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Friday Stories And Comments

[ 27 ] October 15, 2010 |
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Bad Questions And Evasive Answers

[ 3 ] October 15, 2010 |

And yet, because the horrible question was at least about an important policy question, the moderation in this debate might have been above-average by our current standards.

In Defense of A Second Wildcard

[ 13 ] October 15, 2010 |

With the LCSes about to start and with Posnanski pointing out the problems with the wildcard in general, I thought I might as well revisit the idea of a second wildcard, which I remain in favor of.

The first argument against it is Pierce’s slippery slope argument. I don’t really buy it. First, because it has the potential problem with all slippery slope arguments: if Selig (God forbid) wanted NBA style playoffs, he can have them whether or not an extra game is added. More importantly — and this is the key to the pro-extra wildcard case — I think a playoff game for the wildcard is more consistent with the pre-wildcard format, because it gives a strong advantage to the division winner. So I think it’s traction on the slippery slope if anything.

An interesting argument, made by George in comments, is that a play in game gives an additional advantage to champions of weak divisions. A real drawback, for sure. But I don’t think it’s that big a deal, either. Obviously, if baseball was always configured the way the AL is this year — in which the Twins might have finished fifth in the AL East — this would be problem to really worry about. But then you have this year’s NL, where the Colorado and San Diego were teams of essentially similar quality to the wildcard Braves. My bottom line, I guess, is that as soon as you have more than one team per league get in and want pennant races (and I think that Posnanski is right that pennant races are more exciting than anything but the World Series), you’re going to get some mild inequities. This was one of the cases for the wild card — why should the ’93 Giants go home when they were probably the second-best team in baseball? My answer then was, and still is — because they lost. If you don’t win your division, I don’t think you have anything to complain about. Preserving the pennant races is, to me, more important than ensuring that the third-best rather than the fourth-best team makes it into the playoffs. The best team never has anything to worry about.

So I can understand why people don’t want to disadvantage teams like this year’s Yankees, no worse that the second-best team in the league. But the system also has a real downside — September games that should have been thrilling were a dreary farce, and rationally so because in winning the division the Rays “won” an appointment with a better team, with home field advantage that was so meaningful that the home team went 0-5 in the series. Nuts to that. The way I see it, if you finish second, you should feel lucky that you even have the opportunity of a play-in game, and if your division is tougher, too bad. Win it and you don’t have to worry. Given that any playoff system entails inequities, preserving the pennant race is the most important thing.

Having made the AFF’s case for it, the NEG team rested.

[ 24 ] October 14, 2010 |

To say Christine O’Donnell knows nothing about the responsibilities of a Senator to, for example, be able to name any Supreme Court decision she might deem objectionable is to state an already oft-stated obvious. Less obvious, but much more telling about her qualifications, were 1) the awkward, and often illogical, segues between her desultory answers to questions and the talking points she’d been told to deliver, and 2) the ignorance of her and her staff about the basic mechanics of governing Delaware. To treat the second item first:

On the Chris Coons Fact Check blog created expressly for this debate is a post entitled “Debate Fact Check: Chris Coons Says He Cares About Education,” the punchline of which “but his latest 304-page document about New Castle County’s priorities doesn’t mention the word ‘teacher’ even once.” A quick survey of the document reveals that to be true; however, it also fails to mention “errant behaviorists,” “cephalopod psychologists,” “Italian sweater girls” or anyone else whose employment or behavior is not overseen by the New Castle County Council.* You would think someone running to represent Delaware would know that its educational system is administered at the state and local levels, and that the county’s only responsibility concerns the management of crossing guards.*

But you would be wrong.

To address the first item, now, her ignorance of whose responsibility it is to mention the word “teacher” is especially galling when you consider that one of her debate strategies was to mention the word “local” every chance she got, e.g.

O’DONNELL: I believe that the local—I was talking about what a local school taught and that should be taught—that should be decided on the local community. Local schools should make that decision.

You can hear her coaching in that quotation: “If they mention ‘evolution,’ don’t look scare away fiscal conservatives by claiming science is a liberal plot to force us into homosexual relations with monkeys. Just repeat the word ‘local’ and the right people will feel shiny and empowered.” She employed the same tactic when addressing a situation in which locally empowered people had already done what they were empowered to do:

O’DONNELL: However, where the question has come between what is protected free speech and what is not protected free speech, the Supreme Court has always ruled that the community, the local community has the right to decide. And then the issue with the “9/11 mosque,” that’s exactly where the battle is being fought, by the community members who are impacted by that.

Even though she’s already been informed that “the local community” had already exercised its “right to decide,” she believes that “the local community” should continue exercising it until that second “e” can flex into an “o” and purge Ground Zero from all things Islam. That she transforms “local” into “communities should keep deciding until they decide in favor of my preferred answer” demonstrates that, like many a conservative before her, the word is an invitation to an imposition disguised in the rhetoric of Athenian democracy.

One particularly sad aspect of her performance is how brief she could keep a talking point in her head, and how she apparently felt the need to use it before it slipped her mind, e.g.

Read more…

On the Potential Impeachment Of Obama

[ 31 ] October 14, 2010 |

I have some wonky thoughts about the possibility that a Republican Congress would impeach Obama over at TAPPED. The answer: maybe! Given prior assumptions about presidential politics it’s very unlikely, but it’s not clear that these assumptions still hold. Certainly, the conservative media is laying the groundwork.

On one point Chait is indisputably correct: no matter how feeble the pretext for an impeachment, Jonah Goldberg would enthusiastically support it.

What Could This Agency Have Done With Dick Cheney?

[ 7 ] October 14, 2010 |

Via Plumer, I award this the Lee Atwater memorial award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence in negative advertising:

The city deserves an NHL team again for this alone!

See you in hell, rinderpest

[ 11 ] October 14, 2010 |

Nice:

Scientists working for the UN say that they have eradicated a virus which can be deadly to cattle.

If confirmed, rinderpest would become only the second viral disease – after smallpox – to have been eliminated by humans.

Rinderpest is prevalent in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that it will now suspend its efforts to track and eliminate the virus.

The FAO said it was “confident” the virus has been eradicated from those parts of the world where it is prevalent.

When the disease arrived in Africa at the end of the nineteenth century between 80% and 90% of cattle and buffalo on the continent were killed.

The eradication of the virus has been described as the biggest achievement in veterinary history and one which will save the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people in the world.

Of course the real winner here will be Jenny McCarthy, who is now free to devote herself to the global scourge of vaccine-induced bovine autism.

The Smartest Guys in the Room

[ 17 ] October 14, 2010 |

Obviously, the increasing share of the nation’s wealth that went to the finance sector was the result of a strict meritocracy.

There’s No Pleasing Some People

[ 5 ] October 14, 2010 |

Shorter Rabbi Yehuda Levin:   I used to think that Carl Paladino was a guy who stood up for traditional family values.   But then I heard that his enjoyable emails might involve people having sex with horses of the same gender.   That would be perverted!   In fairness, Paladino does say that all of his future mistresses will be women, praise the Lord.

Calculating Civilian Harms in Pakistan

[ 3 ] October 13, 2010 |

The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict has just released a report on damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure in Pakistan. Haven’t read the whole thing yet, but here’s a clip from the executive summary:

Headlines focus on the horrors of terrorism in Pakistan, but CIVIC’s research shows that civilians suffer greatly from a much broader range of conflict-related violence. Pakistani military operations, particularly artillery shelling and airpower, cause significant civilian losses. Civilians are caught between militants and Pakistani forces, while also suffering the consequences of extrajudicial killings, sectarian violence, explosive remnants of war, and US drone strikes.

Civilian losses in Pakistan are often long-lasting and complex, destabilizing families and entire communities. The loss of a husband can deprive the family of its only source of income. An injury can require expensive medical treatment, care by other family members, and prevent survivors from working in the household or finding a job. A house destroyed can mean homelessness, but also the loss of a family’s most important financial asset, forcing them into cycles of debt and dependency.

Despite the severity of losses and consequences of ignoring them, civilian casualties receive too little attention from US, Pakistani and donor-nation policymakers, military officials, and international organizations alike. Overlooking the majority of civilians harmed or displaced by combat operations is undermining the Pakistani government’s legitimacy. The US, too, has an obligation to these victims, as a major supporter of Pakistan’s anti-terror efforts and as a warring party itself, with small numbers of troops on the ground and drones conducting strikes from overhead.

The Metric System

[ 8 ] October 13, 2010 |

My column on piracy, metrics, and grand strategy is up at World Politics Review:

Most notably, the report highlighted the lack of any good cost-benefit analysis of the anti-piracy effort. The United States has no idea how much economic damage unchecked Somali piracy could cause, and thus it has no idea how much economic loss anti-piracy efforts prevent. More importantly, the United States doesn’t know how much it spends on anti-piracy efforts, or how to effectively calculate the costs that it, and other countries, pay in order to prevent pirate attacks. No one has made the effort to tally all of the costs associated with the naval deployment, or with the various other efforts to construct an anti-piracy framework. In short, we cannot conduct a cost-benefit analysis of anti-piracy efforts because we know neither the costs nor the benefits.

With the Blogging, and the Heads…

[ 6 ] October 13, 2010 |

I blogged heads with Michael Moynihan of Reason magazine yesterday. Here we talk about the absence of foreign policy in the 2010 midterm elections: