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[ 24 ] October 5, 2015 |


It took a bit longer than expected and there were a few more “oh, this issue over rice imports could blow up the whole thing” stories than I thought, but the 12 nations involved came to an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This deal is awful for American workers and gives a great deal more power to pharmaceutical companies to extend their monopolies on drugs. It greatly expands the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts that give companies tremendous power to derail national law that would promote labor or environmental standards. It accedes to the Malaysian use of slave labor. Supposedly, the TPP was supposed to help leverage U.S. power in Asia against the Chinese, but this never made any sense on the face it and the Chinese themselves are interested in joining.

We still don’t know exactly what’s in the TPP and the full text won’t be available for at least a month. We know that Obama says there are protections for labor and environmental standards that were not in NAFTA and other trade agreements. But that there were no seats at the table for labor or environmentalists, I am extremely skeptical they will be meaningful except at providing cover for the agreement as a whole.

There is almost no way this does not pass Congress. It may however be delayed unless Obama can push it through quickly. Hopefully, Bernie Sanders will make a big deal of this in the primaries and force Hillary Clinton to say she opposes it, which she does not in her heart. But making her say it at least could delay its implementation.

Along with education policy, trade has been the biggest policy demerit of the Obama administration.

A sad day.



[ 38 ] October 5, 2015 |

[At least it’s an excuse to post this again]

A man who will not be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016 barring force majeure may or may not announce a decision about whether or not he will run for president. Keep it tuned RIGHT HERE for more on this important story.

We’ve won the morning now, right?

The Broken Machinery of Death

[ 136 ] October 5, 2015 |


Most of what’s wrong with the death penalty can be seen in the case of Richard Glossip:

The problem is that even though Glossip’s moral case is strong, his legal case is much less so. For better or worse, appellate courts place great weight on the “finality of judgment.” Even if a judge disagrees with Justice Antonin Scalia’s view that it does not violate due process for the state to execute a factually innocent person who was given a procedurally fair trial, Glossip represents a trickier case. He does not have, say, exonerating DNA evidence and an unshakeable alibi affirmatively demonstrating his innocence. The state does not have a very good case that he is guilty, but we do not know for a fact that he is innocent.

Appellate courts are therefore not well equipped to deal with this kind of gray area. This is where governors need to step in with their powers to commute the sentences and/or pardon people convicted of crimes. At the very least, Fallin should ensure that Glossip is not executed. But public officials who are inclined to support the death penalty, particularly in red states where they also face electoral pressure to be extra-tough on crime, cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

This is the reality of the death penalty. A division of labor is set up in which numerous officials, operating within their formal legal authority, act in concert to produce a flagrantly unjust outcome for which no one person is responsible. As the legal scholar Mark Graber puts it, “Richard Glossip is likely to be executed because capital punishment enhances prosecutorial power to secure unreliable and arbitrary death sentences.”

This is simply not a system that can be defended.

Game of Thrones Blegging

[ 20 ] October 5, 2015 |

Hey folks, after many (mostly foot-related) delays, I’ve finally managed to launch a brand-new project for me – my first Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire crowdfunding venture.

attewell copy

Basically, the idea is this: I like writing about A Song of Ice and Fire at Race for the Iron Throne. According to my traffic logs, a bunch of you like reading what I write. (Incidentally, I just posted my latest essay on Catelyn VI of A Clash of Kings…) I’d like to spend more of my time writing about it and publishing stuff more frequently, and I could use your support to make that happen. If you support me, you’ll get a bunch of awesome ASOIAF books and some other cool rewards.

But if you can’t afford to – as one of those broke adjuncts Erik keeps writing about, I completely understand – your help spreading the word would be greatly appreciated.

The Shoe Drops

[ 47 ] October 5, 2015 |

Nobody could have predicted:

Facing a state budget reduction, Alabama’s Law Enforcement Agency opted to cut driver-licensing services at 31 satellite offices, serving 28 counties. Twelve to fifteen of the affected counties are in Alabama’s “black belt,” and every Alabama county where black people make up 75% or more of registered voters. That’s troubling because, since last year, Alabama has required government ID to vote.

You know, call me crazy, but we may have to consider the possibility that vote suppression is the goal rather than an incidental byproduct of Voter ID laws.

LGM Baseball Challenge 2015

[ 3 ] October 5, 2015 |

Well. Isn’t this surprising.

1 Vogt for Pedro(ia)tonycpsu 3892 8041 99.5
2 Free Leonardmattricci 3886 8316 100
3 Jack Buck’s voicewjcarper1 3741 7952 99.1
4 fbern06fbern06 3716 7733 97.4
5 Fern’s Faveswjcarper1 3544 7303 91.2
6 Mookie Monstercosmic_horror 3525 7726 97.3
7 Cubbie Blueshsmccann 3524 7584 95.7
8 sharpieFTAVII 3444 7789 97.9
9 90 Freakin’ Feet!DocPaisley 3295 7318 91.5
10 SouthSideFan773 1SouthSideFan773 3194 7280 90.7


And I suppose I’ll grant that this is mildly impressive:

Screenshot 2015-10-05 08.09.12

It’s not time to give up.  Wait until next year…


[ 2 ] October 4, 2015 |

One band I’ve been listening to a lot lately is Ibeyi. For fairly minimalist music, there’s a lot going on here. They have an interesting backstory too, daughters of a famous Cuban musician who sing in both English and Yoruba. Probably not for all tastes, but certainly for mine.

This is also a good place for a reminder that I will be speaking at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Tuesday at 7. I hope to meet many of you! Books will be for sale and I love signing random things as well.

Can You Ride A Star Running Back to the Super Bowl? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 171 ] October 4, 2015 |


Rather than a redundant Sunday Chip Kelly post, here’s some data I’d like in one place for future reference. As I observed at some length last week, for a variety of reasons people have a strong sentimental attachment to the AUTHENTIC FOOTBALL represented by the running game, and are inclined to rationalize even the most obviously irrational decisions (like, say, taking a running back with a top 5 draft pick even with a Grade A QB prospect on the board.) One strategy is to argue that “this team one time won with a power running game and defense.” Well, defense is very important. But do teams win championships without a quality passing game?

The 1974 Steelers alternated between two young quarterbacks who weren’t very effective, but Franco Harris and the Steel Curtain powered their way to the Super Bowl. The next year, as you probably know, one of those young QBs came into his own and the team repeated. Since then, here are the adjusted passer ratings of the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (100 is league average):

2014: Brady 111 [Obviously misleadingly low]
2013: Wilson 119
2012: Flacco 103, 9 Y/A 0 INT in postseason
2011: Eli 111
2010: Rodgers 124
2009: Brees 132
2008: Roethlisberger 97 (Lifetime 112)
2007: Eli 89 (Over 100 6 of next 7 years)
2006: Peyton 126
2005: Roethlisberger 122
2004: Brady 114
2003: Brady 107
2002: Johnson 121
2001: Brady 111
2000: Dilfer 98
1999: Warner 136
1998: Elway 119
1997: Elway 113
1996: Favre 130
1995: Aikman 122
1994: Young 147
1993: Aikman 129
1992: Aikman 118
1991: Rypien 130
1990: Hostetler 110
1989: Montana 149
1988: Montana 117
1987: Williams 126
1986: Simms 100
1985: McMahon 111
1984: Montana 134
1983: Plunkett 109
1982: Theismann 122
1981: Montana 122
1980: Plunkett 101
1979: Bradshaw 110
1978: Bradshaw 126
1977: Staubach 125
1976: Stabler 140

Since the Nixon administration, there is exactly one case of a Super Bowl being won by a team with a below-average QB having a below-average season: the 2000 Ravens. And even that team is hardly evidence that you can win with an offense built around a star running back — rather, it was a team with an exceptional defense that was able to carry a mediocre offense with a solid but nothing more than that running game. (You don’t need to invest big to find a running back who can run for 4.4 yards/carry behind a good offensive line.)

And that’s it. Roethlisberger had an off year in the regular season in 2008, but he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber player, and at any rate it wasn’t Willie Parker’s 3.8 yards/carry that carried the Steelers to a championship. Phil Simms was better than his regular season stats in 1986, but as with the Ravens in any case that team didn’t overcome that with a great running back, but with a defense featuring multiple Hall of Famers and plenty of depth beyond that coached by Parcells and Belichick. The 2007 Giants are probably the closest to an anecdotal case that can be cobbled together by ground-and-pound fetishists — Eli wasn’t very good for much of the regular season, and that team had a really good running game. But by the playoffs, Eli had transformed into the not great but solidly above-average QB he’s generally been ever since. And, more to the point, the Giants — who outscored their opposition by about 20 points in the regular season — are almost certainly the weakest Super Bowl team ever. Flags fly forever and they beat perhaps the greatest team ever assembled and more power to them, but if your strategy for building a championship team is “build a .500 team and have it overachieve in the regular season and get hot at the right time and win 3 straight coin-flip playoff games against significantly better teams,” well…good luck with that. It’s worked once; it’s failed innumerable times.

As always with this issue, the evidence is not ambiguous. Super Bowls are most commonly won by great QBs, and with very few exceptions the rest are won by really good ones. I won’t run through the running games systematically, but a trip through football reference will show some Super Bowl teams have very good running games, some have mediocre ones, and some have really bad ones. I will, however, note that some teams cited for the idea that you can with an offense based around a great running game rather than efficient passing prove the opposite. The 2003 Buccaneers had a horrible running game led by Michael Pittman’s 3.5 yards a carry. The 1990 Giants also had a replacement-level running game and a more efficient passing game than you remember (as well as the defense with etc.) The Patriots had a mediocre running game in 2001 and a terrible one in 2003.

And even in cases where a running back played a key (if inevitably subordinate) role in the offense, they generally don’t provide evidence that investing top draft picks or major free agent dollars in running backs is a sound practice. The Seahawks acquired Lynch for a 4th rounder and 5th rounder. The Rams got Faulk for a second rounder plus, and his relentlessly mediocre performance before joining the Rams makes it pretty clear that Warner was the key variable there. Terrell Davis is one of many late-round or undrafted players to run effectively in Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. And Emmitt Smith is the exception that proves etc. If Jimmie Johnson is picking the players, you already have your QB and top wideout in place and — this step is important — some clown has just traded you like 30 draft picks because they massively overvalued your famous running back, then go right ahead and take a flier on a RB with the 17th pick if you really like him. Otherwise, you can find a good enough running back for much less cost.

Look, it’s not complicated. The NFL is completely dominated by pass offense and pass defense and has been for a loooong time. The marginal quality of your running game isn’t terribly important, and you don’t need to invest in an expensive running back to get a good enough running game. And between the surpassing importance of passing in the contemporary NFL, the typical inconsistency and short shelf life of running backs, and the fact nobody can identify the rare star who could retroactively justify a high draft position ex ante, you should only in rare circumstances draft a running back in the first round and never in the top 15. A great quarterback and a below-average running game is a great offense. Barry Sanders and a mediocre quarterback is a mediocre offense. No matter how you study the question you’ll reach the same result. Chip Kelly is the latest NFL decision-maker to learn this lesson the hard way.

Crisis of Masculinity, 1987 Edition

[ 83 ] October 4, 2015 |


I’m enjoying Deadspin’s new series analyzing different chapters of the 1987 crisis of masculinity book The Modern Man’s Guide to Life, seeing how this advice holds up after nearly 30 years. It’s a pretty gentle satire of masculinity, in the case linked above, how to prove your manhood through building your own sweat lodge, which is a very, very bad idea since they can kill you. I’d probably be less gentle if I was writing this. Since manhood is in a permanent state of crisis and thus has to constantly be proven, you can argue it has defined much of American history. That certainly includes the most famous crisis of masculinity, typified by Theodore Roosevelt, but also includes the sexual assaults on urban streets by the Bowery Boys and other young men of the antebellum period, the straight-laced restrained Victorian masculinity, the fears of not being able to grow a proper beard in the same era, the countercultural masculinity of the 60s and 70s, etc. And of course this is a big deal today too with the MRAs and others freaking out about women controlling their own bodies, deep and very serious concerns over men drinking almond milk, demanding REAL MEN who yell and scream and throw interceptions instead of soft-spoken Hawaiians to be the top quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, making sure men eat a proper manly breakfast, etc., a topic that is of course a common theme at this blog.

I probably should do more poking fun at the historical crises of masculinity that leads to absurdities like building your own sweat lodge.

Not Quite Pitch Perfect

[ 24 ] October 4, 2015 |

Watching Pitch Perfect 2 reminded me that the first Pitch Perfect is nearly plotless as both films follow nearly identical outlines:

  • A cappella group is in turmoil
  • A cappella group recruits new members (only 1 in the sequel)
  • New member brings a new and galvanizing sound to the group
  • Group battles obnoxious a cappella group
  • Group participates in impromptu sing-off
  • Becca worries about making it–for realz–in the music business
  • Group decides to work together to kick azz in (this time world) championship
  • Group takes a chance, tries something new and wins the championship

Honestly, the Pitches are just excuses for its talented cast to be funny and to dazzle us with awesome a cappella. (Listen, these dork credentials aren’t going to burnish themselves.)

I don’t care. Pitch Perfect was nearly plotless to begin with so it doesn’t matter to me that its sequel was similarly afflicted. It did bother me some that the 2 seemed like a more pained and cynical take on the subject matter. That being said, I still really enjoyed it. The dialogue was snappier and funnier and the cast did wonders with it. Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine were hilarious, as were Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld shows great promise; her comedic timing was flawless. Add in cameos by Keegan Michael Key (so amazeballs), Joe Lo Truglio, Jason Jones, Reggie Watts and David Cross (worship emoji, worship emoji, worship emoji) and you’ve got one happy comedy aficionado.

But while Pitch Perfect 2 may have been a more polished version of the first Pitch, it was missing some its charm, and actually I’d say that its polish was part of the reason the film didn’t deliver the way I’d hoped it would (though I still really really liked it!). And–crying emoji, crying emoji, crying emoji– the singing numbers just weren’t as cool and goose-bump-inducing as the numbers in the first one. ALSO NOT ENOUGH TREBLEMAKERS. Like I said, these dork credentials aren’t going to burnish themselves.

Self-Refuting Actions of the Day

[ 87 ] October 4, 2015 |

Whole Paycheck:

Whole Foods Market co-CEO and co-founder John Mackey has never hidden his disdain for labor unions. “Today most employees feel that unions are not necessary to represent them,” he told my colleague Josh Harkinson in 2013. That same year, Mackey echoed the sentiment in an interview with Yahoo Finance’s the Daily Ticker. “Why would they want to join a union? Whole Foods has been one of [Fortune’s] 100 best companies to work for for the last 16 years. We’re not so much anti-union as beyond unions.”

On September 25, the natural-foods giant gave its workers reason to question their founder’s argument. Whole Foods announced it was eliminating 1,500 jobs—about 1.6 percent of its American workforce—”as part of its ongoing commitment to lower prices for its customers and invest in technology upgrades while improving its cost structure.” The focus on cost-cutting isn’t surprising—Whole Foods stock has lost 40 percent of its value since February, thanks to lower-than-expected earnings and an overcharging scandal in its New York City stores.

Sources inside the company told me that the layoffs targeted experienced full-time workers who had moved up the Whole Foods pay ladder. In one store in the chain’s South region, “all supervisors in all departments were demoted to getting paid $11 an hour from $13-16 per hour and were told they were no longer supervisors, but still had to fulfill all of the same duties, effective immediately,” according to an employee who works there.

Adjuncted to Death

[ 266 ] October 4, 2015 |


You may have heard about the Duquense University adjunct who died in dire poverty in 2013. Well it’s happened again, this time to a long-term adjunct at Seattle University.

When visitors walked into the dilapidated boardinghouse where Dave Heller lived, the smell alone could transport them back to their college days.

“It smelled like grad student,” jokes Charlie Fischer, a friend. “Like years of boiled noodles and rice.”

Except Heller was 61 years old and a philosophy instructor at Seattle University. Yet he lived in a room in a tenant group house in Seattle’s U District, with nothing but a bed, a fridge and his library of 3,000 books.

When he died earlier this year from an untreated thyroid condition, Heller was making only $18,000 a year teaching philosophy on a part-time, adjunct basis, his friends say. That’s about one-third the median income for a single person in Seattle, and barely above the federal poverty line.

“He had a beautiful life in that he lived exactly what he wanted, which was the life of the mind,” Fischer says. “But it had a cost. It was sad to see how little value society places on what he did.”

Fischer, who teaches English on a contract basis at Everett Community College, wrote an account of Heller’s life and death in Seattle Magazine earlier this month. Heller was described as being part of the nation’s “invisible faculty” — part-time or adjunct professors who increasingly do the teaching work at colleges but who often are paid little better than the cleaning help.

The pay adjuncts receive is deeply immoral, not allowing people to live lives of basic decency. And while I have stated before that people should not become long-term, full-time adjuncts because it puts you in a position to be exploited, the problem is not with the person who wants to live the life of the mind (if teaching freshmen writing 4 sections a semester for your whole life can be called that), but an exploitative academic system that relies on cheap labor to do the dirty work of teaching while creating ever larger and more well-compensated administrative positions that effectively recreate the university as a corporation, with all the economic inequality that implies. Unions for adjuncts is part of the solution, but only a part, as it’s not like unions of part-time faculty have the ability to raise wages to something someone can live on, at least not without a lot of outside help.

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