a bad idea, but won't veto it if it is only a "temporary" idea, then he's trying to fool himself or us or both.  Because if he won't veto it now, why would he veto it in a year when extension passes the Senate again?  If extending them is bad for the deficit now, why not later? 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

25 is the loneliest number

Doesn't matter who actually speaks this sentence, suffice it to say that it is a politician running for re-election:
"...partnerships that improve our infrastructure are a good idea, but must be paid for, should not add a dime to the deficit and should be covered by..."
This politician chose the dime.  That is probably 1b for [insert coin of choice when demonstrating your fiscal bonafides].  1a is the penny.  Not far behind is the nickle.  But no one would ever say quarter.  Why is that?  Inflation?  50 years from now will politicians use the quarter more often in such statements?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Deserved Bloodbath

Today I received a Democratic National Committee survey in the mail, asking me to check off various boxes, rank issues on a scale of 1 to 10, etc.  At the end there was a space for comments, and by that time I was pretty well ticked off so I unleashed as much verbal fury as would fit into three lines.  After reading it, I wondered why I was so pissed at Democrats and Obama in particular.  I know that the Republicans are the ones holding up climate change legislation, gay rights, etc.  So why am I pissed at Obama? 

Well, I think it gets down to the guy I thought we were electing and how he has gone about his presidency.  The fierce urgency of now?  Urgency to vote, I guess, but not to get out of Gitmo, end Don't Ask Don't Tell, do something, anything about climate change.  From his inaugural address:
A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.
The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

The recession is over for Wall Street, and has been for awhile (and even during the recession, those guys weren't exactly out on the street) but unemployment is hovering at 10%.  He proclaimed himself pleased at the size of the stimulus, even though some really smart folks (Krugman) were screaming bloody murder that it was too small.

The guy's autobiography was entitled the Audacity of Hope.  Name for me one audacious thing Obama has done since taking office. 

I probably won't stay home in November.  But a lot of Democrats will.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

[blank stare]

How the hell do people like this get elected? 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Always darkest... before the dawn, or the lights go out completely?

That the Democrats will lose seats in the House and Senate come November seems like a sure thing.  History says so: the incumbent presidential party almost always loses seats.  The economy says so: bad economic growth is bad for the incumbent party.  And polls say so: Gallup's generic D v. R Congressional poll recently had the score as R + 10.  It is worth discussing, though, if these are inevitable and what, if anything, could the Democrats do in the next 2 months to alter their fate?
You may recall from the 2008 campaign that this was also a dark time for the Democrats: the Republican convention was on the calendar, and John McCain had taken a lead in the generic poll:
It is hard to say what caused a reversal in Obama's fortune after McCain took the lead.  Was it simply a reversion to the status quo that had been established during the summer, where Obama was consistently ahead?  Was it people getting to know, then turning against, Sarah Palin?   Was it McCain's bizarre response to the economic crisis? 

The only reason I bring this up is because, during that late August/early September period -- and during the primary battle with Clinton -- Obama supports were begging, pleading, screaming for him to come out swinging.  People thought he was being too passive, but in the end, he prevailed.  Does that hold any lessons for the 2010 midterms?  What is Obama thinking?  Has he had some master plan all along, working under the assumption that there's no need to do anything until at least September because no one is paying attention?  Is Obama going to coordinate with Reid and Pelosi to make Republicans take unpopular votes?  That is something most now-apathetic Obama supporters have been waiting for them to do all along. 

Of course, you could certainly argue that such political theater won't affect the outcome of the midterms much at all.  Indeed, those who really push the economic angle think that the Dems defeat was sealed in January of '09 when a too-small stimulus bill was passed.  This is certainly Krugman's take, and I'm very sympathetic to that view.  But I still think that Obama's actions matter somewhat, at least at the margins, and that's where control of the House of Representatives will be either won or lost (and majority is everything in the House). 

The vote-master has more on this, and he's always worth reading. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Two for flinching

I'm not terribly sure of the details of it, but China's one child policy isn't something I've thought particularly hard about.  This blurb one from of Sullivan's guest bloggers got me thinking, though.  There's a huge effect that siblings have on us, from social to biological to everything in between.  How weird is it that there's an entire country out there -- one with a billion people and the second largest economy -- where most boys won't know what it is like to get beat up by an older brother?  [please insert your favorite sibling rivalry stereotype here]

To say this is unnatural is to underplay it -- it is insane!  I mean, I know there's a good reason for the policy, but I just can't comprehend what sort of long-term effect this will have on a pretty darn insular population. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Again and again

Controversy surrounding research on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) has limitless potential to self-renew, apparently.  In a decision handed down today, Judge Lamberth gave a rather unusual interpretation of the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which was first passed in 1996 and appended to every budget thereafter.  It states that "research in which … embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subject to risk of injury or death" cannot receive federal funds.  Basically, the judge is saying that if I am a lab that receives federal funds, no matter where the hESCs came from, I cannot do research on them.  Everyone on the planet thought that the rules were something like, you cannot use federal money to establish hESC lines but once they exist then it is okay to use them -- indeed, this is what Bush thought the rules were, as the dozen or so lines that already existed at the time he imposed his moratorium were fine for use in federally-funded research.  Lamberth's decision is particularly odd because by his definition, all the work I've done is really part of the same project that David Baltimore worked on in the 80s, Har Gobind Khorana worked on in the 60s, Thomas Morgan worked on in the (19)00s, and Darwin worked on in the 1860s.  In other words, all projects are continuous.  Needless to say, I disagree. 

Also of note is why this ended up in front of a judge in the first place, and for that we have to thank a lawsuit brought by James Sherley.  I know this man, or at least, have sat in the same room as him many times.  Around 10 years ago, I attended a weekly super-group meeting, meaning my lab and a dozen or so other labs would get together every Wednesday and two people would present their work.  It was good experience for talking in front of a large group, and since it was a "private" meeting, you could present less-than-finished work and get excellent feedback on it without fear of being scooped.  James Sherley came to these meetings, and sat there.  I remember this not because people from his lab ever presented work -- as far as I could tell, his lab consisted of him -- but rather because you notice a rather corpulent black man sitting there week after week but not ever speaking.  You eventually wonder, who is that guy? 

The whole community learned who that guy was when, in 2007, he decided to stage a hunger strike because he didn't get tenure.  Needless to say, he lost this battle, didn't get tenure, and, presumably, eventually ate something.  Anyway, it now appears that he sued the NIH over its funding of embryonic stem cells not so much from a moral position but rather because he works on adult stem cells, which would clearly take a back seat if people could use embryonic stem cells.  Of course, one question for him (and everyone else who thinks that adult stem cells are a fine thing to work on, but embryonic stem cells are not): if adult stem cells can really do everything that embryonic stem cells can do, then how are they different from embryonic stem cells?  In other words, aren't you really just making ES cells -- real human life, according to you -- in a lab?  Or are you bullshitting us about the potential of adult stem cells? 

In sum, a crazy man who is pissed off at the scientific establishment found a lawyer who needed some work who then worked his way up through the courts until he found a judge (Reagan appointee, who also ruled a few years back that Iran owes the families of 241 marines killed in a 1983 bombing in Beirut a total of $2.65 billion dollars... I didn't realize that a federal judge could make other countries pay up like that....) who was nuts enough to agree with him.  I assume that the Obama Justice department will bump this further up the judicial chain, the ruling will be reversed, and we'll be done with it.  For now...

Thursday, August 12, 2010


A few years ago, when the wife and I were looking to buy our first home, I signed up for some online real estate listings, the type that every day sends you an email with new homes for sale according to whatever criteria you enter.  I still get them, because I like seeing what's for sale in my area, how prices are changing, etc.  But what drives me nuts are the agents who haven't figured out that the internet is fundamentally different from a newspaper: you're not paying by the letter here, so why all the stupid abbreviations?  For example, here's one I got today:
Beautiful 2nd floor 3 BR, 1 BA condo nestled on a quiet street. This sunny condo is just steps from the Green line, parks, playgrounds & Pierce schools. Your new home sports gleaming HWD flrs with high ceilings throughout, a working fireplace, bow windows & French pocket doors in the LR that provide elegance & charm to this picturesque condo. Other highlights include a spacious eat-in Kit with Stainless Steel Appliances, In-Unit Laundry, a remodeled bath, extra storage in bsmt & spacious foyer.
Why not just write out bedroom, bath, hardwood, living room, basement?  And "eat-in Kit"?  Really?  And this one isn't that bad, as at least there's an attempt at using sentences.  I'll still receive some that are nothing but abbreviations, or, even worse, are written in ALL CAPS or end every sentence with multiple exclamation points.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gay marriage II

Over at his blog, mg lays out the libertarian case for gay marriage.  Or against gay marriage.  Or I'm not sure what. 

Okay, I'm being glib, but only to highlight a point that kinda bugs me about libertarianism.  To start off, Matt narrows down on what the issue really is:
So the cause of action here is simple: one group of people (heterosexuals who declare themselves married)  can get a set of selective benefit from the state if they sign some forms. Another (homosexuals who declare themselves married) cannot. The latter group would like the selective benefits of the former group. In effect, they want in on the party. It can be cloaked in as soaring rhetoric as you would like but, in the end, what we are talking about here is tax breaks and visitation rights. Nothing more, nothing less.
Fair enough.  To summarize (fairly, I hope) he goes on to argue that states really have no role in marriage, that if I want to have a contract with my wife, I should be able to define that contract; I shouldn't have to abide by whatever the state of Massachusetts says a marriage contract is.  I guess I agree on this, although I would push back a little bit by suggesting that there is some benefit to having a standard option offered by the state (but not as the only option).

At the end, though, Matt proposes three steps forward, that I guess make sense to a libertarian, but are just beyond the pale in terms of being remotely feasible:
1) Repeal all selective government benefits for married couples
Really, this is a solution?  There is a zero percent chance of this happening, likely ever, and certainly not in the next 10 years. 
2) Arrange for the government to enforce all otherwise-legal marriage contracts
No problem with this per se, but a consequence is that it would likely increase the strain on the judicial system, and likely be a boon to private lawyers.  And you're going to have the government standing behind polygamy contracts?  There's a chance that ever happens?
3) Continue to allow private marriage discrimination 
Eh, no.  If you're going to propose something that will almost certainly have negative consequences, I don't think you can pretend that those consequences aren't your fault.  Just substitute "gender" or "racial" for "marriage."  Is enforcing that a pain in the butt?  Well, depends on your point of view, I suppose; if you are likely to be descriminated against, then you're probably for enforcement; if you're not, then it is easier to be blase about it.  Was enforcing non-segregated schools a lot of work?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  Yes.  I am not in any way advocating that government solve all problems for all people, just saying that a private company should not be allowed to fire Gary because he's married to John instead of Joan, in the same way that we now agree a private company should not be allowed to fire Gary because he has AIDS, is in a biracial marriage, or pay his female co-worker less.

Okay, I've been overly harsh in this response, I know.  But here's what I want to know from Matt... I assume you'd agree that, in the next 2 years, none of what you've proposed is likely to happen, and maybe you agree with me that it is unlikely to ever happen.  So what do you want to see us actually do as a country, right now?  If you were on the Supreme Court, would you uphold or overturn Schwarzenegger v. Perry?  If you were a Senator, would you vote for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage?  Would you vote for a constitutional amendment specifically allowing gay marriage?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Liberal rant

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, gave an interview where he basically bashed liberals as whiny and NS (never satisfied): "I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it's crazy."  He then went on to say that folks like me won't be happy until Dennis Kucinich is in the White House.

I think Gibbs, and by extension, I suppose, Obama, is misreading liberal discontent.  Yes, I kinda like the health care reform act, and I think we're better off with FinReg passing than it not, but what I don't feel is that Obama used the bully pulpit of the presidency to bring about any meaningful change, which is, you might remember, what his campaign was all about: Obama seems to shy away from a fight.  Indeed, you need to look no further than his mealy address following the BP oil spill, or his downright bizarre pronouncements on gay marriage, to get the impression of someone who's not willing to come out punching.  If the problem is that the Senate is just saying no to everything, then you need to actually make that an issue to put pressure on the obstructing Senators who reside in blue or blueish states (Snowe, Collins, Grassley, Brown, etc.) and maybe also have an effect on current Senate races (i.e. Castle in Delaware).  Go debate Mitch McConnell, or watch him back out and call him unable to stand behind his non-existent ideas. 

Put another way, liberals (well, I) feel like Obama hasn't put any skin into the game, and now lots of Democrats are going to lose their seats this fall.  Certainly, most of that has to do with the economy -- but liberals were saying at the time that the stimulus was too small!  And yet Obama declared himself happy with the size of it!  I don't pretend to know what independents or swing voters or whatever you want to call them are thinking when they go to the polls in November, if they'll switch to the GOP, etc..  But I do think that many people who voted for Obama in 2008 will not go to the polls in 2010 because they feel that Obama has not fought for the change that he promised them. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gay marriage

Not surprisingly, I'm very much in favor of the count ruling yesterday that overturned California's Prop 8, banning gay marriages.  The issue will eventually find its way to the Supreme Court, and I very much look forward to the tortured logic that Scalia will use to somehow find an interpretation that a) gays shouldn't be allowed to marry BUT b) I'm saying this not because I'm a homophobe but rather because of my pure and logical reading of the Constitution. 

Basically, I find it very hard to view gay marriage as anything but a civil rights issue, unless you also think that the 14th and 19th amendments were bad ideas because it took away power from the 10th amendment. 

Unrelated, but the story in the NY Times today about Verizon and Google potentially partnering up to allow some web-based content higher priority than others is creepy.  It is bad enough that most people do not have a choice in how they get their cable and internet service (my choices are Comcast and... that's it).  So if I have a problem with how Comcast decides, basically, to censor the internet, how exactly do I go about fighting that, assuming I still want to use the internet?  What if the CEO of Your Internet Provider is really pro-life, and decides to ban the Planned Parenthood website?  What's to stop him from doing so?  Is Congress and/or the FCC going to start figuring out what websites can and cannot be functionally censored?  That seems like a mess. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Getting Around

A recent New Yorker article discussed the (not surprisingly) horrible traffic in Moscow, which reminded me of the great book by Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic.  Probably more than the average guy, I get about by a lot of modes of transportation -- in any given week, I'll make several trips by car, bike, subway, and foot, and I'd like to think that I'm pretty even-minded about it: when I'm driving I take care to watch for bikers, when I'm walking I don't jaywalk in front of cars that have the right-of-way, etc.  As such, my mind often wanders towards observing the urban environment in which I live and wondering why transportation isn't better, and if I were king of the world (or at least, my area of Boston) what I'd do about it.  In no particular order:

1) For major thoroughfares in the city, such as Massachusetts Ave., Huntington Ave., Centre St., and many others, there should not be any on-street parking.  Take out those spots and install bus lanes.  Right now, from about 4pm to 7pm on any work day, I see a line of cars slowly snaking its way through Centre St. in downtown Jamaica Plain.  Next to these slowly moving cars are a line of parked cars.  First, these cars take up space and could easily be parked elsewhere (plus, whenever someone wants to get into or out of these spots, no one can move for a good 30 seconds).  Second, interspersed with the slowly moving cars are slowly moving buses. Right now, there is no incentive to take the bus versus driving, because they are both on the same roads and hit the same bottlenecks.  But if buses had their own lanes, they could get about much faster, making more people chose the bus (which would, in turn, lessen car traffic).  Clearly it isn't feasible for every street to have its own bus lane.  But if you want to improve mass transit and you don't have a few billion around to dig another subway line, exclusive bus lanes for a few key lines gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

2) More tickets.  Please, way more tickets.  There's a light on the Jamaicaway that is a major corssing point to get to Jamaica Pond.  Every time I press the button to get the walk sign, it is pretty much guaranteed that someone will run the red light (to then wait at the next red light about 100 yards up).  Not ticketing that guy is lost revenue for the city.  Put in cameras, automate it, send the ticket out.  I have no problem with that from a "privacy" standpoint.  Ditto for idiots that "block the box," or just have a cop stationed there once every so often -- he can just walk up to you, hand you the ticket, and on we go.  After seeing that, very soon, no one would block that box. 

3) This is futuristic in implementation but not in technology -- you have to insert your drivers license to start your car.  Way too often I hear of 'accidents' caused by someone who, surprise surprise, was driving with a suspended license.  If your car won't start unless your license is valid, problem solved.  I know, suggestion #2 that is very Big Brother, but really, you're on a frickin' public road in a deadly machine.  We don't let just anyone buy automatic machine guns, so we shouldn't be so blase about proper road usage.  Would this lead to an increase in black-market activities (i.e. chop shops that short circuit the verification mechanism)?  Of course it would, but my guess (hope) is that such a policy would still do more good than harm.  Actually, this would be a great way to deter car theft -- if you needed a valid license to start the car, then it would be very hard to steal a car just parked on the street (of course, this could lead to an increase in car-jackings... hmmm....)

4) No congestion pricing.  Other cities have started to try this, but I don't like the idea.  There is something very democratic about traffic -- doesn't matter if you're in a BMW or a Datsun, everyone is on equal footing.  Unlike airline travel, college admissions, and everything in between, there is (generally) no class distinction on the road.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Idiot Alert

Megan McArdle is a definite contender for dumbest professional blogger out there.  I don't think I agree with her, ever.  And it is not just that I disagree with her conclusions, but her sense of logic is from another planet.  For example, today she writes:
All the carbon we're burning used to be in the atmosphere.  Yet the planet supported life.  Indeed, the oil we're burning comes from the compressed, decayed bodies of . . . phytoplankton.  This suggests that some number of phytoplankton should be able to survive high concentrations of the stuff.
Holy fuck, this is wrong.  If I were still in 6th grade, I probably would have called it gay-retarded wrong (on a side note, that calling someone gay or retarded was certainly a common insult on the playgrounds of NJ in the mid 80s says a lot.  I wonder what now-common-but-later-horrible insults our children will use?).  Let's try some other version of this sentence.  "Ammonia used to be in the atmosphere.  Yet the planet supported life.  Indeed, the synthesis of many amino acids uses ammonia as a building block.  Even though I'm describing the state of the earth billions of years ago, clearly modern incarnations of organisms could survive a rapid increase in ammonia concentrations, because that's how evolution works, very very quickly.  Indeed, I kinda like the smell of Windex!"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Who's my daddy?

First, Matt replied to my Springsteen post.  Go read it, but note that the quote by the Boss that Matt found actually supports his argument that Thunder Road should go last.  If Thunder Road sums up the album best, as Springsteen says, then that song should go last, so that the album ends on a note of some hope of redemption, rather than the total despair of Jungleland. 

But I thought of a good idea for a website or an app or whatnot, so if someone wants to make it and include me on the profits, go nuts.  You upload a picture of your baby, your spouse, and yourself.  Other users are then presented with a picture of your baby and several possible fathers and several possible mothers (using fathers and mothers that were uploaded by other users).  You could then find out if random others think that you actually look like your child.  You could certainly structure it so that in order to get the reward (other people's opinion) you have to give your opinion on x number of other families.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bossing around the Boss

Over at his blog and in the context of a larger topic, M.G. was debating the proper order for the tracks on Born to Run.  Not surprisingly, I have an opinion on this matter.  Just so you don't have to go to the trouble of using your mouse to click on a link, Matt proposes the order of:
1) Night
2) Backstreets
3) Born to Run
4) Jungleland
5) Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
6) She's the One
7) Meeting Across the River
8) Thunder Road

This is in contrast to the original order of:
1) Thunder Road
2) Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
3) Night
4) Backstreets
5) Born to Run
6) She's the One
7) Meeting Across the River
8) Jungleland

Okay, where to start... first, I think that Thunder Road ends on a relatively too positive note than what the overall album appears to be about: It's a town full of losers, we're pulling outta here to win.  That suggests some hope, when this isn't an album about hope.  Indeed, the title track suggests it is an album of leaving (indeed, there's a story that the New Jersey legislature wanted to make Born to Run the official song of the state, until someone pointed out the lyrics: at night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines... it's a death trap, it's a suicide rap... I want to die with you Wendy on the streets tonight... ).  Anyway, my point is that this album isn't really meant to suggest a whole lot of hope out there, and Jungleland certainly captures that, as the song ends in date rape and murder.  So I think Jungleland still closes the album (although I agree with Matt that I could do without Springsteen howling at the end).

In trying to come up with my own order, I realized that the only song I couldn't consider moving was Backstreets leading into Born to Run (although I was open to moving them elsewhere, as long as one leads into the others).   Musically, they lead into each other perfectly, with the great piano outro leading into the sax and drum blast intro.  Plus, the themes progress too... hiding on the Backstreets to a runaway American dream -- you're hiding, and then you're running.  If you want to push the building theme of desperation, then Meeting Across the River does feed well into Jungleland (also providing a needed breather between the high energy Born to Run and the epic Jungleland).  So I've moved She's the One off side two, and otherwise kept the structure intact.

But what gets me is how to structure the other songs.  Part of it is that 2 songs don't fit with the other 6: Tenth Avenue Freeze Out and She's the One.  Don't get me wrong, they are good and great songs, respectively, but I just don't think they fit the theme all that well, or if they do, they are very subtle about it.  Indeed, while all the other songs pretty explicitly take place at night, these two could be "day" songs, especially Tenth Avenue Freeze Out (yes, I know the word "night" appears in the lyrics, but it is lined with the light of the living).  So after further mulling, I'd like to open the album with Night, per Matt's suggestion.  Then Tenth Avenue Freeze Out (because I don't know where else to put it).  Given the two that are left, I think She's the One take the #3 slot, and then close out side one with Thunder Road. 

I'll put it on my iPod and give it a shot...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Once in a lifetime?

I've been watching baseball since about 1984.  Let's assume that for the past 26 years, I've watched/listened to about 100 games a year (probably an underestimate).  That's 2,600 games.  I've seen perfect games, unassisted triple plays, even guys hitting a grand slam on their first pitch in the bigs.  But I've never ever ever seen the fake-to-third-throw-to-first pick-off attempt actually work, until tonight, when Tim Wakefield snared some hapless Tampa Bay Ray. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Explosions in the air

I can't help but enjoy the irony of Americans tuning into the Boston Pops fireworks, which kicks off with the 1812 Overture.  I wonder how many of the people wearing Statue of Liberty hats and waving American flags know that the song was written to commemorate a Russian military victory...

I think that's what bugs me most about the Tea Party.  Not that they want the government to get its hands off their Medicare, not that they want to balance the budget without raising taxes or cutting anything that isn't "wasteful" spending (whatever that is) but rather that these ahistorical idiots are appropriating a time in history I hold dear. 

Friday, July 2, 2010


Well, at least this confirms a few things I've thought, namely, the South has a lot of idiots:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!

Well I'm back from my month-long "vacation" and it appears that health care reform is now just awaiting the extra point (sometime, someone should do a study about why certain processes receive football analogies while others get baseball).

Anyway, I'd like to respond to two points that I've been reading from the Usual Places that I disagree with.

1) Mitt Romney's support for Massachusetts' health care but condemnation of ObamaCare will somehow doom his presidential bid. Um, no. There are many things that can and probably will doom his presidential bid, but the seeming inconsistency of his view in this regard is not one of them. Poll after poll has shown that the American public has a pretty dim understanding of what is actually in this bill, and it would be very easy for Romney to contrast state-level plans with national-level plans as well as point out differences real and imagined between ObamaCare and Massachusetts to sound reasonable in a sound byte.

2) That a Supreme Court challenge is crazy. My 10,000 foot view of the current Supreme Court is that it is activist when it wants to be, as seen in the recent campaign finance decision, which was much more far-reaching than it needed to be (and the conclusion that corporations have the rights of individuals is pretty radical to my ears). I don't know if the Court is more or less political now than it has been in the past, but do you really think that Scalia wouldn't come up with some argument to overturn the individual mandate, no matter how contrived?

Monday, February 22, 2010

2.5 years away...

While it is very early, the CPAC "meeting" over the past week has started talk of the 2012 presidential race already. Interestingly, Ron Paul beat out Romney in a straw poll, and Palin garnered less than 10%. But CPAC is a very strange place so I wouldn't read too much into that. At that meeting, both Gingrich and Cheney suggested that Obama would be a one-term president. Now, I don't begrudge them these thoughts, in that they are members of the opposite party so what are they supposed to say, that Obama probably will get re-elected?

One thing I've heard in liberal camps is that the Republicans don't have any decent nominees to put forward who could actually beat Obama: Romney, Palin, Huckabee, and Pawlenty, when put together, constitute what, at least 50% of the "who could get nominated" pool for the GOP. While 2012 is far away, it is getting a bit late for people to emerge as potentials -- remember, while Obama was not a household name in 2006, anyone who paid attention to the Democratic party, specifically his 2004 Convention speech, would know who Obama was.

But does it really matter who the Republicans put up? I mean, if things are going well, Obama wins. If they aren't, he loses. Now, "things going well" is obviously vague, and means different things to different people. But I can't imagine that the identity of the challenger makes much of a difference. Okay, maybe you make an exception for Palin, because she's much more celebrity than politician. But Pawlenty, Romney? They're generic white men, with no obvious-to-the-median-voter problems. I'd even put Huckabee in that category, and don't tell me his 'extremest' views makes a damn bit of difference to most voters -- he seems like a nice guy, and when you're voting for or against the incumbent, that's mostly what matters.

So, when does baseball season get here?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bye Bayh

Evan Bayh announced that he won't run for re-election, and since he is from Indiana, this represents an almost-certain loss for the Democrats. Now, I generally can't stand Bayh, because he likes to burnish his CENTRIST credentials by, um, being a vapid asshat. Of course, as much as one likes to bash Bayh, while he would extract his pound of flesh, he would eventually vote the way most Democrats vote, which is something that whomever his Republican replacement will do ~never.

But that's not my point. There's, not surprisingly, a very good correlation between the state of the economy and how well the incumbent party does. So the Dems are screwed. My only addendum is that if you read in the next little bit about how non-bad the economy might be doing come November, by then it is too late. I think there's good evidence showing that the state of the economy in the summer is actually a better predictor of voting than economic conditions on election day. Which makes Bayh's retirement even worse for the Dems. The midterms in '10 look like an oncoming bloodbath.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poll reading

I don't know why, but I still read Newsweek even though I basically spend my time just getting pissed off at what I'm reading. Some of their columnists just make things up and have become unreadable (Samuelson, Will), the editor is a pompous ass (Meachem), their science writer gets things wrong pretty much every column where I'm in a position to know (Begley), and as a whole, they focus way too much on meta-narrative and assuming that the truth must lie somewhere between what people with a (D) or (R) are saying, with no attempt to actually discover and report facts. All politics, no policy.

Anyway, one theme of this week's issue is that America is a bunch of fickle mush-heads. Now, I happen to generally agree with this, but they way their writers get to this conclusion is wrong. For example, I've read and heard (from many places I should note, not just Newsweek) that the American citizenry doesn't want to make tough choices, that we are babies who want contradictory things. A poll with then be cited, whereby a majority wants things that are diametrically opposed. But this is not proof that any individual in America holds these opposing ideas! For example, here's a hypothetical poll asking people about the deficit and taxes and spending:

If you were to only read the "top-line" results, in bold on the bottom, you'd laugh and say ha, stupid people, they want to reduce the deficit with no tax hikes and no spending cuts! Ha ha ha, they are so dumb! But that isn't true -- there are three types of people in this "poll" each of whom holds an entirely self-consistent view of what should be done. It is just that, in aggregate, the results make no sense. I see this all the time in media reports. Guh.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stealthy Harvard

Wandered down to the floor's break-room, and speaking in the conference room to an audience of about three dozen people is Henry Louis "Skip" Gates. Huh. My guess is that's he's not talking about the latest genome assembly.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Satan has entered my sheepfold

I had two thought-blurbs bouncing around my head this morning, which were then joined to create a crazy theory that I'm posting here because, well, peer-review is a good thing.

My first thought -- prompted by Krugman's appearance on This Week, where he essentially told Roger Ailes, "your network makes shit up" -- was the phrase "facts have a well-known liberal bias." I'm not sure where I first heard this, as it sounds like an Onion headline, but I like it. Indeed, one hallmark of the more recent versions of populist conservatism, or whatever the hell you want to call the intersection of Fox News, Tea Parties, and Sarah Palin, is that "elites" with their "facts" can't be trusted. I hear these people call into radio stations a lot. There is no amount of evidence that can be marshaled to change an opinion, because there are no legitimate sources for such evidence. Indeed, several recent surveys have shown that Americans not only had no idea about what was actually in the health care bill but also had no idea how a bill actually gets passed into law. But that didn't stop them from having opinions about its politics and policy!

So I started thinking a bit more about this dichotomy I had set up: a good liberal like me is open-minded and while not slavishly loyal to authority, accepts "elitist opinions" like evolution and climate change and the incompatibility of deficit reduction and tax cuts. A nasty conservative, however, won't accept any thought that doesn't fall under the banner of "common sense" and has a very high threshold for cognitive dissonance. Somehow, this dichotomy led me back to Doug Ambrose's European History class, and the dichotomy between the Protestant Reformation (Faith Alone!) and the Catholic Counter-Reformation (Good Works needed!)

I don't want to push the parallel any further than this already-insular worldview can handle. But first, there are a helluva lot of Protestant evangelicals in the Fox/Tea/Palin nexus, while there are exactly zero on the liberal side of things. And just as Luther and Calvin didn't need no damn pope to tell them how to read the Bible, these evangelicals don't need no damn scientist to tell them about monkey-men or some crazy-fool economist to explain how government deficits stimulate demand during a recession. Faith alone is all they need to navigate the world and achieve salvation. The Catholics in this story, then, would be liberals. Works -- acts that god can see you doing to prove that you are worthy of salvation -- make a difference, and that sounds comparatively liberal to me.

P.S. the title of this post is from a letter Martin Luther wrote that I found on wikipedia.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union: We're all Mississippi Now!

10:32 - PS I find it hilarious that the GOP response has managed to frame a black woman and Asian man in the background. I'm sure that was by chance.

Okay, what do I think... Pretty dull, actually, at least if you've been listening to Obama talk for the past two years. He said the same words he's been saying for a long time. Did that do anything? Not really. Maddow is noting that there was very little to excite the base. True. She also saw feisty-ness. I disagree. Pretty boilerplate.

Does this speech move Olympia Snowe? Nope. Of course, likely nothing does. Matthews is gushing over his "that's how budgets work" line in response to some GOP grumbling, but I don't think that actually did much -- he didn't explain to the audience why he was right and they were wrong, rather he just asserted, as the one with the microphone, that he was right.

No specifics. That executive order budget commission is a joke. He didn't detail any aspect of the 'bank tax' to recoup bailout funds. I mean, leaving out details are fine, but he didn't make the GOP own stopping such a measure. He could have, but he didn't. Mistake, I'd say.

Chris Matthews is quite upset that the GOP is successfully running as the "just say no" party. Obama's failure was not pointing that out enough.

10:20 - I am compelled to turn to MSNBC and listen to Chris Matthews. I hate myself.

10:19 - Stop lecturing Congress and start making it difficult for them to be turds. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and you've got the biggest spotlight in town.

10:17 - It is so odd to see the look on Alito's face, because he was actually listening and thinking about what was said. Such a contrast to every Congressman's face...

10:16 - I don't believe we can change, and I really doubt you can deliver. Well, that is true, you did say that you would not do it alone. I'm hanging my head in shame for being critical. You haven't told many hard truths tonight, though...

10:15 - No, lost faith in the government? Surely not! Or a Congressman keeps his great health care while ignoring millions of uninsured...

10:13 - Ah, now that is good. Thanks

10:12 - "Human dignity" and didn't mention gay rights.

10:11 - Yes, we will do a lot of things... zzz....

10:08 - Well, at least he didn't say nuc-uler

10:07 - Yes, welcome home troops. We'll let you have frontsies in the unemployment line.

10:06 - What will happen first, combat troops out of Iraq or a health care bill? No, this war is not ending... because you are still fighting terror, and there will always be terror.

10:04 - Now would be a good time to note that Senate procedural holds have left Homeland Security understaffed

10:02 - Nice call out on Dems there, grow some balls and pass the f'ing Senate HC bill (well, that was unsaid)... GOP ain't leading here, I like it. Good call out. Fire me up. Someone go yank on Mitch's jowels.

10:01 - Okay, more Senate bashing please, I like this

10:01 - Group hug time.

10:00 - FAIL in terms of fiscal responsibility. He did not mention a single program that should be cut. Not one.

9:59 - Uh, has the President ever called out the Supreme Court in a SOTU? Not in my lifetime, at least, not that directly... Yeah, I'm sure (D) and (R) will pass a campaign finance reform bill...

9:58 - If only we had a teevee station that showed Congress in action... huge ratings!

9:57 - "Let's try common sense" um, is Sarah Palin writing your speech?

9:56 - Huh, you get laughed at and you... stare a bit

9:55 - I wonder what color ribbon they will give this commission. I'm betting on blue

9:54 - A bipartisan fiscal commission that, interestingly, several GOPers voted for before they voted against it

9:53 - Line by line, page by page, except for the 80% of lines and pages that we won't go through.

9:52 - You ain't gonna veto shit

9:50 - The federal government should tighten its belt. Unless it wants to buy tanks and bombs and planes, those are things we really need, because a tank would have stopped the 9/11 attacks...

9:49 - Will he use Bush's name? I bet no.

9:48 - Call out the idiots, not by name, but at least parry back on some of the crap you've been taking for months. As they often say of my horse at the track: no rally

9:47 - He is stating facts as if such things sway the votes of Senators. He is speaking many words, but is anything meaningful, anything that he hasn't said over and over? What the F does it mean that you won't walk away? What are you going to DO?

9:46 - Olympia Snowe dyes her hair, right? That ain't natural. F U Baucus. Michelle is going to arm wrestle every fat kid in American until they lose weight.

9:45 - "Let's clear a few things up"

9:44 - Okay, health care, here we go...

9:43 - Hi Jane

9:42 - Okay, the problem is that Obama is essentially acting as if the previous year of Congress didn't exist and he didn't learn a damn thing from it.

9:41 - As a soon-to-be-dad, I'm all for community colleges being cheap. Although the offspring is going to be a carpenter or mechanic or something useful.

9:40 - The teacher in the room just told me that "Race to the Top" sucks, because it "corners you into being evaluated based on student scores"

9:39 - Play by the rules. Except the Geneva Conventions. Those aren't the droids you're looking for...

9:38 - How are farmers going to export corn they were paid not to grow?

9:37 - Can we export dumb-assery?

9:36 - Oh, we just need to pass a climate bill! D'oh, why didn't I think of that! Okay, give the naysayers a little lecture right now about how stupid they are for ignoring science! Show a little fight for what you believe in.

9:35 - I, actually, am quite fine with nuclear power.

9:34 - Cancer, normal, healthy! If only he had used the phrase "synthetic lethal"...

9:33 - Dude, you are not even remotely addressing the actual issue, namely, that nothing can get out of the Senate

9:32 - I WISH we were second place in math and science knowledge, clean energy, infant mortality, health spending, and many many many other things. We ain't even close.

9:31 - Hey ass, yes, the system does suck, and it doesn't help that you sat on the sidelines and did nothing to give a sense of urgency. YOU are Washington now, and you seemed content to wait. Although the 'competition' aspect of it is a good spin.

9:30 - No, the Senate won't

9:29 - When in doubt, dig up a line from Kerry '04: end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

9:28 - New trains are good. Although why Boston/NYC/Philly/DC hasn't seen that...

9:27 - Eliminate capital gains taxes on small business... how do you define small? Um, seems rife for a boondoggle.

9:25 - Twenty minutes in and I'm a bit underwhelmed. Not a lot of red (blue?) meat here. Nothing in terms of ideas yet. Ooh here's one, community banks. Okay, fine enough.

9:24 - A new Jobs Bill -- iPads for everyone!

9:23 - Personally, I would play up the piratical pronunciation of ARRA much more

9:23 - Chuck Grassley is not stimulated by much these days, including the Stimulus Bill

9:22 - Will he ratchet up the GOP attacks as the speech goes on?

9:19 - Fire up the torches, sharpen the pitchforks, we's going to Wall Street! Interesting, GOP doesn't clap at that...

9:18 - We do not quit. Unless we only hold 59% of Senate seats. Then we quit.

9:17 - He is hopeful, let's all clap

9:16 - That is a lie -- Americans are not terribly resilient; most are whiners.

9:15 - This might be setting a record for no applause. Again, I like it. Wall St./Main St. contrast, do a shot. Blaming Washington.

9:13 - I agree with not starting off with any big applause lines. I think a somber tone is appropriate.

9:12 - Bull Run, Omaha Beach, Black Tuesday, Bloody Sunday. How about the times that try men's souls?

9:09 - Think Obama can filibuster the State of the Union by reading from a phone book?

9:07 - What requires more effort, an aisle seat at SOTU, or a picnic table at Saratoga on a Saturday? Actually, that's a no-brainer.

9:05 - Shouldn't the seagant-at-arms have a gun? And wouldn't it be funnier if Waldorf and whats-his-name, the two angry old Muppets, introduced the president?

9:02 - Brian Williams is now talking about political capital, which doesn't exist. Stop talking about it like it exists. It doesn't. It is the laziest form of journalism. If you want to relate approval ratings as reflective of an ability to get recalcitrant Senators to vote your way, fine. But just call it that.

9:00 - Yes, Brian Williams, the voters are angry. But they are also, by and large, not too bright. Hard to square the circle of people wanting lower taxes and deficit reduction.

8:58 - Late breaking news: Evan Bayh will not challenge Obama in 2012. Phew!

8:56 - I really wonder, does ANY of this really matter? It certainly doesn't when it comes to Gallup polls, the history of that is clear, at least from a short-term perspective.

8:55 - According to Olberman via Couric, Obama did not eat his pie today.

8:15 - While this is certainly not confined to the Obama administration, what possible purpose is there to releasing the text of a speech before you give it? If it is some little piddly thing, then fine, give the reporters the text of what you're going to say so they can get their stories filed in time, etc. But before a major speech, why would you give time for detractors to sharpen their knives before you've even given it? Why not give yourself the buffer (especially if you're an excellent public speaker, like Obama) of basking in the immediate post-speech glow?

7:26 - I thought about live-blogging the SOTU, but I think I really want to pay attention. Plus it is hard to criticize someone whom you really really want to do well. So I'm still undecided on such things, but might. Right now, though, I'm wondering if we'll have a Joe Wilson redux. I mean, what was the lesson from his "you lie" comment almost a year ago -- that you can increase your name recognition and rake in campaign donations by abandoning all sense of decorum and tradition? Guh. (Oh, but the tradition of the Senate filibustering every single thing in sight -- that we need to keep) Where are we going, and why am I in a handbasket?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Three thoughts

1) Obama is starting to look desperate with his McCain-esque "let's try a spending freeze" gimmick. But not on defense, no, that'd be crazy. Instead, we'll look at the part of the budget that deals with helping people and creating a better society: environmental issues, scientific research, education, etc. etc. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of stuff I'd love to see cut -- high fructose corn syrup subsidies, for example -- but does Obama really think that he's going to get such things through Congress? Put it this way: if he really wants to go to the mat for some specific things, then more power to him. But if he just uses the SOTU to speak in vague outlines of needing to cut things, then what's the point?

2) I'm sure this point has been made before, but all the people who argued that, during the primaries, you should vote for Obama because he'll "change Washington" and/or "Hillary will be treated harshly by the GOP" really need to learn up on history before giving their opinions*
* Don't get me wrong, there were A LOT of good reasons to go with Obama over Clinton. But "Republicans will be nice to one but not the other" isn't one of them

3) A good Onion headline would somehow revolve around Peyton Manning and Drew Brees deciding to skip a week of Super Bowl preparation in order to get the AFC and NFC ready for the Pro Bowl.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Since more than one person has asked out it, here's my take on the recent Supreme Court decision overturning many aspects of campaign finance reform (from an email):

I understand the interest this decision has generated from an intellectual standpoint, as Matt raises, but I'm not sure the practical effect on elections will be nearly to the extent that a lot of people fear. People make shit up all the time during campaigns, so having more money in the system isn't going to increase the percentage of BS because it is so high to begin with. Also, people aren't hearing much anyway -- how much effect does a full page ad in the New York Times have? I'd wager slim to none. People largely pick and choose their information sources based on what they want to hear anyway. During the recent special election, every third ad on the radio and TV was a Coakley or Brown ad -- does increasing the number of political ads from 1 in 3 to 1 in 2 really going to change much?

I do have some sympathy for the view that some little Congressman in state X can be bullied by Corporation Y, with Y saying hey, vote how we want you to vote, or we'll spend millions backing your challenger. But I wonder if this is overstated. I can imagine a skillful politician successfully parrying that intimidation into backlash against Y, or Y's candidate. And on a more practical note, the current ability of Y to donate to X seems to be a pretty good way of influencing votes.

I might just be arguing that the way we choose officials is already so screwed up from a process standpoint, how could this make it worse?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pucker up

Not sure if this is a Coach Dale original, but either way, good one:
What's the difference between Scott Brown and Sarah Palin?

Pollster.com has a very interesting look at the last night's numbers. Essentially, Scott Brown managed to get every single McCain supporter to show up and vote last night, while Coakley underperformed Obama by greater than 20%. Hard to conclude anything other than "motivating the base" made the difference here. What you cannot tell from these numbers is whether Brown managed to get a significant number of Obama voters to switch to him, or simply if many who voted for Obama in '08 just stayed home rather than vote for Coakley. My guess would be the latter, but what do I know.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The end of a very short era

9:47 -- Oops, one more thing... interestingly, the 2006 Senate race results were a MUCH better predictor of tonight's results than the 2002 Governor race, at least in the 23 towns I chose: r-value of 0.69 vs. 0.03.

9:26 -- Well, Martha, you reap what you sow. Blergh. G'night.

9:21 -- AP calls it for Brown; Coakley has conceded.

9:19 -- With 14 of my 23 bellwethers reporting, I have Coakley running a median 5% behind (which nicely mirrors the actual state-wide returns so far). 71% in. Unless the final half of Boston has a HUGE swing, both in terms of trends and in terms of overall votes, this is over.

9:17 -- Framingham (decent size) actual +3, need a tie

9:14 -- Whitman actual -7, need -2. Total of 65% of precincts reported.

9:11 -- Here are two biggies: Quincy actual -4, need +2; Revere actual -3, need +4. Get out the hammers, that coffin needs a'nailin'

9:09 -- Palmer (small town) actual -11, need -2

9:08 -- Norah O'Donnell really sucks

9:07 -- Gardner actual -7; needed even (maybe not so close)

9:06 -- Dedham actual -6; needed -2

9:04 -- Brockton actual +5; needed +5. This could be close...

9:02 -- Coakley won Acton +8. Needed a draw. Again, the blues are deeper, the reds are deeper...

8:57 -- Coakley won Sharon +5. I had her as needing +5 (PS my Concord number was off by a factor of two... she won +12.5, i.e. 12.5 points above 50%)

8:55 -- Well, Coakley won Nantucket. And Edgartown. No returns from Chappaquiddick yet...

8:49 -- 37% in, Globe site still largely in FAIL mode

8:46 -- Looking at the map, my take is that blue areas of the state are really blue, while red areas are really red. I wonder if that is my visual bias, or will actually be borne out by the final results...

8:43 -- Most of the bigger towns, not surprisingly, are not in, or not fully in yet.

8:37 -- 18% in, Brown still up statewide by 5%. Checking individual towns...

8:30 -- According to Nate Silver's quick analysis, for towns with all reported, turnout is in the 60s. That's HUGE. 72% in Concord, which again, went Coakley by a lot

8:28 -- Official state elections page doesn't have anything up yet

8:26 -- According to Boston Globe (which, again, had problems on primary night) Coakley won Concord by 25%. I don't believe it. I had Concord as Coakley-needs-to-win-by (henceforth known as D+) 2%...

8:24 -- Southampton, one my 23, is in with Brown by 7%. It is the smallest town on my list, but my back-of-the-envelope math says that Coakley "wanted to lose" by less than 4%

8:18 -- Globe site crash. NECN shows Brown up 5% with 4% reporting.

8:16 -- Okay, about 7,000 votes are in, but we don't know from where. Brown up 9%

8:07 -- Rachel Maddow also at Doyle's...

8:06 -- According to Rasmussen Reports (salt taken), from their survey today, "Among those who decided how they would vote in the past few days, Coakley has a slight edge, 47% to 41%."

8:05 -- Okay, polls closed. Still looking for anything...

7:55 -- Not sure what the best site will be for real time returns. I remember that the Boston Globe's site was having problems during the primary, so that might not be your best bet. CNN tends to be pretty good.

7:47 -- According to Mike Barnacle, until two weeks ago, the Coakley campaign did not have a pollster. I'd call Coakley a turd, but for whatever reason that seems like a particularly male epithet. What is the female equivalent of turd? (I've also wondered what the female equivalent of douchebag is, but that's a discussion for another day)

7:42 -- What I was doing, but all-out. All the data you'd want to look at for recent Mass elections.

7:28 -- Beyond the fact that I want him to lose for actual policy reasons, I'd really like Brown to lose because of all the windbaggery I'm hearing on MSNBC. In addition to some Politco talking head (yes, that is redundant), Chris Matthews just noted that, were Brown to win, he'd be a good choice for Republicans to run for president in 2012. Um...

7:26 -- I'm going to buy a truck, just in case I want to run for office in 20 years. Never hurts to have an old truck.

7:23 -- Chris Matthews is hanging out down the street at Doyle's, a veritable institution in JP... hmm, that is tempting...

6:49 -- Okay, not much more to do until the polls close at 8. For what it is worth, about 40% of the people who live on my street had voted today in Jamaica Plain (it is very easy to read the voter roll and see who has a check-box next to their name, which is sorted by street). I voted on the early-end (~5:30pm) of the post-work crowd, so that number will certainly go up, although who knows by how much. Coakley will need a huge turnout in places like JP if she's going to have a shot.

6:21 -- This is vaguely interesting... I compared the results of the 2006 Kennedy-Chase Senate race to the 2002 Romney-O'Brien Governor race. On a macro level, things look like they make sense. The 23 towns I chose missed the 2002 actual result by overestimating the (D) by 1.0 percentage point; in 2006, overestimating the (D) by 0.8 percentage points. Further, the turnout was remarkably similar across those two years; while towns certainly varied a bit, the overall vote difference for those 23 towns was 434. Finally, when you look at how well the 2002 race predicted the 2006 race, well, the correlation coefficient is 0.24. Of course, the range of the data is pretty narrow, so that small an r-value is pretty much expected (if, for example, outliers like Cambridge (D) or Medfield (R) were included, then the r-value would look much better).

6:04 -- Doug Flutie is a Scott Brown supporter. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, most (white) athletes are Republicans.

6:01pm -- Well, the good news is that, when Coakley loses this race, Joe Lieberman will no longer be the critical 60th vote.

I'll have the aggressive, hold the passive

If there's a Brown supporter near my polling station, I may engage, because a good little "debate" seems like a good way to feel less crappy about all this.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The bell tolls for thee, Grossbard

Suffolk University has also been thinking about bellwethers. If these polls are accurate, then Coakley is cooked:
Gardner, Fitchburg and Peabody all show solid margins for Brown, the state senator running against Coakley. The cities were identified as bellwether communities because in the most recent "like election" - the November 2006 Senate race between the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Republican challenger Kenneth Chase - the results in all three communities were within 1 percentage point of the actual statewide results for each candidate. Additionally, party registration in those cities is similar to the statewide voter makeup.

Now, I'm not sure how much the 2006 Senate election really mirrors this one. In fact, I would say that it did not in any particularly meaningful way.* That said, I did pick Fitchburg and Gardner as bellwethers (which is not spelled 'bellweather' by the way), which gave 52.1% and 51.4% of the vote to Romney (state-wide he got 52.6% of the two-party vote). This Suffolk poll has Brown up by 14 and 15 points, respectively. Could it really be this much of a blow-out?

*If I get really bored, maybe one day I'll see which did a better job of predicting these results, the 2002 Governor or 2006 Senate race.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What to watch for on Tuesday

I'm not sure how much any network will devote to coverage of a single race -- I'm sure there will be a crawl -- but my guess is coverage will be in the context of whatever shows happen to normally be on. Anyway, in terms of what to watch for, there haven't been a lot of close races in Massachusetts lately, and the most recent state-wide race of note that might be informative is the 2002 Governor race, between Mitt Romney and Shannon O'Brien. There was no incumbent in Man (R) v. Woman (D), and the Man looked like a politician, while the Woman was forgettable as a candidate. The mood in the country favored Republicans. Of course, one major difference (and a lot of other things, I'm sure, that don't fit this glossing over) is that there are greater national implications in this current Senate race.

Going back to the returns from that race, Romney won with 49.8% of the vote to O'Brien's 44.9%. I chose 23 decently-sized cities and towns that at least vaguely mirrored that result, with the idea that, as returns come in, they can serve as a decent barometer for the overall election. For this table, I removed all votes for third party candidates and normalized to just votes for Romney and O'Brien.

Obama comes to town tomorrow, speaking at Northeastern. I'll be watching football.

The percentage is what Romney received. So, if these results are predictive, Coakley needs to do >3% better than O'Brien in each town in order to win.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Don't blame me, I voted for Capuano

Jesus, she is horrible:
In a radio interview Martha Coakley (D) claimed that Red Sox great Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan.

While I'm now beginning to understand why her handlers shoved her in a steamer trunk after winning the primary, I still have no idea why anyone was driven to vote for her back in December.

Staying at 60

It is safe to say that panic has set in here in the Bay State (Bay Commonwealth, actually) regarding the Kennedy Senate seat. Scott Brown is a Mitt Romney clone, in that he's a good looking guy whom no one knows what he really thinks, or if he has actual opinions at all, and thus is a good vessel for a vote-the-bums-out election. On the other side you have Martha Coakley, who has run a horrible campaign since winning the Democratic primary in December. And by "horrible campaign" I mean "didn't campaign at all for a month." To be honest, I'm not really sure how she won the primary: as soon as polling started, she was well ahead and the other candidates could never overcome her giant lead, but I have no idea why she has so far ahead to begin with. I mean, being state attorney general must give you some name recognition, but initial polls had her beating her opponents by 20+ points. And it certainly wasn't her TV ads, which were, at best, non-offensive and could certainly be categorized as annoying.

Anyways, voting is next Tuesday. Current polls vary between a decent Coakley win (high single digits) to a narrow Brown win (a point or two). Nate Silver had a good point the other day, noting that those who would say anything but a Coakley blow-out is a loss for the Democrats need to look at previous elections in this state -- it is really only in Presidential elections that Massachusetts is a no-brainer, as Republicans tend to keep Congressional and Gubernatorial elections decently close (indeed, winning a latter a good chunk of the time).

The Kennedy seat is a class I seat, meaning that whomever wins it won't be up for re-election until 2012. If Coakley wins -- and I really hope she does, not because I think she'll be even a remotely successful Senator but rather because I'm confident that Scott Brown will do whatever Mitch McConnell tells him to do -- I hope she receives a strong challenge in '12.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Know thy drinking

From a community message board:
Wanted: Clean(ish) beer bottles

So I'm looking for empty beer bottles for home brews. I simply dont drink enough to create enough empties. They dont need to be clean, but free of cigarette butts at least.

WTF are you doing making your own beer if you readily admit that you don't drink a lot of beer? So, lemme guess, you're going to be the guy who brings his homemade beer to parties and makes everyone drink it and pretend to like it, while agreeing with you about the balance of hops and malts. Oh yeah, and then there's the lovely yeast particles that come with every sip from the final 2/3 of the bottle, because your beer isn't filtered. Thanks.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"What may be true, I say not yes or no"

Well, in times of sorrow, the internet provides succor. An entire Shakespearean take on The Big Lebowski:
A care-crazed father of a many children; it is a wise father that knows his own child. An excellent list for a man of no doubt excellent issue.

An amiable jest! Nay, I’d call’d his children his, but they come not of his loins, thou understand’st.

A cuckold, he?

A most subtle jest! Nay, but children of the inner city, of good promise, resolved to study but without the means. My lord resolves that they will all attend the university.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Institutional fail

While many have been lamenting the failings of the institutional structure that is the US Senate, there is no more dysfunctional collection of humans on the planet than the Baseball Writers Association of America, as evidenced today by their Hall of Fame voting.

Andre Dawson, the Hawk, finally got in, on his 9th year of eligibility. He should have been in years ago. He not only had a long career and accumulated excellent numbers, but also was an elite player for a stretch, culminating in an MVP award while playing for a last place team, a truly rare accomplishment. He had very few peers while he played, no doubt. So what the hell took so long to put him in? Or, more specifically, can a writer who previously voted against Dawson elucidate some coherent reason why he changed his mind? No, such an individual couldn't make a rational argument without sounding like a sommelier with a blindfold on explaining why Two Buck Chuck is worthy of a 95 Wine Spectator rating, $100 price tag, and should be cellared for at least 10 years before drinking.

Even more egregious is leaving out Robbie Alomar. He was the best second basemen in baseball, by a longshot, for the better part of two decades. Offense catalyst on an excellent Blue Jays team that won consecutive World Series. Stellar defense. Piled up great numbers over a long time, and, like Dawson, could legitimately claim, at least for a stretch, to be an answer to the 'if you had one guy to build your team around' question.

Everyone is above average!

In case anyone was worried that Ivy League students weren't getting enough self-esteem given to them on a platter, I just want to assure you that grade inflation is alive and well here in Boston.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lean n' Mean

As someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on the written word, this piece by Michael Kinsley resonated. Not only is he explicitly bashing the vapid nature of writing in 'top' newspapers, he is also implicitly imploring people to remember Strunk and White. For example:
The Times piece, by contrast, waits until the third paragraph to quote Representative George Miller, who said, “This is our moment to revolutionize health care in this country.” That is undeniably true. If there was ever a moment to revolutionize health care, it would be the moment when legislation revolutionizing health care has just passed. But is this news? Did anybody say to anybody else, “Wait’ll you hear what George Miller just said”? The quote is 11 words, while identifying Miller takes 16. And there’s more:

“Now is the chance to fix our health care system and improve the lives of millions of Americans,” Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the Rules Committee, said as she opened the daylong proceedings.

(Quote: 18 words; identification: 21 words.)

and this:
The software industry has a concept known as “legacy code,” meaning old stuff that is left in software programs, even after they are revised and updated, so that they will still work with older operating systems. The equivalent exists in newspaper stories, which are written to accommodate readers who have just emerged from a coma or a coal mine. Who needs to be told that reforming health care (three words) involves “a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system” (nine words)? Who needs to be reminded that Hillary Clinton tried this in her husband’s administration without success? Anybody who doesn’t know these things already is unlikely to care. (Is, in fact, unlikely to be reading the article.)


Last night the Sox agreed to a one year deal (with a player option for a second) with Adrian Beltre, 3B formerly of the Mariners and Dodgers. He's okay with a bat, but apparently he was signed for his glove. To summarize several thousands posts on Sons of Sam Horn, you can win more games by either scoring more runs or preventing more runs, and the Sox seem to have decided that the more cost-effective way is to pursue the latter. Indeed, this off-season they acquired a big name pitcher (Lackey) while signing two position players with excellent gloves (Beltre, Cameron) while not really pursuing two sluggers, Jason Bay & Matt Holliday. At least in theory, the theory is sound. By several fielding algorithms, the Red Sox have a chance to be a historically good run prevention team.

My concern is that, last year, the Sox were woeful not at scoring runs (they were 3rd in the AL, and 872 runs is a lot of runs) but in scoring runs against good pitching. Basically, they beat up on bad pitching but were stymied by good pitching -- and while this is true across the league (it is what defines the good and bad pitching!) the Sox differential was far more extreme than most teams. The lack of hitting is what sealed their fate against the Angels, as they scored exactly 1 run in the first two playoff games. So one is left wondering if that differential is something that is predictable going forward or was just a fluke.