Thursday, January 31, 2008

Just Some Primary Stuff

I figure I should just get this stuff down before next week's Super Tuesday. What was a fascinating race has turned into the same old crap. Bye bye John Edwards, Rudy, and Mr. Law and Order. Huckabee remains in the Republican race to attract the anti-dinosaur vote and Ron Paul will stick around to spend all the money raised by my wacky libertarian buddies. But really, we're left with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democrats and John McCain and Mitt Romney for the Republicans. I'm not a fan of anyone left in the race, but I think I do prefer both the Democrats to Romney and McCain. Briefly, here are just a few thoughts on each of them.

John McCain- As I wrote in the last post, McCain is a moderate and let me come right out and say I don't like moderates. Moderates are liberals without the good intentions, conservatives without the philosophical underpinnings. I don't like McCain because of McCain-Feingold and the trashing of the First Amendment. I don't like McCain because he has a foreign policy that's just a bit too real for me. And it also scares me that he's admitted to having no understanding of economics, yet he wants to be involved in running the economy. Yes, he's opposed to pork barrel spending and has the right stance on immigration, but that just doesn't make up for the fact that he thinks the government needs to be butting it's nose in everyone's business- Just witness the baseball steroid scandal.

Mitt Romney- Mitt Romney's biggest problem is that he governed Massachusetts as a liberal Republican. The health care plan he adopted in Massachusetts is not all that different from the plans proposed by Clinton and Obama and he comes across as the ultimate corporatist. Just give him a chance, let him work with business, and he can get the country running smoothly again. And for my personal taste, he's taken a wrong turn on social issues, namely abortion. He talks like a conservative, but I can't help but thinking of him as the very worst of George Bush with no end to big government in site. And, truth be told, if he wasn't a Republican, would anyone really want to trust a governor of Massachusetts with matters of national security? Didn't think so.

Barack Obama- First, don't be fooled by the image of Barack Obama as "the honest" candidate. Sure, maybe he seems more trustworthy than Hillary or Romney, but he's still a politician. Truth be told, I don't think there's a lot of difference between his positions and Hillary's. And those positions are that they're Democrats that want to do a lot of stuff that I probably won't like. That being said, I think Barack has the potential to get a lot more done in Washington than Hillary- I don't think he'll face the same stiff opposition that Hillary would, and he has that affable, "get things done" sort of attitude.

Which is why the candidate that I've said would be president for the last three years, Hillary Clinton, is my ultimate choice as the lesser of 4 evils. In an odd way, she's the most trustworthy of any of the candidates. And by that I mean she basically wears her evil on her sleeve. We know she's a Clinton and we know what she's all about. I'm just not sure with the rest of them, especially with the supposed good guy, Barack Obama. Like Obama, I think she'll do a decent job of managing foreign affairs. But the truth is, I'm confident that the really big government liberal things I don't like about her will be stymied by Republican opposition.

My prediction is that Hillary will win the Democratic nomination, primarily because people will feel more confident with her baggage, good and bad, then they will with all of Barack Obama's promises of change. The Republicans are a bit more difficult to call, but I think Romney will have a slight edge because of all the conservative agitation the past week over McCain. It's possible you'll see a number of Huckabee supporters switch to Romney just to keep McCain from winning the nomination. We'll see.

McCain derangement syndrome?

A bit late to the party, here's Gerard Baker on McCain Derangement Syndrome. (Roger L. Simon has an interesting take on the disease that seems to be infecting conservatives here.) From Baker's piece:

I sense that the syndrome says something about what has gone so badly wrong with the conservative movement in the past ten years. It has become so intolerant and exclusive that once orthodox views are now regarded as heresy; while views once merely narrow and eccentric are now prerequisites for membership.

Baker's on target when he points out conservatives real problem with McCain is that he isn't one of them, but I think he's mistaken in seeing the McCain backlash strictly through the lens of narrow tribalism. I'd liken McCain to his good friend, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Just as when liberals rejected Lieberman, it's not a matter of particular views or positions, it's the feeling you're dealing with a politician who, not only isn't a part of your movement, but doesn't want to be a part of it. Witness both McCain and Lieberman's places in the Gang of 14, the bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators who sought a "peaceful solution" to the debate over conservative judicial nominees. McCain is a moderate, who happen to hold some views that place him in the Republican party, but he is not a philosophical conservative.

All that being said, the real interesting questions will come if McCain manages to win the nomination - how many conservatives will actually bite the bullet and pull the lever for him? Truth be told, I'm not sure liberal Democrats have ever faced a similar dilemma. Some candidates have been more centrist than others (Bill Clinton, obviously) and there are always questions about whether or not particular candidates are liberal enough, but I can't recall a real moderate or conservative Democrat running for national office in recent history.

The anger at McCain is an interesting phenomenon, but I'd put it in a slightly different category than Clinton or Bush hatred. Simon makes the point that McCain has done some conservative things, and of course, in the same vein, Bush did some liberal things and Clinton did some conservative things. So yes, you have scenarios where the hated figures probably aren't as bad as they're made out to be, but the phenomenon of Bush/Clinton hatred was far more simplistic and partisan than the emotions McCain arouses in conservatives. The fear McCain arouses is the fear of losing their party and the fear of losing a place at the table.

The McCain phenomenon is by far the most fascinating because he's the only candidate who faces the likelihood of being abandoned by a noticeable percentage of his party base. Remember the big deal made over Ralph Nader in 2000, when he supposedly took 1% of the vote from Al Gore. Even if only 5-10% of the Republicans out there decide not to vote for him, losing even a few percentage points in the general election could be a killer for McCain.

Super Bowl Hype, Part VI: Greg Easterbrook's Grudge

Sometimes Greg Easterbrook's anti-Patriots tone gets so shrill, I can't help but wonder if Bill Simmons played some sort of really mean practical joke on him. Easterbrook's latest column (linked above) is entitled "Conditional Immortality" and it implies that this great Patriot season will be forever tainted by the specter of spygate. Now I'm no genius, but didn't spygate occur week one? I can understand if you have some legitimate questions about what past Patriot teams did, but this year, they were caught after a week one blowout of the Jets and fined before their week two game with the Chargers. SO how is this supposed to taint the 18- hopefully 19- wins they have this season? I don't get it, but I guess it makes for a good story.

And this is probably just me making mountains out of mole hills, but Easterbrook points out that if the Giants won, this wouldn't be an upset of historic proportions. According to Easterbrook, the last big Super Bowl upset was the Giants win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV. And sure, that was an upset, but that game did feature the 13-3 Bills with the league's best offense and the 13-3 Giants with the league's best defense. Conveniently forgotten by Easterbrook is Super Bowl XXXVI, in which the two-touchdown underdog Patriots shocked the world by defeating the greatest show on turf ... on turf! Those Rams were 14-2 and poised for their second Super Bowl trophy in three years, while those Patriots were an 11-5 surprise that had gotten to the Super Bowl behind the tuck rule and a special teams extravaganza in Pittsburgh.

One thing Easterbrook has right is that very few people are predicting a blowout. Of course, very few people are also predicting a Giants win, which is probably for the reasons I've discussed before- Unless you're a Giants fan, why would you pick against Tom Brady in the 4th quarter? I know I'm on the verge of crowning the Patriots, but so is the rest of the media - It's not that a Giants win would be so shocking, it's that it would be shocking if the Patriots didn't finish off this season.

The Latest Drug War Tragedy - Virginia Officer Shot and Killed, Drug War Victim in Jail

Radley Balco has been throughly covering the latest Drug War raid gone wrong. I've included the relevant links below, after my own brief summary.

On Friday January 18th, the Chesapeake Virginia SWAT team executed a raid on the home of 28-year-old Ryan David Frederick based on the word of an informant who claimed Frederick was conducting a marijuana growing operation. During the course of the raid, Officer Jarrod Shivers was shot and killed by Frederick, who claims he never heard the police announce themselves and wasn't aware that it was police who were invading his home. According to Frederick, he feared the intruders were burglars, as his home had been mysteriously broken into several days earlier.

Frederick has now been charged with first degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and misdemeanor marijuana possession. The growing operation was actually a collection of Japanese maple trees and the gardening tools and equipment Frederick used for his gardening hobby. Here are the links to Balco's superb coverage:

Virginia Cop Killed In Drug Raid, Suspect Claims He Was Defending His Home
Update on Chesapeake Drug Raid
Update in Chesapeake
Back to Chesapeake
More From Chesapeake
News From Chesapeake
Back to Chesapeake

And just a few comments of my own- I know I've argued drug policy before on this blog, but these stories on drug raids are not as much about drugs as they are about police procedures. Once again, we have the tragedy of a cop losing his life and an innocent life ruined. If you support drug prohibition, then fine. But at least take the time to think about the tactics that are used in drug policing.

This tragedy yet again highlights some of the problems:

# The use of questionable informants and the planning of para-military type raids based solely on the word of informants. In this case, it's possible that the informant was Mr. Frederick's mysterious burglar and that he had mistaken the Japanese maple's for marijuana plants.

# The use of paramilitary force in no-knock or knock and announce raids. These raids tend to create chaos rather then diffuse it. Sure, there are circumstances when these types of raids are needed, but those circumstances should be limited solely to situations where police are likely to encounter violent resistance.

# The lack of real reconnaissance work prior to a military-style raid being conducted. Could you imagine the military conducting a planned raid, with no timing concerns, without at least attempting to ascertain who and what was in the building they planned on raiding?

It's been pointed out that maybe Frederick really was growing marijuana even if he wasn't caught with it- it certainly is possible, but even if he had a marijuana growing operation, that wouldn't make this any less of a tragedy. Maybe there'd be less sympathy for Frederick, but that wouldn't change the fact that these terrible tactics got Officer Shiver killed.

Others have made the argument in the past that no-knock armed raids are needed to catch drug criminals, because otherwise, they would have the opportunity to dispose of their drugs before the police could confiscate them. But this argument fails on it's face, at least as far as big time drug dealers go. In this case, if someone's conducting a marijuana growing operation, there's no way they could get rid of all the evidence if the cops knocked on the door with a warrant. The only ones who'd be able to get rid of their drugs would be the very small-time dealers and the casual drug users- hardly the types that require an armed SWAT team.

Here's the big thing- Why would Ryan Frederick fire at the cops and then surrender to them. If he really knew there were cops in his house and he knew he was firing at a police officer, surrendering moments later just doesn't make any sense. And given that all the police found was a personal amount of marijuana, why fire on the police in the first place. The whole thing just wreaks of tragedy- overzealous policing, lousy tactics, the inevitable dead officer and the innocent man in jail.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The One Where I Defend Big Pharma

For those of you interested in the controversy surrounding pharmaceutical companies and the price of drugs, Megan McArdle has a series of good posts in here blog. Good reading, particularly for those who hold negative feelings about "big pharma". I'll just list them, in order:

Supply Meet Demand
Prophets of Profit
Why Can't We Just Fund R&D From Advertising Budgets
Pharmaceuticals: Understanding Your Solution Set
Fantasy Pharma

It's a neat, brief little education for the economically illiterate. I enjoy Megan's writing because she's always very good about illustrating how and why markets work. and she doesn't shut her eyes to problems. As she points out, yes, it does hurt US consumers when foreign countries negotiate lower drug prices. But as she also points out, there's no good political solution to that problem- Price controls in other countries may result in costs being passed on to consumers, but price controls here would devastate the industry and severely reduce the flow of new drugs.

Of course, you're free to disagree with the idea that price controls would quash innovation, but as Megan points out several times, most of the evidence is not in your favor. But I suppose that's the difference between those who appreciate the free market and those who do not- Free market appreciators appreciate the benefits of the free market, but understand that it's not perfect and doesn't have the solution to all problems. Free market doubters look to government, because they'd like to think the government can solve any and all problems.

Updated 1/31/07 @ 9:35 AM : How Profitable Is Pharma?

Super Bowl Hype, Part V : The Greatest Dynasty Ever?

Steelers, Niners, or Patriots? Baring of course, that the Patriots win this one. If you're going to get all old school, then you'd have to include the Packers and the Browns too. As I've written before, it's just hard to compare modern teams with the teams of the earlier era. The Packers won NFL championships in 1961, 1962, and 1965, but to win those championships they only actually had to win one playoff game. Same with the Browns of the 50's. We shouldn't forget about football's past- if I get any requests, I'd be happy to do some blogging about it- but it just difficult to impossible to find a means of comparison between the Super Bowl era teams who've faced 14 and 16 game regular seasons, 3 playoff games, and a league of 30 some odd teams and the pre-Super Bowl era teams who played 12 games, had 1 championship game, and played in a league of 8-12 teams.

So we'll stick with the big boys. Sorry Dolphins, Cowboys, and anyone else who feels like they should be part of this discussion. The 70's Steelers, the 80's Niners, and the 00's Patriots. I was thinking of preparing a long post on the subject, but decided against it because it's all so damn subjective. One thing should be clear- today's Patriots would crush either of those teams. The players today are bigger, stronger, and faster, and the game is just so much more complex. But that's not really the point of the debate as you have to put each team within the context of its era.

Some nostalgic types like to call into sports radio shows and proclaim the Steelers the greatest team ever no matter what these Pats do- And let me just say, those people are idiots. Not because of their opinion, but because of the ignorant and arrogant way they have to go about stating it. By objective criteria, the Patriots probably will have a slight edge. If they win this Super Bowl, they'll have more playoff victories in their decade than either the Niners or the Steelers. Two playoff seasons of at least 10-6 in this decade's final two years will give them the same number of seasons in the playoffs and a slightly better winning percentage than either the Niners or the Steelers.

Of course, I'm never one to look at numbers alone and the truth would be that, along with 4 Super Bowl titles, all the other numbers would be pretty damn close. What your left with is a lot of emotion, and having to hear about those old Steeler teams, I now know what 49er fans in the 80's had to go through. The Steelers were the greatest team ever because they were so tough. Sure, fine, whatever. If that's your criteria. Just realize that when that's the argument you make, you take all the fun out of the debate.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Super Bowl Hype, Part IV: Chalk One Up For The Pats

That is, if they can finish off the Giants on Sunday. Last post I listed the four other teams worthy of being named the greatest single-season team in NFL history. I should note that I've looked solely to Super Bowl era teams, only because it's difficult to compare the Super Bowl era NFL to the game's earlier days. Prior to 1933, there was no regularly scheduled championship game, and from 1933-1965, the NFL consisted of 8-12 teams whose best met in a one game playoff. Prior to the Dolphins, no team ever won a championship after an undefeated regular season, yet there were nearly a dozen teams that won the championship following an 11-1 regular season. It's just not quite the same thing, so we'll stick to the modern era.

In terms of the Patriots four competitors, I'm going to dismiss two of them right off the bat. The '76 Raiders were a good team, but I've never heard them talked about in the discussion of greatest ever. Additionally, Patriot fans will remember how that Raider team got to the Super Bowl. In their first playoff game, those Raiders trailed the Patriots, 21-17 in the 4th quarter, and watched would should have been a game ending pass fall incomplete on 4th and 10. Instead, the officials called what Patriot fans still insist was a phantom roughing the passer call on Patriot defensive lineman Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton. (By the way, this was much worse than the tuck rule- replays showed that Hamilton literally hit Oakland QB Kenny Stabler as the ball was leaving his hands.) The Raiders went on to win the game, 24-21. The same Raider team played the Steelers in that years AFC Championship Game, winning 24-7 as Pittsburgh played without any of it's running backs. But beyond the [playoffs, those Raiders had a margin of victory of 8.1. Not just slightly less, but much, much less than any of the other teams under consideration.

I'm also going to dismiss the '72 Dolphins, because if the Patriots can complete this season, there's just not much in the way of comparison between the two undefeated teams. The Dolphins had always previously stood out and warranted consideration because of their unique status. But just look at the numbers- the Patriots were more dominating, beating the Dolphins in average margin of victory 19.7 to 15.3. And while the Dolphins beat two 8-6 teams during the regular season, this years Patriots took on and defeated six playoff teams- the Colts, Steelers, Chargers, Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins.

That leaves the Niners and the Bears, both teams that went through the regular season with only one loss. The Bears loss in 1985 is well known, the 38-24 game against Dan Marino's Dolphins in week 13. Not so well recalled in the public conscience is the '84 49ers only loss, a 20-17 game against the Steelers. Because the Bears had the big names, the nasty defense, and the rap video, the Bears tend to be a sentimental pick as the greatest team ever- but that 49er team shouldn't be forgotten about. Unlike the Bears, they were only three points away from an undefeated season. And just like the Bears, they rolled through the playoffs, beating the Giants 21-10, the Bears 23-0, and topping it all off by shutting down Dan Marino and his 48 TD passes, 38-16 in the Super Bowl. The Bears, of course, were just as dominant in the playoffs, shutting out the Giants and Rams before crushing the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The average margin of victory is close, 15.5 for the 49ers and 16.1 for the Bears- the Patriots is better at 19.7. This years Patriots also beat more winning teams. But here's the real clincher, at least in my mind. While the Patriots run through the playoffs has not been as impressive, I think the Patriots have faced tougher games throughout. The Bears and 49ers completed their one-loss seasons in the age before 24 hour sports media. The Patriots dealt with the specter of an undefeated season from September onward. And starting with the Eagles game they've faced a gauntlet of quality teams that have been gunning for them. To me, that's what most impressive- the Eagles, Ravens, Steelers, Giants, Jaguars, and Chargers have all given the Pats great games. People remember the Bears as a dominating team, and they were, but plenty of teams wilted in their path. Playing them in the Super Bowl back in January of 1986, the Patriots pretty much just rolled over and died. And yeah, I know, this years Ravens team wasn't very good, but you can't look me in the eye and tell me the Ravens defense wasn't terrifying on that Monday night game. The Bears lost their toughest challenge back in 1985 when Dan Marino came to town. This years Patriots have faced numerous tough challenges and emerged victorious each time. 19-0? If they get there, they'll certainly be worthy of the moniker greatest team ever.

Super Bowl Hype, Part III: Some Team Numbers For Now, Comments Later

If the Patriots finish 19-0, are they the greatest single season team of all-time? Here are some numbers of the other possible contenders for the that title. With all due apologies to the Steelers (who twice had two loss seasons), I've limited this discussion to the undefeated Pats, the undefeated Dolphins, and the Super Bowl winners with only one loss- the '85 Bears (18-1), the '84 49ers (18-1), and the '76 Raiders (16-1). Including two loss teams would throw more than ten more teams into the picture, making the discussion more than unwieldy. With that, here's a brief glance at the contenders:

The 1972 Miami Dolphins (17-0)
Avg. Margin of Victory = 15.3
Record Against Winning Teams = 2-0
Playoff Wins: 20 Browns 14, 21 Steelers 17, 14 Redskins 7

The 1976 Oakland Raiders (16-1)
Avg. Margin of Victory = 8.1
Record Againast Winning Teams = 4-1
Regular Season Loss = 48-17 @ Patriots
Playoff Wins: 24 Patriots 21, 24 Steelers 7, 32 Vikings 14

The 1984 San Francisco 49ers (18-1)
Avg. Margin of Victory = 15.5
Record Against Winning Teams = 4-1
Regular Season Loss = 20-17 vs. Steelers
Playoff Wins: 21 Giants 10, 23 Bears 0, 38 Dolphins 16

The 1985 Chicago Bears (18-1)
Avg. Margin of Victory = 16.1
Record Against Winning Teams = 5-1
Regular Season Loss = 38-24 @ Dolphins
Playoff Wins: 21 Giants 0, 23 Rams 0, 46 Patriots 10

The 2007 New England Patriots (18-0)
Avg. Margin of Victory = 19.7
Record Against Winning Teams = 7-0
Playoff Wins: 31 Jaguars 20, 21 Chargers 12

Super Bowl Hype, Part II: Just Some Numbers

In case you were curious, here are the top career playoff records of some of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks.

Joe Montana: 16-7
Tom Brady: 14-2
Terry Bradshaw: 14-5
John Elway: 14-7
Roger Staubach: 12-6
Brett Favre: 12-10
Troy Aikmen: 11-4
Bart Starr: 9-1
Jim Kelly: 9-8
Jim Plunket: 8-2
Steve Young: 8-6
Dan Marino: 8-10
Bob Griese: 7-5
Donovan McNabb: 7-5
Kenny Stabler: 7-6
Peyton Manning 7-7

And Career Playoff TD Pass Leaders:
1. Joe Montana- 31
2. Terry Bradshaw- 28
2. Brett Favre- 28
2. Dan Marino- 28
5. Troy Aikmen- 26
6. Tom Brady- 25
7. Peyton Manning- 24
8. Steve Young- 23
9. Roger Staubach- 21
10. John Elway- 20

Monday, January 28, 2008

Brief Political Thought Before Bed

I've always been bugged by some of the liberal criticism of libertarians- in particular, the line of thought that says "libertarians want to privatize the roads and our water, so lets not take them seriously." What's irritating is that the entire libertarian mode of thought is rejected because of the somewhat extreme (even among libertarians) position of road privatization. It's no different than rejecting all leftist thought because of the totalitarian implications of Soviet communism.

Libertarianism (in my mind) is a political philosophy that puts its faith in the individual and looks at all government action with skepticism. It's not so much a hard and fast world view as it is almost a methodology for examining the issues of the day. I don't look to libertarianism to provide cut and dry answers, but to provide guidance in my search for answers. I think the vast number of people that reject libertarian views do so not out of a real examination of the libertarian thought process, but as I said above, out of a jaded view of a few extreme positions.

No, Seriously, That's What I Was Saying - More Thoughts On The Welfare State

Megan McArdle questions the wisdom of the Food Stamp program and determines that the system only exists to protect people from themselves.

If people are genuinely so screwed up that when given enough money to buy what they need, they fail to purchase enough food to sustain life, then what they need is not food stamps, but 24 hour supervision. If people will buy alcohol or some other unnecessary instead of feeding their children, then they are probably neglecting their children in other ways requiring a stronger intervention than an EBT card.

This is the point I clumsily tried to make last week, albeit made much more cleverly. If I was a politician, these are precisely the sort of points I'd be making. Why not have a system that empowers people to take control of their own lives, rather than a system that treats those in need like perpetual children?

I know many people- libertarians, conservatives, and even some liberals- are opposed to government hand-outs, in particular, unconditional government hand-outs. But philisophically, I'm personally coming to the point where I think we need to move beyond the traditional welfare debate. We're a wealthy enough nation that mandatory taxation that helps the less fortunate hardly seems like the most pressing problem of big government. Instead of focusing on where this money goes, why don't we take a good hard look at how it gets there. Does helping the poor really require a massive federal bureaucracy? And does helping the poor really require intrusions into their lives and restrictions on the decisions they can make?

It's important to discuss what standard of living the government should ensure or if they should ensure any standard of living at all- those of all political stripes can contribute to that discussion. But does anyone want to come forward and actually defend the system we have now? The bureaucracy, the red tape, and the subjugation of the poor to the will of government experts making decisions in their best interests? Any defenders?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Super Bowl Hype, Part I : Are You Stupid?

ESPN's K.C. Joyner must have too much time on his hands, writing a column asking if Tom Brady's "gunslinger mentality" (you'll need ESPN insider access) might be getting him into trouble.

Joyner decided to take a look at the Pats last 5 games- the Jets, Dolphins, Giants, Jaguars, and Chargers- to examine Tom Brady's decision making, and apparently, the results aren't so good.

The totals are bad enough, but the variety of bad decision types is also unsettling. He stared at a receiver on two occasions, forced a pass into coverage on three others and didn't see a zone defender in the passing line two times, as well. These are quite simply the kinds of mistakes that Brady never used to make.

This might sound like piling on, but it actually could have been worse given how often Brady was forcing passes to Randy Moss. Three of Brady's bad decisions came on throws to Moss, but there were four other passes where Moss was either double- or triple-covered, yet Brady chucked the ball to him.

Having to force passes into coverage to keep Moss happy is exactly what caused a ton of friction between Daunte Culpepper and Moss when they were paired up in Minnesota, so this does beg the question of whether Brady is doing this to keep Moss happy.

What all of these notes say to me is that we might be seeing a new Tom Brady. For years, the one comment that could be safely made about Brady is that he was not going to beat the Patriots with his mistakes.

After seeing this metric review, I am beginning to wonder if Brady's playing it safe all those years was a byproduct of the below-average receiving corps that New England possessed during its earlier Super Bowl runs. Now that he has a top-of-the-line group of receivers, Brady seems quite willing to tap into the gunslinging part of his psyche and take many more chances.

The extra risk-taking has made for a very exciting year, but if Brady doesn't cut back on his mistakes against an opportunistic Giants defense in Super Bowl XLII, he may very well regret getting away from his safe tendencies.

Did Brady force the ball to Moss against the awful Jets and the awful Dolphins. Hell yeah he did- And Belichick, the rest of the Patriots organization, and the Patriot fans couldn't have cared less. Brady wanted Moss to get that damn record and so did the rest of us. I don't remember Brady forcing the ball to Moss in the game against the Giants and he's thrown, what, 3 passes in Moss's direction the last 2 weeks?

Brady was 26 of 28, 26 of 28 against the Jags, and had a few poor decisions against a Charger team that had intercepted him 4 times over their previous 2 games. And can we forget his performance against the Giants? 32 of 42, 356 yards, 2 TD's and 0 INT's. I just can't imagine what sort of brain dysfunction would inspire someone to come up with such meaningless numbers and to write something so stupid. Numbers are useful if they mean something, but you can't throw in two late season games against the bottom feeders of the NFL to make a point about Brady's decision making. And you can't use Brady's forcing the ball to Moss in those games in an attempt to make a point about his gunslinger mentality while ignoring what he's done in the playoffs. When it comes to football analysis, there's poorly thought out and there's stupid and this is just plain stupid.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Just A Brief Super Bowl Prediction

Stay tuned next week, as I'd like to blog a bit about the Patriots place in history before the Super Bowl actually happens and people get sick of NFL talk. For now, I'll just make a brief Super Bowl prediction. Obviously, I have the Pats winning, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn't want to take them to win by 14, or whatever the spread is at this point.

I'm not one of those guys who won't give the Giants a chance. They played the Pats close last time and there's no reason they can't do it again. They were a good team this year that's gotten better in the playoffs behind the play of Eli Manning. And they just don't have the look of a team waiting to get run over. As I've blogged about before, you don't get blowouts in the NFL without the consent of the loser, and I don't expect the Giants to be blown out. But win? You've got to be crazy. Brady and the defense have all been at their best in the 4th quarter this year. There's a reason this team is 18-0 and you better believe we're going to see why in yet another Super Bowl 4th quarter.

Pointless Post

Attempting to do a quick check of my e-mail earlier, I accidentally ended up at, the website you'd only discover while adding a very special K to the end of your web address.

I won't bother linking (you can check it out yourself if you really want), I just wanted to point out how awesome the internet is. You can type in the wrong address, and voila, right before your eyes are two separate links to Russian women, one for Russian brides, and another for "Russian wife." Also in the popular category list? Premature Ejaculation, Dating Service, Masturbation, Black Dating, and Breast Enhancement. I know, I know ... No penis enlargement, but, what ya gonna do?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Health Care Crisis, Big Brother's Best Friend

I was originally going to take a different tact on this piece in The Nation on The Hidden Health Care Crisis, which just so happens to be dental care. Rather than pontificate (or rant as the case may be) extensively on anything in particular, allow me to make a few brief points.

1- Some of the numbers cited are either inaccurate or meaningless. Dental decay affects 50% of children age 6-8? I'll be honest, I'm not sure if dental decay refers to cavities or not, but a childhood cavity is not exactly a medical crisis.

2- The case twelve-year old Deamonte Driver, the Maryland boy who died after an untreated tooth infection spread to his brain, is brought up. Truthfully so, the article laments the fact that $300,000 were spent trying to save him when he could have been saved by a simple $60, $70, $80 dentist visit. Of course, I'm not sure that's such an indictment of the current system. After all, who can't spend $80? Yes, I know people struggle, but a minimum wage worker working full time will earn almost $1,000 a month. Is paying your rent on time more important than the health of your child? Again, I'm not criticizing the fact that people are poor, I'm only pointing out that 80 bucks for the routine dental appointment you should have once or twice a year isn't a bank breaker.

3- The notion of subsidizing dental care drove into my head the real problems that America's poor face. It's not Wal-Mart or China or immigration or George Bush. It's the growing bureaucracy that provides more and more support for people in need rather than giving people the means to help themselves. Think about it- I'm sure plenty of liberals would love a program to ensure the poor receive proper dental care. But look at how many programs we have already. We have food stamps for food, housing assistance and public housing, Medicaid for the poor, and the oh-so frequent calls today for heating and energy assistance.

Liberals, libertarians, and conservatives, whatever your political stripes, just throw aside the questions of whether or not the government should help the poor and how much help they should give for a moment. Let's just start with the assumption that government is going to do something- If that's the case, does it really make sense to craft specific programs for every single problem poor people might face? After all, isn't the problem that poor people are poor- that they don't have enough money to afford all these basic expenses?

Milton Friedman was a proponent of a negative income tax, ensuring a minimum level of income for every American citizen. Dr. Friedman's point was that the current welfare system provided too many disincentives. But let's get even simpler than that. Go back to the list of separate programs for the poor and think of all taxpayer dollars that go into the bureaucratic structure that supports these programs. Wouldn't it be less expensive to have just one department responsible for helping the poor? And think of the poor themselves- Why complicate their lives by making them deal with numerous different agencies just to receive the basic assistance they need?

4- Ideas 2 and 3 up there, when taken into account together, reflect the real problem of adopting a let the disadvantaged help themselves type of system. There's still no guarantee people are going to make the "right" decisions. And this is the real reason behind our big government welfare system- It's all about government control and getting people to make "correct" choices. And this is exactly why the push for more and more government involvement in health care truly scares me- It's not about a deep-seeded resentment of the poor or even a philosophical opposition to re-distributive programs- It's about concern of the growing government power over our everyday lives and a distaste for the big government types who think that they know best as to how we should lead our lives and spend our money.

Arrested Blogging

Some fun from SpoutBlog: 5 potential plot lines for the Arrested Development Movie. Now the rumors of an Arrested Development movie are strictly rumors, but both Mitchell Hurwitz and Jason Batemen have spoken favorably about the idea. Here's to hoping they get to it soon, as opposed to ten years too late, like the Simpsons movie.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dog Blogging, the Good and the Bad

I don't do much personal stuff here, but I can't help but write about my dogs. My soon-to-be step-mother-in-law is a breeder of labrador retrievers and as I've written before, two of her six dogs live with my finance and myself- Callahan, a year and a half old chocolate boy and Devon, a nearly five-year old black girl. Devon was bred at the end of November and was expecting a litter of puppies sometime next week- at least she was until Monday night when we had to race her to the emergency vets.

She was a little sick on Monday, throwing up a few times, but dogs throwing up is not always a sign that anything is wrong. We were keeping an eye on her and when I came home, Devon wasn't even able to drag herself out of her own crate. She was clearly in pain and couldn't work up the energy to walk. We acted quick and got her to the emergency vets, where they quickly put her on an IV and gave her some antibiotics. Her condition improved over night and we planned to driver her to her usual vet on Tuesday morning to see if the puppies were still healthy and if they could be saved. Just before we picked her up, she expelled two of the puppies- neither had a heartbeat and had likely been dead for some time.

I didn't have much hope for the other puppies, but since getting her to her regular vet, she's given birth to two more living, breathing puppies. The first was a black boy, who, after being placed on oxygen, got up enough strength to nurse on his own and may be coming home with his mommy tonight. The second is a little black girl and we're waiting to here from the vet to see how she's doing.

The past few days have been such an emotional roller coaster and I can't believe an actual happy ending is in sight. Monday night, it took all my strength to pull the hundred plus pound pregnant Devon out of her crate and even more effort to carry her to the car. I was terrified that she wasn't going to make it, let alone any of the puppies. I didn't get much sleep Monday night worrying about her, so I was thrilled Tuesday morning when the ER vet brought her out on a short leash and she pulled away and trotted right up to me. Going from worrying about whether or not Devon is going to make it to actually having her safe and healthy with two puppies is nothing short of a miracle in my mind. It's tragic to have lost the first two pups, but I'm still almost in tears- in a good way- as to how this has turned out.

At this point, the worst part is my other dog, Callahan, has been forlorn ever since we took Devon away- I just wonder if, in his doggy mind, he thought that she was dying. He's such a sweet, compassionate dog, who spent most of the day Monday fretting over Devon and it sucks that there's no way for me to tell him that she's all right. I'll try and keep updating as to how the puppies are doing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lamest Blog On The Interwebs

No, not the one you're reading. That honor would belong to the New York Times Editorial Board. Take a gander. The link is to a post entitled "Hollywood and the Young Smoker" and it's all about my biggest concern, smoking in the movies. Apparently, movies seen by kids may actually have people smoking on the big screen. Worse yet, some of these movies may actually "glamorize" smoking!

The Pediatrics study found that in movies smoking is presented as sophisticated. What is generally left out? Cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and shortness of breath.

I sometimes wonder whether Hollywood glamorizes serial killers and assassins, but I guess, you know, first thing is first.

You would think the editorial board of the most influential newspaper in the world would have more important issues to opine on. I don't know who actually sits on the New York Times editorial board, but I can imagine a bunch of self-proclaimed "enlightened thinking people" sitting around a table in an office overlooking the New York skyline, wondering why the world just won't let them step in and solve all of the worlds problems.

Here's the thing- Yes I understand the desire to protect kids, but you need to have some understanding and give some respect to just who and what kids are. Yes, little kids emulate what they see in movies ... by playing ... little kids don't actually fight to the death because they see it in the movies or smoke a cigarette because they see it in the movies. Older kids begin to make adult decisions because that's the process of them becoming adults. Smoking rates have dropped and dropped and dropped over the past few generations because every kid, from a very young age, has the dangers of smoking drilled into them. If you asked older kids that smoke the reasons they started smoking, I'm sure, "Because Brad Pitt did it" would be pretty far down the list.

All this nonsense here? It's just asinine.

Thoughts From Championship Weekend

I figure the world is pretty bipolar when it comes to football, so some of you can rejoice that the football blogging here will soon come to an end, while the rest of you can lament the fact that we only have one football game left. Here's a few thoughts from Championship weekend.

1- I've been highly critical of Eli Manning in the past, but to give credit where credit is due, his run through the playoffs has been almost Brady-like. When it comes to quarterbacking, good things happen to those who take what comes to them and that's exactly the philosophy Eli seems to have adopted. His stat line yesterday was unimpressive, yet it was exactly what the Giants needed.

2- From the statistics don't mean much department, the Giants didn't sack Brett Favre once yesterday. The sack total didn't matter much, as Brett was under pressure all day. He never seemed comfortable and never seemed to find a rhythm. Pressuring the quarterback is important because you can take an offense out of it's game- it's not just about the sacks or even the turnovers.

3- In case you hadn't noticed, the Patriots have now gone six quarters without giving up a touchdown. Under Belichick, in the playoffs, they'd never gone six quarters without giving up a touchdown before.

4- For all the morons out there who thinks Michael Turner would be just as good as Ladanian Tomlinson, exhibit A is the Chargers rushing attack from Sunday. Turner finished with 65 yards on 17 carries- not terrible, but not all that good. More telling is the Chargers ineffectiveness in the red zone and the fact that only 2 of Turner's carries went for first downs (both 12 yard runs on first down). Maybe Ladanian would have made a difference in the game, maybe he wouldn't. Michael Turner certainly didn't.

5- It's funny that the 3 interceptions have people labeling this game Brady's worst of the year. As someone who's watched every game, I can say with certainty that Brady was better on Sunday than he was against the Jets or the Ravens and maybe even the Eagles. At times the Patriots looked out of sorts, but I think the Chargers just did a damn good job- especially early on- of blanketing the Patriot receivers. The Chargers managed two sacks, but I never had the sense that they were putting a lot of pressure on Brady. Watching the game, I never once had the sense that Brady was at all flustered. Yeah, the interceptions sucked, but they weren't game turning. Even if, say, the Chargers had scored touchdowns off of the two interceptions that led to field goals, that would have put the score at 21-20, and the Patriots would still have run the last 9 minutes off the clock.

6- I wonder what ever happened to those "the Patriots can't run the ball and can't stop the run" people?

7- For all the praise I gave Eli earlier, if that had been the Patriots that the Giants had been playing yesterday, the G-Men would not be so happy today. As a Patriot fan rooting for the Packers, the most frustrating thing about yesterday's NFC Championship game was the Packers complete and utter lack of adjustments. They gave up on the run too quickly and should have given up the screen and scat game in the first quarter. Contrast the Packers with the Patriots, who, finding their running game ineffective from their spread formation, brought in extra tight ends in the second half to run out of a tighter, more smash mouth package. If the Giants play a similar game in the Super Bowl, the Patriots will not hesitate to take advantage of the Giants inability to put the game away- and I don't just mean the missed field goals- I mean settling for field goals in general.

8- The Patriots are going to be huge favorites, which should serve to further galvinize the Giants and their "us againast the world" mentality. If I were a betting man, two touchdowns would seem awfully steep. I worry because I can think back to other Super Bowls where plucky underdogs playing good football pulled off the upset. In particular, two Super Bowls stand out, with very familiar faces. In 1991, an underdog Giant team ended the 49ers quest for a 3-peat in San Francisco before shocking the Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV. And in 2002, the Patriots came out of nowhere to beat the typically overconfident Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, before shocking the world with their 20-17 victory in Super Bowl XXXVI over the powerhouse Rams.

There are similarities- In both the historic cases and with the Patriots today, the favorite has an incredibly high powered offense, fueled by a dynamic passing attack and a well regarded, if not as dominating defensive unit. Hopefully the comparisons end there- Both those Giants and those Patriots had Bill Belichick. When it comes to the list of factors needed for an upset, the Patriots don't seem to fit the template. They're not overconfident and they don't look past anyone. They don't fail to adjust their game plan, a la the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. And they're fully capable of winning whether you speed the game up or slow it down.

In the back of my head is a 24-17 game in which the Rams beat the Patriots in week 11 of 2001. The Pats made a few mistakes, but gained confidence from the way they hung with the Rams, and didn't lose another game the rest of the way. But that doesn't sound familiar at all, does it? I should probably just be confident because the Pats have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, 18-0 this year, 14-2 in the playoffs together. I can name all the ways the Giants can ply with the Patriots, but that won't change that the Pats will have Tom Brady in the 4th quarter.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fun NFL Stuff

Neat little blog bit from ESPN's Jeremy Green on how Cornerback is the Most Overrated Position in Football.

Cornerbacks are only productive if the defensive line pressures the quarterback. You can draft corners high, you can spend big-time money on them in free agency, but if you don't have a defensive front that can get pressure, even the best athletes at the position will get beat. At the snap, the receiver has the advantage because he knows the play. The defensive back is at a huge disadvantage and every second the QB holds the ball that disadvantage only increases.

I could have told you the same- remember in 2004, when the Patriots went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl with Asante Samuel in his second season, Randall Gay starting as an undrafted rookie free agent, and Troy Brown playing nickel back? That secondary beat Peyton Manning and the Colts in the playoffs, 20-3, following the regular season in which Manning threw 49 TD's. I love Troy Brown, but come on. That should be all you need to know about defensive football being all about your front 7.

Why You'll Never See A Milton Friedman T-Shirt

An excerpt of Peter Saunder's article, Why Capitalism Is Good For The Soul:

The problem for those of us who believe that capitalism offers the best chance we have for leading meaningful and worthwhile lives is that in this debate, the devil has always had the best tunes to play. Capitalism lacks romantic appeal. It does not set the pulse racing in the way that opposing ideologies like socialism, fascism, or environmentalism can. It does not stir the blood, for it identifies no dragons to slay. It offers no grand vision for the future, for in an open market system the future is shaped not by the imposition of utopian blueprints, but by billions of individuals pursuing their own preferences. Capitalism can justifiably boast that it is excellent at delivering the goods, but this fails to impress in countries like Australia that have come to take affluence for granted.

It is quite the opposite with socialism. Where capitalism delivers but cannot inspire, socialism inspires despite never having delivered. Socialism’s history is littered with repeated failures and with human misery on a massive scale, yet it still attracts smiles rather than curses from people who never had to live under it.(2) Affluent young Australians who would never dream of patronising an Adolf Hitler bierkeller decked out in swastikas are nevertheless happy to hang out in the Lenin Bar at Sydney’s Circular Quay, sipping chilled vodka cocktails under hammer and sickle flags, indifferent to the twenty million victims of the Soviet regime. Chic westerners are still sporting Che Guevara t-shirts, forty years after the man’s death, and flocking to the cinema to see him on a motor bike, apparently oblivious to their handsome hero’s legacy of firing squads and labour camps.

Environmentalism, too, has the happy knack of inspiring the young and firing the imagination of idealists. This is because the radical green movement shares many features with old-style revolutionary socialism. Both are oppositional, defining themselves as alternatives to the existing capitalist system. Both are moralistic, seeking to purify humanity of its tawdry materialism and selfishness, and appealing to our ‘higher instincts.’ Both are apocalyptic, claiming to be able to read the future and warning, like Old Testament prophets, of looming catastrophe if we do not change our ways. And both are utopian, holding out the promise of redemption through a new social order based on a more enlightened humanity. All of this is irresistibly appealing to romantics.

The Truth Is Out There, Somewhere

USA Today has a first glance at the new X-Files movie, which, as of now, still remains nameless. It's exciting news for X-Files fans like myself, who enjoyed the series during it's initial run and have continued to enjoy it in the digital age.

I understand this is going to be a stand-alone type movie, unconnected with the well-tread mythology plot line the show had beaten to death during it's nine years on the air. And that's probably a good thing, as even devoted fans might have trouble following another conspiracy installment. My only concern is that Chris Carter says the movie will pick up right where the tv series left off- and the tv series ended with Mulder fleeing from a military death sentence, joined by Scully in the New Mexico desert. As both had abandoned the FBI and were no longer a part of the X-Files, I'm just not sure how you segway the tv ending into a scary movie ... Unless of course you have private citizens Mulder and Scully driving their Mystery Machine into Dead Man's Gulch, the small town where all the good people have been scared off by ghosts, leaving behind only the not-at-all suspicious Texas oil man who'd like to drill right in the middle of the town's main street.

But I'm hopeful. Either way, I'll be there.

Updated 1/17/08 @ 3:00 PM : TV Guide is a bit more reassuring:

"This is really a continuation of the series, imagining how the characters' lives have evolved," explains Carter, who cowrote and is directing the movie. "It's a stand-alone story that owes everything to the series, but not the mythology of the series. What we'll be dealing with is government-based as far as the conspiracy goes, but expect this not to be a revisitation [of the show's convoluted conspiracy]."

FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) will still be at the center of the story, and Studio 60's Amanda Peet and rapper Xzibit have been added to the cast as fellow agents. "This is really a continuation of the series, imagining how the characters' lives have evolved," Carter explains.

Except for the Xzibit part.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

And Ron Paul makes the libertarians say ...

Reason's Julian Sanchez and David Weigel take on the question of who wrote the Ron Paul newsletters. As most libertarians are aware, the issue of Ron Paul and his newsletters has incited a shit storm within the movement- just take a look at the comments on the Sanchez-Weigel piece. Any semblance of intellectual debate has disintegrated into playground style name-calling between the "paleo-libertarians" (representing middle America?) and the"cosmopolitan-libertarians" (representing urban centers and the Beltway?).

I suppose this is why libertarianism never gets anywhere- even when we can agree on 90 something percent of the issues, we still can't get along. From the start of his presidential run, my feelings about Ron Paul have ranged from ambivalent observer to concerned citizen. I always thought my feelings stemmed from an uncomfortableness with his foreign policy, but now I'm not sure that's the whole story. Most of the other members of the Reason staff share Paul's views on Iraq, but I'd have no bones about voting for any of them. No, there's something else about Paul that always troubled me and the newsletter fiasco and this whole debate seems to have brought the real problems to light.

Some of Paul's supporters are just plain downright fanatical. Witness the hostility when anyone at Reason has the gall to question their candidate- Never mind the fact that Reason has always been a voice of political discourse, not a mouthpiece for politically aspiring libertarians. I've been a regular to the Reason website since college precisely because they are a reasoned voice of libertarian philosophy and policy. My problem with Ron Paul is not that he's crazy, but he plays to the crazy card. And judging from these old newsletters, it seems as though Paul has never had a problem playing to the angry and the conspiracy-minded.

One of the commenters on Reason attempted to make the point that libertarianism is in contradiction with itself when it simultaneously exalts the individual and shuns the racists and conspiracy nuts. But such a comment really misses the boat. Libertarians certainly believe that individuals have the rights to have stupid beliefs, but there's nothing that says that we should get in line behind everyone else who claims the libertarian label.

I do believe in the idea of big tent libertarianism. I think a substantial portion of the public can be convinced to think in a libertarian way- say, something simple like "less government is better,"- but I think such a movement needs open, flexible, and politically feasible leadership. And that means no racists, no conspiracy nut jobs, and no crazies of any variety. Real-world political movements that actually seek to be influential can't survive crazy. Ron Paul is living proof- he's raised a hell of a lot of money, but no one in their right mind expects him to poll better than 10 or 15%.

In the end, I just don't want there to be a long term association between Ron Paul and libertarians. I don't want libertarians to be seen as closet racists and I don't want libertarians to be seen as wacko conspiracy nut jobs. I don't want the label personally and the label does nothing to advance the cause of liberty. Yeah, racists and nut jobs can get some things right when it comes to government and politics. But that doesn't mean we want to invite them to our party.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The War On MySpace Continues

Forget cyber-bullying. MySpace has agreed to new security measures, thanks to the legal bullying of Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal and other state attorney generals. Of course, despite MySpace going above and beyond the call of duty in their efforts to protect children, there are still those who insist that MySpace must do more to protect children.

I'm beyond getting frustrated with the nannyism, political pandering, and political strong-arming that have become the bane of social networking sites everywhere. I'm just still amazed that more people don't see through the bullshit. As the telegraph article (the last link) notes, both sex offenders and children are unlikely to open accounts in their real names- And short of legally eliminating all anonymity on the internet, it's difficult to imagine a legal solution which would prevent children from meeting and talking to creepy and/or dangerous adults on the internet.

The sad truth is that the rhetoric of the politicians and the AG's doesn't fit the reality that everyone who uses MySpace is familiar with. Apparently, 20% of teen MySpace users have met up with someone they had never previously met in person. 20%! Of millions of users! Think of how many millions have met up with no problems. Politically, it's more feasible to focus on the website that makes connections possible rather than focus on the stupid decisions teenagers make. But it doesn't make it right - The MySpace debacle highlights everything wrong today with public perception of government, public perception of the law, and the media's complicity in fear-mongering at every possible turn.

Funny and Not Funny

My good friend McBlog! and I are always down for a good pop culture discussion. I believe I blogged a ways back that we were in a golden age of television- at least we were before the writer's strike. We both feel as though there are a number of great shows on the air- shows that are thoughtful, well-written, and well-produced. Shows that have a lot more substance than what we've historically thought of as television fare. What amazes both of us is the utter crap that persists in the face of all the good television out there. Case-in-point is the supposedly most watched comedy in America, CBS's Two and a Half Men. We've both caught bits and pieces and neither of us can really make it through an entire episode. The problem is, after watching a gem like Arrested Development, or even a not-so-subtle, over the top wonder like It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it's just plain hard to enjoy the traditional sitcom anymore. The snappy one-liners and the canned laughter just don't do it for us, not to mention the one-sided, uninteresting characters, the cliched plots, and the boring production value.

McBlog! and I were having an e-mail exchange last week when I came across a couple of dialog bits that oh-so-perfectly illustrates my point.

First, take a gander at this back and forth from the supposedly most watched comedy in the country, Two and a Half Men:

Charlie: I remember your high school friend Jamie Eckleberry. We used to call her Eckleberry Hound.
Alan: You used to call her that.
Charlie: I didn't name her that. I just spread it around. Hey, be sure to keep her off the rug.
Alan: Very funny. You know she's very successful in her field.
Charlie: Oh, how nice. She has a field to run around in!
Alan: This is getting old.
Charlie: In people or dog years? Look, I'll be nice. I'll say hello... then scratch behind her ears.
Alan: Are you done yet?
Charlie: I hope she looks fetching. OK, now I'm done.
[There's a knock at the door. Jamie enters, wearing a curve hugging dress and showing off lots of cleavage]
Charlie: [with his mouth hanging open] Woof!

Then, take a look at this bit from the final season of Arrested Development:

Michael: Her name's Rita. She teaches children at a private school and we're just having lunch.
G.O.B.: Oh, lunch? Well, better bring some dog food. 'Cause all the girls you date are dogs, and... dogs love dog food, right, Pop?
Larry (the surrogate, speaking for George Sr.): Shut up, you idiot. I’m trying to watch the game.

I think one of the stand-out aspects of the new breed of TV comedies- be it Arrested, or the Office, or 30 Rock- is the well written dialog and the realistic character interactions. In Two and a Half Men, Charlie's insults of Alan's former girlfriend are supposed to be funny- then the real kicker is supposed to be the girl showing up as a knock-out. It's a joke we've seen hundreds of times before, punctuated by Charlie's "woof."

In Arrested, with a similar joke about the lead man dating "dogs," the joke is really on Gob, both for making such a lame joke in the first place and for executing it more awkwardly. And while the Two and a Half Men joke doesn't provide us with any character or theme development, the Arrested joke provides us with both. In season three, Gob continually works for the approval of his father, George Sr., who continues to ignore him and/or call him an idiot. Additionally, Gob's awkward comment is met with a response from Larry Mittleman, George Sr.'s "surrogate," while under house arrest, who serves as George's eyes, ears, and mouth as George watches from his bedroom.

In other words, the Two and a Half Men joke is a perhaps too long attempt at wringing laughs out of a mediocre-at-best joke. Some of the comments themselves are clever, but the overall tone of the joke is lame and the ultimate punchline is expected. Meanwhile, Arrested provides us with humorous awkwardness, character development, and a bit of utter ridiculousness in a conversation that doesn't have to slow down to let the viewer in on the joke.

My point in writing is only to point out this fairly useful illustration. It's not that Arrested and similar shows don't go for cheap laughs- A comedy program can't help itself at some points. The point is that cheap laughs and cliched plots have traditionally been the realm of tv comedy, but the most interesting shows have moved beyond those traditions with a more interesting range of personalities, subtle character development, and jokes that zoom by at lighting fast speed. Shows like Arrested Development and now 30 Rock suffer in the ratings, not because of any lack of quality, but because of the slow pace at which many Americans are adjusting to television that actually has artistic merit. With shows like the Sopranos we've seen a shift in people's expectations of dramatic programming, but that same shift has been a bit slower when it comes to comedies. One thing is certain - Laugh track is dying off. And may we bid it a swift, yet painful death, as we welcome back the opportunity to decides for ourselves what is and isn't funny.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pats Down Jags

Sorry football fans. I thought I had posted this Sunday morning:

I blogged Friday on the reasons it would be stupid to pick the Jaguars to win. And I was right, for precisely the right reasons.

[T]o really pick against the Patriots this year you have to explain why you're going to beat them in a close game. You have to explain why you're picking against Tom Brady in the 4th quarter.


[H]ow can you pick David Garrard, Jack Del Rio, and the Jags defense in a close spot over Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Pats defense.

David Garrard played great- the Jags defense didn't, but they did shut down the Patriots down field passing attack. But the Jaguar offense that seemed to have it's way with the Patriot defense managed only two second half field goals and Tom Brady completed 26 of his 28 passes for 3 TD's. In the end, the field goals rather than touchdowns had the Jaguars trailing on the road and Garrard threw a 4th quarter pick to seal the win for the Pats.

The Patriots pursuit of perfection has been a fertile source for material for the discussion of football, in part because so many people have followed the games, but also because the Patriots offensive prowess has challenged some traditionally held notions about both offense and defense. Last night's game was no different. I'll touch on just a few points worth talking about.

1- Just delve into the past of Bill Belichick and you'll see a formula for dealing with high power offenses- drop defenders into pass coverage, play bend but don't break, and control the clock on offense. It's a game plan that helped the Giants win Super Bowl XXV over the Bills and the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI over the Rams. It's the game plan the Jaguars tried last night and it was an absolute failure. The Jaguars did succeed in slowing the game down, but they never once stopped the Patriots. That 31 points would have been more if not for a missed field goal and a Wes Welker third down drop. It's not just that Brady was 26 of 28- it's that he made it look so easy. The Patriots put up 27 on the Ravens and 31 on the Eagles back in November, but anyone who's watched all of these games will tell you that the Patriots had to fight tooth and nail for those points back in November. If the Jaguars offense hadn't been so efficient, the Patriots would have put up something similar to the 52 they put up when the Redskins rolled over back in October. The Jaguars proved that you can't sit back and hope for the best against Tom Brady- you have to take chances, blitz, blitz, and blitz some more, and hope that you can create turnovers that will match the Patriots production throwing the ball down the field. Give credit to the teams that were willing to go all out in the regular season- the Eagles, the Ravens, and the Giants.

2- The Patriots defense looks incredibly vulnerable. For the second game in a row, an opponent marched down the field to score an opening touchdown. The Jaguars scored on two of their first three possessions, the only non-score being the David Garrard fumble. What's interesting is that the Jaguars actually only scored two touchdowns. Anyone who watched the game can recall, quite clearly, the site of the Jaguars marching up and down the field all over the Patriots. Yet they only scored two first half touchdowns and managed only 4 scoring drives. The Patriots, like the Jaguars last night, have been playing the bend but don't break all year. And, if you really think about it, it's the perfect defense to complement their offense. They don't allow big plays or easy scores. Pats fans can count on one hand the number of big plays they've allowed all year. As I've blogged before, the run defense has been solid, with the exception of two second half drives against the Ravens. The pass defense has been inconsistent, at times giving up a maddening number of short passes. Yet for all the flaws in the secondary- particularly in the coverage skills of some of the older veterans- they've done what they've needed to- kept the Patriots in the game. The several times they allowed the Patriots to fall behind by double digits- against the Colts and the Giants- they've made key plays at the end of the game to allow the Pats to come back.

3- Every close game the Patriots have played this year has been similar. As I was just saying above, the defense has come through with key plays in the 4th quarter of every close game. And then, of course, there's Tom Brady. You can point to flaws in this Patriots team, but if you look to the 4th quarter of the close games they've played this year and you'd be hard pressed to find any flaws. And now, to top it all off, Maroney is running like he has a firecracker up his butt. We're at 17-0 and I'm loving the Pats chances more and more.

4- The Jaguars didn't run the ball particularly well, but it just goes to show that numbers mean little in analyzing the effectiveness of a running game. The Jaguars stuck with their running game, even when trailing, effectively mixing the run and the pass. They finished with under 100 yards on the ground, but perhaps with memories of Baltimore in their minds, the Patriots did not alter their defensive approach, even as Jacksonville continued to shred them through the air. The Patriots, meanwhile, ran the ball very well, although most of their yardage was due to Jacksonville's focus on preventing the big play down the field.

Updated 1/15/2007 @ 10:05 AM : Now that we know the Pats will be playing San Diego next week, I'll just add a few more thoughts. The Pats should win this game, but I guess the Colts should have won too. I think the Charger defense is better than it was when the Pats played them in week two, but it still doesn't scare me very much. Now I suppose you can make the same points about Peyton Manning as I've been making about Tom Brady ... and seriously, who would have picked Phillip Rivers/Billy Volek over Manning ... but here's the thing. Brady's a better playoff quarterback, a better big game quarterback than Manning, period. Brady's playoff record is now 13-2, including 7-0 at home. Manning, on the other hand, is 7-7 in the playoffs, 4-3 at home, with all 3 losses coming when the Colts had the bye. Just try and conjure up the situation where Brady loses a playoff game at home. See you at 18-0.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Pats lose this weekend? Don't be silly

I haven't gotten the chance to blog about yet, but congrats to the Patriots for going 16-0. Now, the playoffs has started and the undefeated regular season won't mean very much if the Pats are upset. The first challenge is this Saturday night against a Jacksonville team that many think may be the hottest in the league. Most prognosticators are picking the Patriots. There are a few stragglers, which is fine, but ESPN's Jeremy Green is so confident of a Jaguars victory he put up a column to tell the sports world that Jags are going to win.

The story irritates me a bit and not because I have a case of Patriot cockiness. I understand the fun of picking the underdog and I understand that sometimes we just get these gut feelings about what's going to happen in a game. But that's not real analysis. Green gives about four reasons why the Jaguars are going to win. The first is the respect factor, the second is that the Patriots defense is overrated, the third is that the Jaguars dominating running game will help keep the Patriots offense off the field, and the fourth is that the Jaguars will win the turnover battle. Actually, Green doesn't actually say the Jags will win the turnover battle, just that they have to win it in order to win the game. So I suppose, in his mind, it makes sense to pick the Patriots to lose the turnover battle. Not that it couldn't happen, but why on earth would you make a prediction like that?

As to Green's other three points, the first one, the respect factor, is just plain meaningless. Clearly Jacksonville is confident and has the right mindset to come in and beat the Patriots- but that doesn't mean they're going to do it. The Patriots aren't the overconfident Bill Cowher Steelers of earlier days who always seemed to anoint themselves AFC Champions before actually making it that far. The Patriots, like the Jaguars, will be confident and well-prepared. So in terms of actually picking a winner, this respect factor means .... nothing. As to the Patriot defense and the Jaguars running game, there's some truth here. The Jaguars may be able to control the clock and score some points. But here's the real kicker. Do you really think the Jags are going to have this game out of Tom Brady's reach in the 4th quarter? According to Green,

The Patriots have dominated teams with their talent and because they're intimidating. But Del Rio isn't easily intimidated and neither are the Jags.

And this is exactly the sort of argument that completely misses the point. The Patriots didn't go 16-0 this year because they demolished playoff teams like Washington and Pittsburgh at home. The Patriots went 16-0 because they overcame an 11 point deficit to beat the Colts, 24-21, they fought tooth and nail with Eagles for a 31-28 win, they got beat up in Baltimore and came away with a 27-24 win, and they came back from 12 points down to beat the Giants, 38-35. A few things don't work out and this is a 13-3 or 14-2 team. Still good, but maybe not one of the best all-time. This is an undefeated team because they win close games. This is an undefeated teams because the vulnerable looking defense always seems to stiffen and make big plays at key moments. This is an undefeated team because they have Tom Brady, who never seems to panic and who may be the best clutch quarterback in league history.

Every reason listed by Jeremy Green are reasons that the Jaguars will play a close game and not get blown out. Good! But to really pick against the Patriots this year you have to explain why you're going to beat them in a close game. You have to explain why you're picking against Tom Brady in the 4th quarter. Once again, I'm not writing here out of cockiness, just common sense. If you want to make the case for Peyton Manning or Brett Favre, go ahead. They could match Brady TD for TD if they needed to. And while the Packers are young, the Colts are the defending Super Bowl champions, a team with veterans at every key position.

I certainly don't think the Pats have an easy road to 19-0, but I love their chances because they're so good in tight games. It's ridiculous to suggest any of the home teams this weekend are in for a blowout (unless Tony Romo's hand is still screwed up and he has one of his 4 INT games), so to make something other than a random chance case for an upset, you've got to explain why the road team is going to win a close game. Jeremy Green can't do that because it would look stupid- how can you pick David Gerrard, Jack Del Rio, and the Jags defense in a close spot over Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Pats defense.

R.I.P. "The Ron Paul Revolution"

I wanted to post a big "told you so!" as the story broke the other night, but I just didn't have the time. For all the non-libertarians out there (or for the libertarians who may have been living in a hole in the ground), it was this story by The New Republic's James Kirchick that blew the lid off the story of the Ron Paul newsletters. Dating back to the 80's and 90's, these newsletters, published in Paul's name crossed the line of acceptable discourse into the realm of race-baiting and race-fear mongering. Now, the libertarian movement is abuzz, and many libertarians, particularly younger ones who have contributed to the Paul campaign, feel more than a bit betrayed. It's important to note that Paul himself did not write the offending material- but it was published in a newsletter bearing his name. There's tons of coverage on all the libertarian blogs, but Reason has a decent round-up of the early reactions. More investigative work from Reason's Matt Welch here and Ron Paul's reaction on CNN here.

Here's the "told you so!" from my blog back in November.

Ron Paul may invoke excitement from some libertarians, but I suspect much of his popularity and support stems from the anti-authoritarian, anti-political, libertarian generalists - not to mention anti-war folks, the protect our borders crowd, and other assorted conspiracy theorists and anti-internationalists. Listening to Dr. Paul in the debates and during his speeches, I just don't feel the libertarian message about the positive aspects of individuality coming across- I don't hear a Regan-esque message of morning in America. Something about the Paul campaign seems darker and that's what scares me. I'm the sort of libertarian- and I believe there are any number out there like me- who thinks that despite my many concerns, this country and our lives are getting better and better. I fear the soft hand of a nanny state, not the clenched grasp of a police one. It just seems to me as though Dr. Paul and his supporters fear a shadowy federal government and that fear has manifested itself in the same way some Republicans have manipulated the fear of terrorism.

My qualms are not just that Ron Paul isn't the right candidate for me - I don't thing he's the right candidate to be carrying the libertarian banner. Even forgetting about the foreign policy question, I just don't think Ron Paul- or his supporters- are the way we want libertarians to be identified. We should want libertarians to be identified with the positive- the positive power of markets and the positive power and abilities of the individual. Ron Paul's message and this pseudo-libertarian spin is merely reactionary and I can't find much hope in it. I think sometimes libertarians get ahead of themselves when it comes to politics and tend to support candidates that do little to help the cause. I hope I'm wrong about Ron Paul and the public perception of libertarianism, but I fear I may be right.

This controversy wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it stems from the same philosophical groundings. I mean, for God's sake, Paul went on CNN earlier this year and said the Civil War was unnecessary. And there's probably some validity to that point, but only as a historical exercise. A politician in this day and age dredging up the Civil War as a controversial topic can't help but attract closet racists. As I wrote back in November, I can't help but feel that the Paul campaign was reaching for the past- and some of that past fits right into paleo-conservative notions of states rights and other philosophical concepts that were utilized by racists.

I don't think Ron Paul is a racist, any more than anyone else of his generation is. And unlike some libertarians, I don't feel personally betrayed or have any desire to find out the names of who actually wrote the offending material. I don't really even care what it says about Paul's leadership credentials (Would we really want a President who has no idea about all the nonsense that goes on in his name?). My concern is, and always has been, what effect the Ron Paul revolution will have on the perception of libertarian ideas. And I was worried before this scandal came to the limelight. I don't like to be grouped with racists or even semi-racists. I don't like to be grouped with conspiracy nuts. There's nothing wrong with the fact that the Ron Paul campaign attracted some weird people- the problem is, Paul's ideas themselves allowed some of the real wacko elements to feel at home in his campaign.

Updated 1/11/2007 @ 3:05 PM: I like the Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin's take on Ron Paul :

Paul's position on evolution is of a piece with other indicators that he's less a libertarian than a far-right populist. It is consistent with his penchant for right-wing conspiracy theories, such as the supposed plan to form a "North American Union," his opposition to free trade agreements on the ground that they undermine "sovereignty," and his nativist (and highly unlibertarian) position on immigration. Unfortunately, it's also consistent with his having published far-right racist, anti-Semitic, and conspiracy-mongering articles in his political newsletters in the late 1980s and early 90s. Even if Paul didn't endorse their content, he clearly was willing to associate with the sorts of people who believe these things and didn't mind letting them take control of the content of his publications.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Horse Race, Part II

As a closet Rush Limbaugh fan, it's been extra interesting to listen to the conservative radio icon the past few weeks. For my money, Rush has always stood out as the voice of conservatism- both the parts I agree and disagree with. Rush has struggled to identity with any of the Republican candidates because none of them really fit the conservative template. Huckabee's supporters have been particularly aggressive in attempting to get Rush to recognize Huckabee's conservative positions on abortion and other social issues, yet Rush has consistently pointed out that a few social positions alone does not a conservative make. On economic issues, Huckabee seems to sound much more like a big government Democrat.

When it comes to the rest of the field, Fred Thompson seems conservative, but he has as much appeal as Law and Order: Trial by Jury. Rush hates John McCain and has made no bones in the past about saying that the man is not a conservative, which really only leaves Giuliani and Romney as possible Rush candidates of choice. I think, in the end, Rush could be happy with either Giuliani or Romney, but both have their downsides as far as conservatives go. Giuliani's downsides are a bit more transparent- his liberal social views on abortion, gay rights, and gun control. Romney's a bit more problematic, as he seems to have renounced all of the big government northeastern Republican bills he championed as governor of Massachusetts.

The problem for the Rush Limbaugh conservatives is that every candidate represents some sort of philosophical sacrifice, although clearly, some are worse than others. I really have no idea which Republican will ultimately win the nomination, but here are a few predictions on what might happen if particular candidates win:

* I think most conservatives would support McCain, however grudgingly. Even Rush would be on board because Hillary or Obama are certainly no better. The media still loves McCain, but I wonder whether he's too old at this stage of his career to really play the part.

* Romney seems to be the establishment candidate of choice, although the real question is how Evangelical Republicans will respond to a Mormon candidate. Out of the four here I think Romney is the most likely to fail in the general election. I just can't see how a guy who looks the part of a politician would fair well in a general election after repositioning themselves as a conservative Republican. He'll either have no appeal to moderates or he'll come across as a spineless, flip-flopping politician.

* Guiliani has the same centrist appeal of McCain, but with much more pull among the Limbaugh style conservatives. Guiliani stands a chance in a general election, but any presidential race about Guiliani will be all about 9-11 and Islamic terrorism, but not so much a policy type issue. Rather the race will end up being a referendum on 9-11 and terrorism in general. Not just the importance of terrorism, but how sick will middle of the road voters get of Guiliani bringing it up.

* Huckabee winning the nomination could literally mean a Republican crack-up. If you listen to what he says, Huckabee may actually be to the left of Hillary and Obama when you take the big social issues out of the picture. In my mind, Huckabee is an example of compassionate conservatism gone horribly wrong- a populist out to bring government into everyones' lives, melding the worst of the Democrat and Republican platforms. If Huckabee somehow managed to win, there may well be some conservatives who would not vote for Huckabee not only because of principle, but because the Democrat alternatives just didn't seem any different.

The Horse Race, Part I

I've been kicking around this post for a few days and figured I'd just post what I've got as a list of random thoughts about the Primaries and the Presidential Race thus far. I'm not going to bother linking because either your interested and following this stuff, or your not.

* Generally, my interest in horse race politics is somewhat limited, but I've been fascinated this year by the real lack of front runners. It's great for democracy and a great counterpoint to those who think election outcomes are bought and predetermined. Who's the Republican candidate of choice? C'mon, where's all the big money going? I think even the conspiracy theorists may be having a hard time.

* The press has gone mad with the "Hillary sheds tears" story. I don't see what the big deal is. Is it really all that surprising that Hillary won New Hampshire, despite whatever the polls may have said? I have trouble believing elections are really swung by all the stupid minutia the media would have us believe. It's not that some people won't pull the lever because of perceived personal traits, I just don't think it's possible to determine which voters are actually making decisions like that. A lot goes in to people's calculations of who to vote for and the general media spin of "New Hampshire voters responded to Hillary's tears" seems far more unproductive than it actually is enlightening.

* All that being said, I think Hilary has the potential to attract apolitical voters who'd like to see a women in the White House. I don't know if that's what happened in New Hampshire, but there are many women (and some men) who would vote for Hillary because they don't give a damn about Barack Obama's message of change or the John Edwards rhetoric of class warfare.

* I really have trouble enjoying the Simpsons anymore, but they did have a great moment on last Sunday's episode when Homer, Carl, and Lenny take part in a political focus group after Springfield's primary is moved up to be the first in the nation. The first response when the focus group begins: "The punch is too sweet!"

* I'll defer to 30 Rock and Tina Fey's Liz Lemon to tell us what really happened in New Hampshire:

There is an 80% chance in the next election that I will tell all my friends that I'm voting for Barack Obama but I will secretly vote for John McCain.

What's interesting isn't that people might be lying to pollsters because they're secretly racist, but that people might lie to pollsters because they want to come across as progressive and racially sensitive.

* John Edwards is a complete tool. I could deal with a Hillary presidency because Republicans would stonewall her at every turn and an Obama presidency could be tolerable, but an Edwards presidency would be like FDR's presidency without World War II or any semblance of dignity. I'd actually love for Edwards to be president, just so people could see how empty his anti-corporate, populist rhetoric actually would be if put into action. Actually, I have an idea ...

Stan: So it seems like we have enough people now. When do we start taking down the corporations?
Man 1: [take a deep drag from his joint] Yeah man, the corporations. Right now they're raping the world for money!
Kyle: Yeah, so, where are they. Let's go get 'em.
Man 2: Right now we're proving we don't need corporations. We don't need money. This can become a commune where everyone just helps each other.
Man 1: Yeah, we'll have one guy who like, who like, makes bread. A-and one guy who like, l-looks out for other people's safety.
Stan: You mean like a baker and a cop?
Man 2: No no, can't you imagine a place where people live together and like, provide services for each other in exchange for their services?
Kyle: Yeah, it's called a town.
Driver: You kids just haven't been to college yet. But just you wait, this thing is about to get HUGE.

More on the Republicans in a separate post ...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

When the police become soldiers

Radley Balco has the latest SWAT team abuse. Boy bumps head. Father treats boy himself. Concerned neighbor calls 911. Medic forces way into home. Father refuses to send son to hospital. Police are called. Bust in with SWAT team to take kid to hospital. Parents thrown to the ground and handcuffed. According to the sheriff, the SWAT team was necessary because the father was a "constitutionalist" who had made "threats and comments" over the years. Oh and the father was rude and confrontational with the paramedics when they forced their way into his home. I'll reprint my comments, left on Balco's blog.

Radley, you should make this a poster case for the over utilization of SWAT teams. For those who continue to doubt your points about police militarization, this case offers none of the typical ways to weasel out of a real debate- there are no drugs involved and no mention of even the possibility of violence. The only piece of information that we have from the sheriff was that the father was “rude and confrontational.”

The problem of police use of military style force isn’t about the relative merits of the particular laws they are seeking to enforce- hopefully, with a case like this, you could be of the point of view that police intervention was entirely neccessary and appropriate while comprehending that there was no need for a military style raid on the home. I personally don’t beleive the police had any business interfering, but that’s really besides the point. The point is, does anyone in their right mind really think that it’s a good idea for a SWAT team to bust in with military force in this situation?

It actually made me think back to Elian Gonzalez- remember the pictures of that poor, terrified kid? Forget about whether you thought the kid should have been sent back to Cuba or not. Even if you did think he should be sent back, why on earth did Janet Reno have to send in the SWAT team? If you can defend these uses of SWAT teams, then your basically saying that all law enforcement is so dangerous it requires military style force … or in other words you’re okay with living under military style rule.

And one final thought- Apparently this home was so dangerous that the paramedics and social case workers were able to enter the home before the police went in with the SWAT team.