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The Yankee Hater (And, I Guess, Fan’s) Question

[ 13 ] October 12, 2010 |

So who to root for in game 5?

  • The Rays are, in terms of results, a better team — better record, better run differential in a better division.
  • Whether the Rays are a better playoff team is questionable.   Unlike the Twins, they are at least competitive with the Yankees in the regular season.   But their offense, while at least they work counts, has similar power deficiencies, and I worry about that matchup.   In addition, a major source of the Rays’ edge — starting pitching depth — is essentially irrelevant in the postseason.
  • On the other hand, the depth of the Rays’ starting pitching means they’re hurt less by not being able to set up their rotation. I also can’t believe that Maddon would start Shields in Game 1.

Hmm, about 50/50, I’d say.  If Lee could start Game 1 I’d like the Rangers more, but as of now it’s about a wash.  Both would have to be considered substantial underdogs, and neither figure to be cannon fodder like the Twinkies.    Let’s hope the game is good, anyway….

…has anyone seen Bengie Molina and Lou Brock in the same room?   What a speed merchant!


Court Rules DADT Unconstitutional

[ 24 ] October 12, 2010 |

Good, even if a higher Court is likely to stay the order pending an appeal.

Of course, the appropriate course here is for the DOJ not to appeal the ruling. Particularly given that the policy’s persistence owes itself to the Senate’s anachronistic, countermajoritarian rules this case should be an obvious exception to the general rule that the federal government will defend its laws in court. I’m sure Obama won’t do this, but he should.

Today In Republican Misogyny

[ 7 ] October 12, 2010 |

Shorter Ken Buck (as DA): Once you’re previously consented to have sexual relations with someone, the consent then applies to future cases in which you didn’t consent.

The defense of Buck’s failure to prosecute, I suppose, might be that he personally doesn’t believe in this disgraceful bullshit, but the juries in his county would. Aside from the obvious problems with a prosecutor just accepting hypothetical sexism as fact when making decisions, the existence of a recording of a phone call in which her attacker confessed to raping her makes assertions that the case was just unwinnable pretty implausible. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Colorado’s Republican candidate for Senate shares these sexist assumptions.

Bury his body in the old sinkhole

[ 46 ] October 12, 2010 |

This rundown of various “green burial” methods is truly fantastic. The winning method, in my view, involves being turned into a flushable soup:

Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as Resomation (which is a trademarked term) is a process that liquefies rather than burns body tissues. It uses about a sixth of the energy of cremation and has a much smaller carbon footprint, according to Sandy Sullivan, the managing director of Resomation, a company in Scotland that has designed a machine called “the Resomator”. The corpse is placed in a pressurized chamber. The vessel is then filled with water and potassium hydroxide, creating a highly alkaline solution, and heated to 330 degrees. After about three hours, all that’s left are a soft, white calcium phosphate from bone and teeth and a light brown primordial soup of amino acids and peptides. Bodies buried underground decompose in the same way, albeit over many years and aided by microorganisms. Unlike cremation, Resomation doesn’t vaporize the toxic mercury of dental fillings and doesn’t char joint implants, leaving them clean, shiny and potentially recyclable. The bone and tooth material can be ground into a fine ash, as with traditional cremains. The brown liquid, because it’s sterile, can go down the drain.

Good Luck With That

[ 1 ] October 12, 2010 |

Shorter Phillip Klein: If the Supreme Court decides to uphold the ACA, giving the federal government “broad new powers” to regulate the national economy that it has had since 1942, we need a constitutional convention!

What I enjoy most about reading this kind of thing is conservertarians who believe that rolling back the federal government back to pre-New Deal norms would actually be popular. They may want to examine what teabag candidates are actually saying: as far as I can tell, not only do they not specifically argue against most federal programs, their most common policy proposal is to oppose Medicare cuts.


[ 17 ] October 12, 2010 |

My optimism about it going in is reflected in the fact that it’s been at least two years since I’ve seen a new episode of what was for many years my favorite show. But I had to watch the Bill James episode of The Simpsons, and I swear on Oscar Gamble’s afro that it was very good — indeed, it makes me wonder if I’ve been missing something. Posnanski does miss one egregious blunder in the screenplay: Harvard, of course, is the McGill of the United States.

That’ll Hurt

[ 7 ] October 12, 2010 |

Hopefully this will make school districts think twice before the next egregious privacy violation, although it’s hard to be optimistic.

On the Edge of the Holy Land…

[ 47 ] October 12, 2010 |

And so Bobby Cox retires. After 134 years, the Braves remain nine games shy of .500 (although well over if you count their 225-60 record in the National Association).  But then they were 523 games below when Cox took over, so getting them this close is rather an impressive accomplishment for a career.

Killing the Bismarck

[ 65 ] October 11, 2010 |

Iain Ballantyne’s new book Killing the Bismarck makes a rather controversial claim: As HMS Rodney, HMS King George V, and several attendant cruisers and destroying were pouring shells and torpedoes into Bismarck, the German crew was trying to surrender.  I haven’t read the book, but there’s a summary in Warships: IFR.  I have a bit on the evidentiary claims at Information Dissemination. Since we’ve been talking quite a lot about the laws of war here lately, I thought I’d give this to the crowd.  The facts of the situation:

  • Bismarck was not offering coordinated resistance, although her aft two turrets were firing ineffectually.  Bismarck was at this point largely incapable of moving under her own power.
  • It was unclear what percentage of the crew might have been willing to surrender, or whether such an order came from a central authority.
  • The potential for attack from German submarines and aircraft was very real.
  • A boarding operation would have taken time, and left Royal Navy vessels short of fuel and vulnerable to German counter-attack.
  • If the attack had been abandoned, it is possible that the Kriegsmarine might have been able to recover and repair Bismarck.

Under these circumstances, what were the responsibilities of the Royal Navy to the German crew?

The tinfoil hat brigade

[ 13 ] October 11, 2010 |

With the publication last month of Devra Davis’ book Disconnect, you’ll likely find yourself reading a lot of this sort of thing over the next few months, as “science” and “health” reporters breathlessly repeat her contention that cell phones are somehow causally linked to a parade of medical adversities, including brain cancer and male infertility. For anyone who remembers the (now thoroughly discredited) anxiety over electromagnetic fields from the 1980s and 1990s, the “Cell Phones are Killing You” narrative is a mildly more sophisticated offspring of the belief that power lines will give your children leukemia.

The issue of mobile phone safety has received an extraordinary amount of attention over the past two decades, and the published literature is filled with contradictions and burdened with some pretty knotty methodological problems (including the question of how researchers can overcome recall bias to gain an accurate portrait of cell phone usage). Nevertheless, the weight of the evidence — contrary to the claims of Davis and the rather small group of researchers who have enabled the the bulk of Davis’ argument — leans pretty strongly against any meaningful association between mobile phones and poor health.  Robert Park’s 2001 piece in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is still the clearest summary of the first generation of epidemiological work on cell phones and cancer; more recently, Steven Novella had a useful commentary of some of the latest research, including the massive (and widely misreported) Interphone study, which once again failed to detect the sorts of perils that Davis is now exaggerating on a daily basis during her promotional appearances around the country. For those of you with more free time than good sense, some time with PubMed will amply reward your skepticism.

Although Davis — an actual epidemiologist — isn’t quite in the same league as the quacks who guide the anti-vaccination movement, she seems to have a penchant for selecting evidence that allows her to repeat the same essential narrative that worked in her previous books, When Smoke Ran Like Water and The Secret History of the War on Cancer: Loathsome corporations, with the assistance of the government, are suppressing evidence proving their complicity in the erosion of human health. Though I have no doubt that telecommunications companies are loathsome, there’s a simple problem with applying this formula to mobile phones. Whereas we have highly plausible mechanisms to explain the adverse effects of airborne industrial toxins, for example, we have no similar way to explain how low-frequency, non-ionizing radiation — the kind bombarding you as you read this post — is supposed to cause the sort of cell damage that leads to cancer.  (Davis, however, insists that experimental studies have begun to reveal the dangers of pulsed EMF; even if that were the case, and non-ionizing radiation was magically capable of splintering DNA, a few experimental studies would hardly seem to provide enough muscle to forge a book-length expose on how your iPhone is going to put an olive-sized tumor in your head.)

At the end of the day, the most depressing aspect of all this is that Davis’ book — like Andrew Wakefield’s bullshit observations about the MMR vaccine — will provide a lot of people with a convenient (and almost certainly false) explanation for why they or their loved ones are suffering.  With press coverage almost unanimously praising Disconnected for its “convincing” argument, the wider body of evidence just won’t receive much attention.  Before long, maybe we’ll even hear that cell phones are responsible for Glenn Beck’s mysterious affliction.

Fare thee well, Dr. B…

[ 8 ] October 11, 2010 |

This saddens me (and not just because it makes our blog roll obsolete), because back in the day, when I was a nobody, she helped make me an extremely minor somebody. (She also got me into the best parties. Was the Internet just that much different then, or is it just me?)  So, best of luck to Dr. B. and her fellow travelers, all of whom will be missed.*

*Except for the ones who post elsewhere, as they’ll just be missed by virtue of not all being in the same place.

French Constitutional Court Upholds Ban On Veils

[ 48 ] October 11, 2010 |

Since I’m skeptical of even much narrower anti-veil public policy, I find much broader French bans on wearing veils in public particularly dismaying.   Like Somin, I express no opinion about whether the Conseil Constitutionnel’s opinion is sound as a matter of French constitutional law, but agree that to the extent that the decision is plausible it represents an indictment of French constitutionalism, and the legislation itself is a greater indictment. It’s worth noting that this ban — since it’s obviously targeted at the practices of a particular religious minority — almost certainly wouldn’t survive even under the American Smith standard, which many consider too narrow. Achieving gender equality is certainly a compelling state objective. But not only are bans on wearing the veil not necessary for achieving gender equality, it’s not clear if they’re effectual at all. For Muslim women in egalitarian family relationships, bans on the veil represent a diminution of freedom for no benefit, and for Muslim women compelled to wear the veil because of patriarchal family relationships, the bans offer only the most cosmetic relief.  Inscribing into the law the principle that the veil is necessarily a manifestation of sexism is not the right solution to a very real problem.