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Say It Ain’t So, Barry

[ 59 ] August 5, 2008 |

After various rumors that he might sign with some sufficiently desperate team failed to pan out, it seems increasingly likely that Barry Bonds has played his last major league game. If so, then Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa will all be appearing on your Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2013. Raphael Palmiero will show up the year before (correction — in 2011).

Are any of these guys going to get in? Should they? Sosa and Palmiero are strongly if not overwhelmingly qualified according to the traditional voting criteria. (I think these criteria need to be adjusted somewhat to account for the offensive explosion of the last 15 years — for example I doubt many people would rank Palmiero as one of the top 50ish players in history, given that he’s a first baseman who never led the league in almost any major offensive category). Bonds and Clemens, of course, are arguably the greatest player and greatest pitcher in the history of the game, respectively.

The most relevant evidence so far is the voting for Mark McGwire, whose overall level of qualification is similar to Sosa’s and Palmiero’s. McGwire has been on the ballot for two years, and received shockingly (to me) little support, appearing on just 23% of the ballots (75% is necessary for election).

In fact all these guys certainly would have made it absent the steriod thing, and Bonds and Clemens would have been very close to unanimous first-ballot choices (there are always a handful of Typical White Middle-Aged Sportswriters — TWMAS for future reference — who won’t vote for anybody on the first ballot because Babe Ruth wasn’t a unanimous pick or somebody slighted Jim Bunning in the balloting or whatever).

My guess is that the only guy who makes it out of this group is Clemens. This will lead to a big argument about how much Bonds’ race was a factor, which will be just one more domestic crisis that President Obama will have to deal with.

A Joker Without A Clue

[ 69 ] August 5, 2008 |

Ed Morrissey tries to explain why Obama’s perfectly banal remarks about car maintenance and tire inflation are considered some sort of hi-larious gaffe among people who considered The Half Hour News Hour comedy gold and the Right Brothers the new Stones:

So yes, inflate your tires properly and get regular tune-ups. But if you think that will solve the supply crisis or make us independent of foreign oil, then you probably won’t get the joke no matter how many times we explain it.

See, here’s the problem: Obama doesn’t believe and has never said that we can be “independent of foreign oil,” for the obvious reason that it would be completely crazy to believe that this is possible. Certainly, McCain’s plans would bring us nowhere near this point. And even if we destroyed enough wildlife refuges and coastal economies to produce enough oil to meet the demand of American consumers — again, a complete impossibility — we would still not be meaningfully “independent.” After all, oil is a fungible commodity that’s part of a world market, and it’s not as if American oil companies will just give Americans a discount out of the goodness of their hearts. You have to pay the going rate no matter where the oil is produced.

So the punchline is that Obama’s suggestions will produce more benefits, without — and pay attention here — any costs. That’s not a gaffe. Thinking that Iran is training Al-Qaeda? Now that’s a gaffe. See? Sorry I had to explain it to you.


[ 18 ] August 5, 2008 |

Apparently it’s possible that greatest pitcher athlete in Yankee recorded human history will be going on the D.L. Overhype aside, that’s a pretty serious hit, especially given their upcoming schedule. Maybe the Yankees will miss the postseason after all! Of course, I’m sure the Yankees will be able to come up with some complete stiff with no major league credentials to go 11-0 in his place anyway.

Looking On in Stunned Disbelief…

[ 33 ] August 5, 2008 |

Lee Siegel:

I was called names that I can’t really repeat on your show. But at one point, someone called me a pedophile, not using that language, and I thought, you know, enough is enough. I called one of my editors and I complained about it and they said, well, you know, this is just the way it is. You can love it or leave it.

And I just answered out of exasperation and on principle, and, of course, out of my foolish pride, but I gave them tit for tat and the whole thing blew up, and it really wasn’t a very bad ending. I wrote a book, the policy at The New Republic changed; online anonymity is part of the debate now. Every cloud has a silver lining


Let’s review… On August 21, 2006, James Kincaid published an online article at Slate discussing the Jon Benet Ramsey case, and suggesting that Americans had an unhealthy obsession with child sexuality. A day or two later, Lee Siegel took exception to this argument, and in short order made the claim that James Kincaid was not only sympathetic to pedophiles, but quite possibly was a pedophile himself. We, among others, took some exception to this claim, as it was supported only by selective use of a doctored quote on the NAMBLA website. As Siegel had earlier earned the enmity of Left Blogistan by claiming that Markos Moulitsas was more or less akin to Hitler, these claims and counterclaims earned some attention. In the midst of the internet scrum that followed, Siegel famously took the name “Sprezzatura” to defend himself in the comments, eventually resulting in his suspension by TNR.

And now, Siegel seems to be claiming that he was the innocent victim of (what amounted to) pedophilia accusations, while not mentioning that his own unfounded attack on a scholar and fellow contributor to Slate is what initiated the uproar.

Clever, old man. Very clever indeed.

NPR link via Alterdestiny.

Yoo: His Half-Baked Work is Also Dishonest Crap

[ 5 ] August 4, 2008 |

To spare you valuable time that might be more usefully devoted to, say, the selfless nurturance of human progress, Louis Fisher reads John Yoo’s unpublished thoughts on Thomas Jefferson and executive power. Given the enthusiasm that Bush’s defenders have shown in comparing their hero to Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mozart and all the rest, it’s not surprising that Jefferson has been deliberately modified to suit Yoo’s purposes. One interesting detail that Fisher discovers: Yoo writes extensively about the trial of Aaron Burr without quoting or citing or even mentioning the trial transcripts — transcripts he’d used extensively in an article he published a decade ago. Not surprisingly, it seems the trial transcripts would have undermined Yoo’s argument (which I believe he’s made elsewhere) that Jefferson’s actions in the trial amount to a clear precedent for claims of executive privilege.

(Via Ralph Luker)

Can this get more idiotic?

[ 42 ] August 4, 2008 |

I mean can it?

Needless to say MoDo is long past praying for, but really:

Despite Obama’s wooing, some women aren’t warming. As Carol Marin wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times, The Lanky One is like an Alice Waters organic chicken — “sleek, elegant, beautifully prepared. Too cool” — when what many working-class women are craving is mac and cheese.

In The Wall Street Journal, Amy Chozick wrote that Hillary supporters — who loved their heroine’s admission that she was
on Weight Watchers — were put off by Obama’s svelte, zero-body-fat figure.

“He needs to put some meat on his bones,” said Diana Koenig, a
42-year-old Texas housewife. Another Clinton voter sniffed on a Yahoo message board: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”

Thus does Amy Choznick’s almost completely spurious “news” report (see Scott’s post below linking to this) become the basis of Dowd’s latest exercise in narcissistic projection.

"No, it didn’t used to be this way at all."

[ 21 ] August 4, 2008 |

Via Cernig, the Templars are finally getting back at the Pope:

The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ, whose members claim to be descended from the legendary crusaders, have filed a lawsuit against Benedict XVI calling for him to recognise the seizure of assets worth 100 billion euros (£79 billion).

They claim that when the order was dissolved by his predecessor Pope Clement V in 1307, more than 9,000 properties as well as countless pastures, mills and other commercial ventures belonging to the knights were appropriated by the church.

But their motive is not to reclaim damages only to restore the “good name” of the Knights Templar.

I can only hope that this will somehow lead to King Juan Carlos filing suit to reclaim his lost patrimony as King of Jerusalem. Or perhaps Heirs of Vercingetorix vs. J. Caesar?

The Uselessness of BMI: An Addendum

[ 19 ] August 4, 2008 |

As a follow-up to Paul’s post below, I note that among the people classified as “overweight” by the BMI index we can find…George W. Bush. Sure, he may exercise regularly and seems healthy and trim for man his age, but…the BMI has spoken! Let’s hope we can get it on more report cards soon!

Also, Obama may want to be careful in the weight room, or journalists with no integrity inventing ridiculous “electability” tautologies may have to switch to saying that Obama can’t be president because he’s almost as much of a gross fatty as Al Gore himself…


[ 0 ] August 4, 2008 |

At first glance (via Thers), I thought a blog with the irony-free title “What’s Wrong With the World” would be something along the lines of Stuff White People Like. But no, it turns out these people are genuinely funny, like Conservapedia or the Euston Manifesto. Here, for example, they helpfully offer Barack Obama some snappy comebacks to John McCain’s petty and childish web ad — suggestions that I think everyone will correctly perceive as rivaling the comedic talents of Carlos Mencia, Larry the Cable Guy, and Dane Cook. Behold:

* I was going to invite Senator McCain to the Transfiguration. Not anymore.
* Ye of little faith.
* Next time he asks for me to heal his melanoma, the answer is “no.”
* I’ll turn water into wine for him, but I draw the line at being his designated driver.
* I’m surprised Senator McCain didn’t say, “I knew Moses; Moses was a friend of mine; Senator Obama, you are no Moses.”
* Ironically, more men named “Jesus” will vote for me than will vote for Senator McCain.
* The people want more jobs and less Job.
* This just shows us that the McCain campaign is a non-prophet organization.
* If I’m number one, this ad proves that the McCain campaign is full of number two.

This, also, is pretty great:

We are happy warriors, for our defense is motivated primarily by gratitude for what our ancestors bequeathed to us. We are hardly what the world calls “optimists,” for our sense of the crisis of our age is robust indeed; but despair is among the more fashionable sins today, and our hostility to it, too, is implacable. We put not our trust in princes, but stand on the Solid Rock, against which neither the tyranny of the Crescent nor the blank negations of Liberalism shall prevail.

Did someone say “happy warriors?”

Obesity Apocalypse

[ 72 ] August 4, 2008 |

Even by the remarkably mendacious standards of the “obesity” racket some of the claims in this story are beyond belief.

The most laughable is the idea that by 2048 everybody in the US will be “overweight” or “obese.” This result was derived via statistical extrapolation, the crack cocaine of social science analysis (by similar methods one could prove that within a few generations Olympic sprinters will be running at speeds that will hurl them into low Earth orbit and everyone in America will have a plasma TV seventeen miles wide).

In fact there has been no weight gain at all over the past 30 years in the thinnest quartile of the population — whatever (poorly understood) factors have caused Americans to weigh more on average now than they did in the 1970s have had very different impacts across the weight spectrum: thin people have gained no weight, people in the middle weigh 10-15 pounds than they did 30 years ago, while the fattest people have gained a lot of weight, which is exactly what one would expect. Furthermore, as even this story manages to note, there’s quite a bit of evidence that the trend toward weight gain in the populace in the 1980s and 1990s seems to have plateaued.

But this is a side point. The most significant and symptomatic aspect of this story is it’s completely uncritical attitude toward the current definitions of “overweight” and “obesity.” Those definitons are BMIs of 25-29.9 and 30+ respectively. (You can look up your own BMI here, and I encourage you to do so).

I really can’t emphasize enough how utterly without scientific foundation these definitions are. This can be shown in a hundred ways, but here’s one particularly striking illustration.

The best epidemiological data on the U.S. population is the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This is universally recognized as the gold standard for such surveys, in particular because it’s a nationally representative sample that directly measures its participants. NHANES has been ongoing since the 1960s; the most recent data that allows for significant followup is from NHANES III, which was assembled in 1988-1994.

Now if we’re facing an “apocalypse” because of “overweight” and “obesity,” we should see evidence of this in, at the very minimum, increased relative risk of mortality among people in these categories. Here’s the relevant data from NHANES III on mortality risk. The following statistics use the mortality risk found among supposedly “normal weight” (sic) people (BMI 18.5-24.9) as the referent group. In other words, the mortality risk for this group sets the baseline for comparison to other groups in terms of their mortality risk. A group that has a higher mortality risk than the referent group will have excess deaths over the baseline risk. A group that has a lower mortality risk will have fewer deaths than would be seen in the group if it had the same mortality risk as the referent group of “normal weight” people.

Most recent excess deaths estimates from NHANES III:
Underweight: 38,456
Normal weight: 0
Overweight: -99,980
Obesity Grade I: -13,865
Obesity Grade II and III: 57,515

Underweight less than 18.5 BMI, normal weight 18.5-24.9, overweight 25-29.9, Obesity Grade I 30-34.9, Obesity Grade II and III 35+ What these numbers mean: In the US population at present, we are seeing about 100,000 fewer deaths per year among “overweight” people than we would if “overweight” people had the same mortality risk as “normal weight” people. Note that the majority of people in the US who according to the government’s current classifications weigh too much are in this group. The “overweight” category is to the obesity panic what marijuana use is to the drug war: stories about an “epidemic” of fatness depend crucially on classifying the 35% of the population that’s “overweight” as being at some sort of increased health risk. This is simply false, and is known to be false by the researchers who are quoted in stories like the one linked above.

But the situation is much more egregious than even this suggests. Note that the NHANES III data reveals that most people who are classified as obese have a lower mortality risk than so-called normal weight people. About two-thirds of “obese” Americans have a BMI of between 30-34.9, and currently we’re seeing about 14,000 fewer deaths per year in this group than would be expected if the group’s mortality risk was the same as that of “normal weight” individuals.

Only when one gets to roughly the fattest 10% of the population does the NHANES III data begin to find a relative mortality risk higher than that found among the supposedly “normal weight.” And even here, the relative mortality risk results in about three times fewer deaths per capita than observed among the “underweight” (there are approximately four times as many people with BMIs 35+ than there are people with BMIs below 18.5).

In short, it’s difficult to convey the utter intellectual bankruptcy of the standard discourse surrounding weight and health in this culture.

Update addressing a couple of common themes in these sorts of discussions:

(1) I don’t think that the higher mortality rate among “normal” (sic) or “optimal” (sic) weight people provides any real evidence that someone with a BMI in that range should try to gain weight. The bogus idea here is that a narrow range of weight is optimal for all people. In fact the differences in mortality across an extremely broad range (roughly BMIs from the high teens to the mid-30s) are statistically trivial, and represent the kinds of differences in relative risk that nobody would ever pay attention to if not for cultural considerations that make body mass a subject of great symbolic (though not medical) importance.

(2) It really is astonishing how ready people are to accept the most dubious evidence for the proposition that everybody should try to be thin, while engaging in sophisticated arguments about why evidence to the contrary can be explained away. That this blatantly inconsistent attitude is characterized as the essence of science is also rather remarkable.

Great Power Confrontation for its Own Sake

[ 0 ] August 4, 2008 |

I know that most people don’t have time, but this diavlog between Francis Fukuyama and Bob Kagan is really worth watching in its entirety. I think Fukuyama goes a bit easy on Kagan, but then many of Kagan’s arguments are self-refuting; in particular, his claim that if China were actually a status quo power, then it would maintain a much smaller military than its economic and geographic positions indicate is laughable both from a realist theoretical point of view and in the context of the massive military buildup that the US has pursued over the last eight years.

Lineuppers vs. Sidezoomers

[ 0 ] August 4, 2008 |

The problem with this article on traffic styles is that it fails, in the end, to get to the core of the dispute between lineuppers and sidezoomers. The problem is this; the former are morally upstanding individuals, and the latter are evil beyond redemption or understanding. A fair handed article would have taken this into account.