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Because Suicide is New?

[ 0 ] August 4, 2009 |

This is the sort of bullshit that I allow to needlessly get under my skin.

It’s the usual story: church supremo or other societal elder is befuddled and scared by the new generation, changing times, and rapidly evolving technology.  Seeing opportunity where others would only drown their confusion and lack of relevance in the bottle, our protagonist seeks a return to the tier of mattering by expressing sincere concern and opining about how said new technology / fad / fashion / etc. leads today’s youth down a path of isolation, despair, and the ultimate final choice.  It’s all the fault of Rock and Roll!  TV!  Video Games!  
No, I’ve got it!  Twitter!
No theory, no evidence, no research, no worries!  The holes in Archbishop Nichols’ arguments are so obvious I’m neither going to patronize you nor expand my carbon footprint by stealing a large SUV and driving it through them.  After opining on the evil of facebook, myspace and their ilk (god only knows what he thinks about that new menace to society, twitter) the article also offers up this gem:

He also voiced his concerns about the loss of loyalty and the rise of individualism in British society, singling out footballers for acting like “mercenaries”.

Because that’s new.
I’m not going to completely reject out of hand everything he says, and there is some resonance in his (admittedly the opposite of original) assault on the rise of individualism, but it’s arguably the same Tories that he is now embracing (by echoing David Cameron’s call for a “cooling off period” for divorce in the UK) that introduced this hyper individuality in the UK.  Remember, it was Maggie Thatcher who, in 1987, famously observed that “there is no such thing as society”, and her policies weren’t exactly communal in nature.
Incidentally, according to The Times article, the Archbishop is on facebook.  As others on facebook have pointed out, that’s nothing less than hilarious (though I think it was another word beginning with the letter H that was more often employed).  While The Times points out that they have been unable to confirm the accuracy of this entry, skimming his 333 friends makes it appear legitimate (or an extremely well crafted hoax).  There are even a couple based here in Portland, Oregon, where I am spending my summer . . . so I should watch my back.
We have no mutual friends on facebook.

Liberalism’s Favorite Laboratory?

[ 0 ] August 4, 2009 |

Benen, Yglesias, and Krugman said what needed to be said about this Douthat column. I can’t decide which aspect of the argument is worse — the cherry picking of one “red state” or using a state in a fiscal crisis largely because it’s burdened by stupid conservative initiatives as a representative “liberal” state. I think it may be the latter. We would all disagree about what “liberalism’s favorite laboratory” would consist of, but I think we can all agree that it would not involve artificial limits on property taxes and supermajority requirements for tax increases.

Archaic baseball scoring rules

[ 0 ] August 4, 2009 |

Tomight Justin Verlander gave up five runs in the first, then pitched shutout ball until the ninth, while Detroit came back to tie it up. Then Fernando Rodney got the last three outs before the Tigers won on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the inning.

How much sense does it make in this situation for Rodney to get credit for the win? Practically none, but baseball is still stuck with scoring rules that were devised when starting pitchers finished 90% of their starts.

I’m not plugged into the sabermetrics scene, so I don’t know how much discussion there’s been about changing the rules. And of course changing them would have some real costs in terms of record-book continuity. But the present scoring rules for wins (and to a lesser extent saves) seem quite arbitrary, given the nature of the modern game.

The Wonders of Free Market Health Insurance

[ 0 ] August 3, 2009 |

Sarah Wildman on the glories of the individual insurance market:

Our six-month-old daughter cost over $22,000.

You’d think, with a number like that, we must have used fertility treatments—but she was conceived naturally. You’d think we went through an adoption agency—but she is a biological child. So surely, we were uninsured.

Nope. Birthing our daughter was so expensive precisely because we were insured, on the individual market. Our insurer, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, sold us exactly the type of flawed policy—riddled with holes and exceptions—that the health care reform bills in Congress should try to do away with.


Last fall, the National Women’s Law Center issued a report detailing exactly how women who want to bear children are derailed when searching for out-of-pocket health care. Only 14 states require maternity coverage to be included in insurance sold on the individual market, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In contrast, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 requires employers with more than 15 employees to include maternity benefits in their health insurance packages. “We looked at 3,500 individual insurance policies and only 12 percent included comprehensive maternity coverage,” said Lisa Codispoti, Senior Advisor at the National Women’s Law Center. Another 20 percent offered a rider that was astronomically expensive or skimpy or both. One charged $1,100 a month; others required a two-year waiting period.

It’s definitely worth clicking through and reading in full. (Or, for those who prefer things in podcast form, she talks about it here.) This is one of the many things that an incremental reform package that keeps the private insurance system in place is going to have to regulate very, very carefully.


[ 0 ] August 3, 2009 |

I think the passive-aggressive ones — with Tom Maguire being the supreme example — are my favorites. Although sometimes you have to prefer the undiluted variety; i.e. “[the transparently fake alleged birth certificate from a country that didn’t exist when it was issued is] from WND, but appears legit.”

In, fairness, though, the birthers do have Larry Johnson on their side, which always heightens credibility!

World Defense Spending

[ 0 ] August 3, 2009 |

I like the combination of percentage of GDP with percentage of world spending. Via.

Not Acceptable

[ 0 ] August 3, 2009 |

A USN aircraft carrier should not, under any circumstances, be named the Barry M. Goldwater. While I’ll concede that Goldwater would probably be a better choice from the perspective of US history than either Carl Vinson or John C. Stennis, the idea that any of them deserve a supercarrier is simply absurd. The next US CVN should be the William Jefferson Clinton; he was a two termer, a better President than either George H. W. Bush or Gerald Ford, and more popular than Ronald Reagan. Any wingnuts who would feel wobbly about serving on the USS William Jefferson Clinton can go fuck themselves. And no, USS Enterprise is not an acceptable alternative, at least not for CV-79. I’m open to naming a future carrier after the Enterprise, but not this one; I’m tired of the conceit that Republican Presidents get CVs, but not Democratic ones. We can talk about George W. Bush after the USS Lyndon Baines Johnson is commissioned, although I’m guessing that Bush the Younger will still be residing in Nixon’s Locker when the time comes…

…this may seem trivial, but the fact that Republican one-term and half-term Presidents get major fleet units named after them (and yes, I know that Jimmy Carter has a submarine; subs are a far less visible projection of national power) perpetuates the notion that only Republicans and conservatives are serious about national security. There is no halfway; if you name aircraft carriers after a succession of mediocre Republican Presidents, you can’t suddenly insist that you “want to take the politics” out of ship naming. You can name the next ship Enterprise if you go back and rename Stennis, Vinson, Reagan, Bush, and Ford…

Ashes Third Test Update

[ 0 ] August 2, 2009 |
Australia 263 & 88-2.  England 376.
Australia 263 & 375-5.  England 376.  End of play, draw result.  
Series stands at England 1 win, 2 draws, Australia 0 wins.
With only one day remaining in the third test, this will be my final post on it.
Some vintage Flintoff and some excellent England bowling puts England in with a shout for a victory in the third test.  While I still hold that a draw is more likely, it’s finely balanced.  Although an Australian victory is not mathematically impossible, that’s the best I can say about the probability of this result.
England still have a slender lead at the close of play on day 4, but with one day remaining, time is England’s greatest enemy now.  If I were Australia tomorrow, I’d go into immediate defensive mode.  A draw helps Australia more than England.  As the chances of an Australia victory are vanishingly small, they have to play for the draw.  While after a washed out day 3 I suspected a draw, now I have to think the odds favor an England victory.  But this is looking like a really good one.  The Times sums up the hopes and dreams of both sides thusly:
With the weather forecast to be kind tomorrow, England will be hoping to take the last eight wickets and chase a smallish target. Australia will want to bat until tea and then hope. The game is still alive.

And an England victory would put them perilously close to claiming the Ashes (two England victories and one draw with two series left to play means Australia would have to win both outright to retain the Ashes).  This may be a good time to be off that island, come to think of it, as the levels of nervous angst will be intolerable.  Mercifully for England, there are no penalty shootouts in cricket.
They’re already writing the obit on the entire series over at Ashes HQ, which is perhaps premature.  But this quote captures the mentality of both sets of supporters rather well:
An unfortunate aspect of England’s success is that the world seems to become an exceedingly grim place. Australian fans, not used to losing, grow hugely critical of their team, while English fans barely manage to escape their bubble of self-protective cynicism and focus on whatever bad can be found in their victories. You’d be forgiven for thinking that both teams were losing the Ashes.



[ 0 ] August 2, 2009 |

It’s good that the family finally has a conclusion.

Privatize This!

[ 0 ] August 2, 2009 |

Reason number one to vote against the Tories in 2010.

There isn’t much left to privatize in Britain today, and in a lot of ways to this American, the UK is far more privatized than the US.  Some top of the head examples: the transport of prisoners from jail to trial and back is done solely by private subcontractors, most every airport is privately owned and operated, all utilities are privatized, including those where it is impractical to introduce competition such as water.
One would think that as an American, I would be used to all this privatized malarkey, and in general, I do vaguely believe that where practical and regulated, private enterprise and competition supply better products and services at better prices.  But airports?  It’s not as though competition is all that practical.  Because the three main London airports are inconvenient, all suck in their own ways and are getting suckier, I tend to use Bristol as my gateway off that island.  Furthermore, the only two that are geared towards long haul routes are Heathrow and Gatwick.  Throwing a wrench into the whole “competition is good” argument is that all three main London airports are owned and operated by BAA (itself owned by some Spanish concern).  They also have the corner on the Scottish market, owning Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen.  Even in London, where you may just flirt with the suburbs of a context where airports might just be in competition, when they’re owned by the same operator, what’s the bloody point???  (I should point out that the UK Competition Commission decided in March 2009, after seven painstaking months of analysis, that perhaps this isn’t all that good for competition, and maybe the monopoly should be broken up.  Gee, ya think?)
What I have noticed about Bristol Airport since 2003 is a gradual, but determined, erosion of places to sit comfortably waiting for your flight with more and more overpriced, irrelevant retail outlets.  OK, the airport bar is a sacrosanct institution, and the more the better (though this category has not expanded at Bristol, only become more posh and expensive).  But the rest?  I don’t go to the airport to shop, I go to the airport to get hassled by security and then sit in the airport bar before I board a terrifying flight to somewhere else.  Yet this is how they make money: the more overpriced retail, the less seating, the more likely passengers-to-be will be separated from their cash in meaningless and unnecessary ways.  A publicly owned and operated airport has to break even, so there should be some of this stuff, but American airports seem to strike a nice balance.  Private airports have a different incentive, and that is to squeeze as much profit out of the thing as possible.
Bristol used to be a charming little airport.  It’s now a crowded and cramped little shopping mall that also sells flights.  American airports are a joy to deal with in comparison.  
There was an entire paragraph here ranting about Southwest Water, but I deleted it for brevity.  I’ll just say that I only had a water meter installed at the house I own two years ago, and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.
So when I read the Times article linked above yesterday, I became moderately angry (then I had a pleasant pull off of a bottle of Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and all was again well in the world).  There are a handful of institutions in the UK that are a credit to the island.  Test Match Special, as cited by a commenter to one of my cricket posts, is one.  The NHS is another (and I have an NHS post in me some day).  
So too the BBC.  Indeed, it can be argued that the British have little idea just what they have in the BBC.  Commercial free, sort of owned and operated by the public.  This comes at a cost, and the cost is probably one of the most regressive taxes found in a western democracy, the tv license fee.   In order to operate a TV in the UK, one must pay £142.50 per year.  (Note, that is per property — the number of TVs on the property is not relevant).  While highly regressive, and as an American poli sci friend commented when he first visited, “holy crap!  There would be a revolution in the US over something like this!”, it is a tax I pay happily.  This is a sentiment I share with many of my British friends / colleagues.
The Party proper is (rightfully) already backing the hell away from this suggestion, but it was made by the shadow broadcasting minister — the very bloke who would be in charge of financing and licensing the BBC should the Tories win in 2010.  I would not put this past Cameron et al., but it would be politically stupid.  The Tories are ahead not so much because of what they stand for (they don’t seem to stand for anything at the moment which is playing the run in by the book in my opinion) but because Labour are tired and Gordon Brown rather unpopular.  When stories like this start to come out, it gives Labour something to work with, as in “they’re going to privatize the BBC, what’s next, the NHS?  Remember how privatizing British Rail worked out?”  Etc.  It’s a tactical blunder for the Tories.
While I agree that Jonathan Ross isn’t £6 Million per year worth of funny, (see here for a less destructive approach on how to handle Ross) privatizing the BBC, even small pieces of it, would be a tragedy.

Adventures in Drug War Moralism

[ 0 ] August 2, 2009 |

Allen Barra and Will Weiss say much of what needs to be said about Toure’s review of three books largely about steroids in baseball. (Amazingly, a second Times review has considered and uncritically praised Selena’s Roberts’s book while not engaging with any of the problems that pretty much every other reviewer has found with it.) In addition to some bizarre claims about Slappy (who allegedly hurt attendance although the Yankees never drew four million fans before he got there), we get two classic tropes of drug war moralists. First, the inability to distinguish between correlation and causation, taken to extremes:

The real, unignorable problem, the main reason steroids cannot be allowed to proliferate, is that they are killers. Steroids can lead to several forms of cancer, heart attacks, liver disease, even homicide and suicide. The football star Lyle Alzado died at 43 from a brain tumor that he was certain steroids were responsible for. The high school baseball star Taylor Hooton committed suicide, perhaps because of depression brought on by steroids. Ken Caminiti, the National League’s most valuable player in 1996 and an admitted steroid user, died from an accidental drug overdose at 41.

We’re pretty much dealing with self-parody here. I mean, if someone with Lyle Alzado’s impeccable scientific credentials believes with no evidence that steroids caused his brain tumor, that’s all the data I need! And surely Ken Caminiti overdosing on coke and pills provides even more compelling evidence about the negative health effects of steroids.

Toure also engages in bog-standard union bashing, attacking the MLBPA for not agreeing to drug testing with no conditions. (The owners, for some reason, manage to escape scrutiny entirely, although if they had wanted a testing program they could have negotiated it.) Those damned unions, standing up for the privacy rights of their workers! At any rate, I’m sure Toure would be happy to submit a urine sample with every piece he sells and have the results made public. I want to know that his writing is natural — I mean, won’t someone please think of the children!?!?!?!?!?

Speaking of which, make sure to see here for an excellent rebuttal to claims that the illegal leaking of confidential tests should be made more widespread.

Great Puzzles of the Universe

[ 0 ] August 2, 2009 |

How, exactly, does Alessandra Stanley keep her job?

THE TIMES published an especially embarrassing correction on July 22, fixing seven errors in a single article — an appraisal of Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman famed for his meticulous reporting. The newspaper had wrong dates for historic events; gave incorrect information about Cronkite’s work, his colleagues and his program’s ratings; misstated the name of a news agency, and misspelled the name of a satellite.

“Wow,” said Arthur Cooper, a reader from Manhattan. “How did this happen?”

The short answer is that a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not.

And it would be one thing if she was a first-rate critic or something, but she (unlike most regular Times critics) is a flyweight.

Excellent background here.