Friday, January 30, 2009

Stimulus Nonsense

I've blogged very little on the most recent economic stimulus before Congress because if you care about such things, talking points are being blasted from every orifice of the mainstream and the alternative media. I'm certainly frightened, but I just don't have anything to add that every libertarian blogger out there hasn't said already.

In terms of the Democrats, the entire plan reeks of crass opportunism, but the Republicans really aren't much better. After eight years of bowing to every single Bush budget item, I can't help but thinking that these "no" votes are simply about looking to ahead to the 2010 midterm elections. And as I mentioned before, the pork gives seemingly everyone an out when this turns out to be a colossal waste of money. The question is how long people are willing to put up with this crap. The last stimulus package didn't cost any politicians their job and I'm not to keen that this one will either.

Ideological As A Loaded Term

The Cato Institute's Michael Tanner notes the way opposition to the stimulus has been dismissed as idea ideological.

In its lead editorial today, the New York Times dismisses criticism of the stimulus bill that passed the House last night as “mostly ideological.” Similarly, a McClatchy News story about the economists who signed Cato’s newspaper advertisement opposing the stimulus bill, dismissed signers as “ideologically opposed” to government spending. This is part of a trend we’ve seen since President Obama’s election. Opposition to Obama’s programs is dismissed as “ideological,” whereas the belief by President Obama and Congressional Democrats in ever bigger and more activist government is, in the word’s of EJ Dionne, “anti-ideological.”

After all, President Obama has called for “a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry.”

Apparently then, to believe in free-markets, limited government, and individual liberty is to be “ideological,” on a par with being a small-thinking bigot. On the other hand, to believe that government should run more and more of our lives, that government functions better than markets, and that government should redistribute wealth is…what?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sorry Dwight, Battlestar Has Jumped The Shark

I had started to write this as a more long form entry, but decided I didn't need it. At this point, the show doesn't deserve it and I don't think that the non-fans are at all interested in the first place. The moment that brought the "jump the shark" phrase to mind was during last Friday's episode, when it's revealed that Hot Dog, not Chief Tyrol, is actually the father of now dead Callie's child. It was amateurish writing, a plot twist out of nowhere serving no purpose than to torture our already tortured characters.

I voiced some concern last winter, in the first half of Battlestar's season four, when character threads were raised and dropped with such reckless abandon that one had to question the show's very plot. But while my concern has been growing for some time now, and the show clearly reached a straining point this past weekend, I'd actually trace the show's problems back to season 3. Starbuck's reappearance after her presumed death may have been the literal jump the shark moment, but at some point in season 3, it's as if the writers began to care more about what they could inflict on the characters than they did continuity. Good writing doesn't sacrifice it's characters on behalf of it's plot, not sacrifice it's plot on behalf of it's characters, but over the past year, the conclusion to Battlestar Galactica has done both.

Case-in-point, the Gaeta story, which now appears to be heading in the direction of outright mutiny. The problem is, since his survival at the hands of the post-New Caprica tribunal, Gaeta hasn't been given the opportunity to develop as a character. He never confronted his new Caprica demons, he went back to work, lost his leg in Season 4, began to sing alot, and just now got so mad he's ready to mutiny. Or to return to last week, we've got Dee just shooting herself, completely out of nowhere.

I can see how the revelation of the final five Cylons was completely unplanned and in some ways nonsensical, but at least Tyrol, Tigh, and Ellen make for an interesting story. The other two, Tori and Anders, make even less sense and make even less of an interesting story. And to go back to my jump the shark moment from our latest episode, there's a difference between fucking with a character and outright sadism. Letting Tyrol know he's a Cylon should be meaty enough to last the rest of the series- piling on the death of his wife and the discovery that his son isn't his, well, that's just torture.

What's a shame is that Battlestar should probably go down as the best television series ever that failed to live up to it's potential. Thematically, the show ran the gamut for it's first few seasons, before it became too tied up in it's soap-ish character twists. It's style over substance, but it didn't have to be that way. I'm one of the few who absolutely loved the New Caprica storyline and the show's problems probably began when 1- they didn't stick to that storyline long enough, and 2- they shortchanged the characters afterward. For two seasons or so the show did an incredible job of balancing the stories of all these different characters, but during season 3, as the plot threads began to narrow, it became more and more difficult to include all of the characters. But instead of finding creative ways to keep the other characters involved, the writers began to take cheap shortcuts- throwing a bunch of characters with Starbuck on the freighter in the first half of season 4 for example. Which is how we get to where we are today. There are less than a dozen episodes left and I'll certainly watch them all, but I can't help but think this show will go down as one big blown opportunity.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This message brought to you by the loyal opposition

Remember how economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman accused those who oppose the economic stimulus of bad faith? Well, in today's print edition of the Times, the Cato Institute bought a full page ad in which hundreds of economists signed off on their opposition to President Obama's stimulus package.


Reason's Matt Welch has a brief, concise critique of how some of the early change being offered is just more of the same:

For all of Candidate Obama's happy talk about being careful with the public monies, shutting down programs that don't work and getting beyond the tired policies of yesteryear, is there any evidence so far that on domestic policy he is offering one iota of change from the Democratic playbook of the last XX years? Fantasia notwithstanding, there is a limited supply of money the government can spend, so I would think that a politician who took "change" seriously would want to spend that money in new ways, rather than newly spend more of that money in old ways. Seeing as how transportation infrastructure and K-12 performance (among god knows how many other expressed priorities) do not currently work worth a damn, shoveling more money at the same-old strikes me, at best, as a horribly bungled opportunity.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Big Love

HBO's Big Love returned two Sunday's ago and I had meant to link to this New York Time's review of the polygamist drama. Times TV critic Ginia Bellafonte clearly appreciates the show, but her review seems steeped in New York liberal elitism, with it's unwillingness to accept the connection between religious belief and the choices of the shows characters. Here's the review in full:

Repulsion over polygamy is so ingrained in the American consciousness — analogizing it to slavery, the Republican platform of 1856 called it one of the country’s “twin relics of barbarism” — that judgmentally reveling in the exotic perversions of “Big Love” feels like something on the order of a national right.

The HBO drama, which returns Sunday for its third season, has hardly come soon enough. When we last left the Henricksons, Barb had decided to shepherd the family out of the closet, boldly announcing to her Mrs. McNosy neighbor that yes, she is married to Bill with his hardware-store mini-chain dreams, but so too are the women pretending to be singletons in the houses next door: Nicki of the prairie dresses and impertinent moods, and Margene, the chipper plaything beaming with magnanimous intentions.

The current season, exquisitely plotted so far, deals in part with the repercussions of outing. Like “The Sopranos,” and nearly the entire canon of post-colonial literature, “Big Love” is a narrative of ambivalent assimilation. Bill wants to move about freely in the middle-class circles of suburban Salt Lake City, selling drill bits to mainstream Mormons, but without compromise to the lawless bed-skipping he indulges in his tripartite fief. Bill Paxton, who plays him, is rarely discussed among the ranks of great dramatic television actors, but he homes in on Henrickson’s unwitting sanctimony and skewed morality with a serene, gently stylized precision. It is as if he imagines himself in a movie of Nicholas Ray’s and then ratchets down the volume to the register of Robert Altman.

The family is currently pursuing a fourth wife, Ana (Branka Katic), an Eastern European waitress whose waning reluctance to join this logistically addled brigade feels as unconvincing as Barb’s commitment to stay with it. The show has never provided a sufficiently adequate explanation for her compliance — it is the series’s singular flaw. All we know is that after Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), affluent by birth and well educated, survived a bout of cancer her husband received a heavenly call to add more wives as if he were stocking a pantry for a heavy storm. The first two seasons addressed her reservations, but Barb now seems more resolved to her domestic circumstance.

It falls to her suffering teenage daughter Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) to serve as the mouthpiece for our collective aversion to it. Sarah sees the repressive double standards the way no one else around her manages to (and in a dramatic turn early on this season, she is shown to pay a stunningly unfair price for the rebellion she has mounted in the name of her clarity). Comically, the double standards are everywhere, of course: in the performances of modesty that play out in the context of a sexual playpen; in the diatribes that Nicki (portrayed with brilliant, unceasing exasperation by Chloë Sevigny) levels against the vulgarities of the outside world as she has amassed heaps of credit-card debt and gambled away more money with her compulsive Bingo.

“Big Love” itself is an ingenious act of double-dealing, offered as a test of our social tolerance as it coaxes us toward condescension. The writers seem to be whispering to us, “If you’re all for gay marriage, then what is wrong with this?” at the same time they are slapping us with evidence validating our reflexive prejudices.

Visually the show often invites our disgust, not just through its depiction of the rank, loony Juniper Creek Compound presided over by the prophet and pedophile Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton) but also in its images of spit and urine and sloppy children devouring mayonnaise from a jar. When Bill’s whack job of a father chose to use Bill’s kitchen sink as a toilet, the camera swooped down, forcing us to confront the results. At other times, shuffling among the three houses, it has reached up to the ceiling, forcing us literally to look down.

“Big Love” is a high-brow companion to “17 Kids and Counting” and other fringe reality shows devoted to the lives of those who cannot stop reproducing. Its creators seemed to foresee the fascination-revulsion that the elite might experience at the idea of a large and presumably ungovernable family. There are eight Henrickson children, and Bill, raised in the fundamentalist Mormon tradition and in blind deference to Matthew 18:5, continues to demand more with little insight into whether his wives share his will.

I say blind, because there is no other evidence of Bill’s faith beyond his urge to build an empire of fertile, attractive women. The commitment to plural marriage is never viewed as anything but a tautology: you practice it on earth, so you can practice it in heaven. The Henricksons don’t seem to go to church or wrestle with the larger issues of theistic fidelity. They are like Jews who would define Judaism as abstinence from pork.

Above all, “Big Love” seeks to identify the hypocrisies of fundamentalism in the discrepancies between spiritual belief and cultural practice. Ultimately, Bill doesn’t believe in much, but he invokes God to get his Viagra.

The brilliance of Big Love- the brilliance Hollywood can be capable of- is in it's showcasing of diversity and highlighting of the ways that deep down, despite our differences, we are all simply human, with all the flaws associated with being human. The show is certainly critical of fundamentalism, but the Viagra comment is a cheap shot, indicating that Bill's invoking religion is merely a pretext. The truth that Big Love so eloquently portrays is that religious belief guides every character, including Bill and even including Roman, the cultish leader of the polygamist compound. As in real life, the truth is subtle.

Bellafonte criticizes the show for never adequately explaining Bill's first wife Barb's acquiescence to a polygamous lifestyle quite different from her own family's traditions. But to understand Barb's spiritual beliefs is to understand her choices. As we've seen with her cancer scare early this third season, Barb's acceptance of polygamy isn't simply about a willingness to stay with her husband at all costs- It's about her confronting her own mortality and her understanding of the afterlife. In a slightly different, yet somewhat similar vein, Margene also elects polygamy because of the spiritual consequences.

Beyond Barb, Bellafonte uses more dismissive language to reject Roman Grant, referring to him as both a prophet and a pedophile. As Roman says to Bill in the last episode, he never "supported coercive copulation" and that he only counseled "obedience to help wives achieve harmony with their husbands." That there's a very fine line being tight roped is precisely the point. Roman is a criminal, but he's not the monster that his impending trial this season and the label of pedophile make him out to be.

More loaded language in the review refers to Bill's lawless bed-skipping. And while the show has never been opaque on the issue, the fact of the matter is that Bill's lifestyle- nor the lifestyle of anyone on the compound for that matter- actually break any laws. The multiple marriages are not legal marriages, but religious ones, meaning that in the eyes of the law, Bill's just shacking up with Margene and Nicki. The real issue in terms of the law is in regards to the children- as we've seen from the real life raids in Texas, polygamy is a lifestyle that invokes suspicion from those with the power to take away children.

Big Love doesn't delve into theology, but that shouldn't be seen as a reflection of it's characters. Theology just makes for bad tv, particularly when there's not even any real conflict about it. Ultimately, you can't dismiss religion in Big Love because it is what defines the characters and it's what defines the culture there in Utah. Bill demands more children because that's what God wants- that's not just the polygamist talking but every other Mormon in Utah. Belafonte is critical of the choices fundamentalism forces on women, but the real secret of Big Love is that the show about polygamy boasts the strongest cast of women on television.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bad Faith

I was going to link to Paul Krugman's column from yesterday's New York Times on Bad Faith Economics, but Reason's Nick Gillespie beat me to it. Nick's post here:

Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman doesn't just accuse people who disagree with him of bad economics but of bad faith: "Any time you hear someone reciting one of these arguments" against various stimulus proposals coming out of the Obama admin, writes Krugman, "write him or her off as a dishonest flack."

Among the lies masquerading as arguments? "That the Obama plan will cost $275,000 per job created." In fact, says Krugman (without bothering to explain why his supposedly more accurate figure is so damn great):

The true cost per job of the Obama plan will probably be closer to $100,000 than $275,000—and the net cost will be as little as $60,000 once you take into account the fact that a stronger economy means higher tax receipts.

That is incredible savings ($215,000 per job!), even before the first Obama stimulus dollar has been spent! Another bad argument, says Krugman, is the idea that

It's always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.

Here's how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets—and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats.

I do not follow the implication above (or is it an inference?). Beyond the weirdness of talking about air travel in this instance, wouldn't people stop flying if there were no air traffic control system? Hence the airlines would have some incentive to provide an ATC system even if the government weren't doing so (and in fact, that's effectively what other nations such as Canada do, where the ATC system has been corporatized). I think the argument that taxpayers are better at spending their money implies that people are not complete fucktards, while the long list of shovel-ready, job-creating pork projects compiled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors drives home what most of us know from daily experience: That other people spend your money less carefully than you usually do.

Krugman concludes, "It's clear that when it comes to economic stimulus, public spending provides much more bang for the buck than tax cuts...because a large fraction of any tax cut will simply be saved." I'm not sure what that means, exactly, either, especially if taxpayers saved the cut in, like, you know, a bank, which might make it available to people with businesses or mortgages or what have you. An odd side note to all this: If massive government spending grows the economy, then we should all be millionaires after eight years of Bush rule, shouldn't we?

Krugman's whole bit is here. Read it and then check out Robert Barro's discussion of the government multiplier effect, which is at the heart of Krugman's argument that public spending produces more benefits than private spending. Under the headline "Government Spending Is No Free Lunch,"

I have estimated that World War II raised U.S. defense expenditures by $540 billion (1996 dollars) per year at the peak in 1943-44, amounting to 44% of real GDP. I also estimated that the war raised real GDP by $430 billion per year in 1943-44. Thus, the multiplier was 0.8 (430/540). The other way to put this is that the war lowered components of GDP aside from military purchases. The main declines were in private investment, nonmilitary parts of government purchases, and net exports—personal consumer expenditure changed little. Wartime production siphoned off resources from other economic uses—there was a dampener, rather than a multiplier...

There are reasons to believe that the war-based multiplier of 0.8 substantially overstates the multiplier that applies to peacetime government purchases. For one thing, people would expect the added wartime outlays to be partly temporary (so that consumer demand would not fall a lot). Second, the use of the military draft in wartime has a direct, coercive effect on total employment. Finally, the U.S. economy was already growing rapidly after 1933 (aside from the 1938 recession), and it is probably unfair to ascribe all of the rapid GDP growth from 1941 to 1945 to the added military outlays. In any event, when I attempted to estimate directly the multiplier associated with peacetime government purchases, I got a number insignificantly different from zero.

Barro does counsel tax cuts, especially broad-based cuts or eliminations in marginal rates and corporate income taxes, under the theory that the money freed up will indeed be spent more wisely than the equivalent in public dollars. And on the spending side, he notes that public-spending programs which do not pass muster from a cost-benefit analysis are a mistake because they take more money out of the economy than they put back in. As he notes, nothing that has been learned in macroeconomics since 1936 suggests that there is such a thing as a free lunch.

The Great Quarterback Debate: The Hall Of Famers

So now that we've got some numbers to work with, let's see what we've got. Of our 70 quarterbacks, 7 are in the Hall of Fame: Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, John Elway, Troy Aikmen, Warren Moon. 2 more are locks- Brett Favre and Peyton Manning- while another is a virtual lock- Mr. Tom Brady.

There are a number of quarterbacks on our list who's sample size is really too small to make any real determinations on their careers. That list would include Drew Brees, who seems to be on the way to a very productive career in the numbers department, Ben Rothlisberger, who's got solid numbers and now a second Super Bowl appearance, and Carson Palmer, who, before last season, would probably have been considered an elite quarterback.

Two of the intriguing players out there played in the NFC Championship game last week- Donovan McNabb and Kurt Warner. Looking at Warner's per game stats and three Super Bowl appearances would seem to make him a lock for the Hall of Fame, but what about the way he bounced around the league and what about the fact that he's only had 3 successful 16 game seasons in the course of his career. McNabb is another one, who's faced benchings and controversy throughout his career. You don't always think of McNabb as a huge numbers guy, but looking back, he's 11th on our list in terms of TD's per start and 15th in terms of yards per start- all this while being an effective rushing threat earlier in his career and while spending most of his time without a real receviving threat. Personally I can't stand McNabb- and I wouldn't want him quarterbacking my team- but I'd have a hard time saying he's not one of the better quarterbacks in the league.

One quarterback that the Hall of Fame seems to have passed by that I'd nominate for reconsideration is Randall Cunningham, whom I remember from growing up as a truly dangerous threat. Cunningham's winning percenatge of .611 is 16th on our list, his yardage puts him only in the middle at number 37, but his TD passes put him at 12th. More importantly, his career resume boasts his 15-1 career resurgence with Cris Carter, Randy Moss and the 1998 Vikings and numerous seasons earlier in his career as a multi-faceted passing and rushing threat, a sort of Michael Vick who could actually throw the football.

And what about some of the guys with good numbers but not much else on their resume? Well, first and foremost on that list would be Daunte Culpepper. You can't deny his numbers, but his career winning percentage- 60th among the 70 quarterbacks on our list- is telling. Perhaps more important is his inability to perform at even a mediocre level since leaving Minnesota, with chances in Miami, Oakland, and Detroit.

On the same side of the coin are guys like Vinny Testaverde, who has great career numbers, mostly because he's played for 20 years. But like Daunte, most of us would agree that Vinny isn't even in the Hall of Fame conversation. He had a number of good years in the 90's with the Jets and the Ravens, but he spent most of the 2000's as a backup and his early years with the Bucs were only slightly more distinguished than Trent Dilfer's.

Finally, I have to address Mr. Tom Brady, don't I? We don't ned to get into the specifics here of who's the number one quarterback on our list, but I would like to clearly state my case that Tom Brady, wihout a doubt, belongs amongst the elite quarterbacks. Personally- and this is one reason you know I'm being fair- I rate Brady as number 2 amongst this group, behind only Joe Montana. (Although, if you wanted to put Peyton ahead of both of them, I'd have trouble arguing with you. At least in terms of the regular season, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback not just amongst this group, but ever.)

I've already gotten one comment from Mr. Kriksciun in regards to Eli Manning and what I have to say about Eli is basically the same as what I've got to say abouit Brady- whether you want to downgrade a guy or boost his reputation, what we have here is a list of 70 quarterbacks of the same era. To say that Tom Brady isn't elite, you've got to start naming the 10 or 15 quarterbacks that are better him. Without having to rank eevry single quarterback, I'd have to say Eli is probably about where his TD and winning percentage rankings fall- 20th to 25th amongst our 70, or about the top 1/3 or top 40%.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Great Quarterback Debate : Total TD Passes

These are the top 25 career passing touchdown leaders among our group of 70. The number following the touchdown total in parentheses is that player's passing touchdown per start ranking.

1. Brett Favre 464 (5)
2. Dan Marino 420 (4)
3. Peyton Manning 333 (1)
4. John Elway 300 (33)
5. Warren Moon 291 (15)
6. Vinny Testaverde 275 (42)
7. Joe Montana 273 (7)
8. Dave Krieg 261 (14)
9. Drew Bledsoe 251 (33)
10. Boomer Esiason 247 (19)
11. Jim Kelly 237 (13)
12. Steve Young 232 (8)
13. Randall Cunningham 207 (12)
14. Jim Everett 203 (33)
15. Phil Simms 199 (42)
16. Tom Brady 197 (2)
17. Donovan McNabb 194 (11)
18. Kerry Collins 186 (48)
19. Mark Brunell 182 (44)
19. Kurt Warner 182 (3)
21. Rich Gannon 180 (28)
22. Steve McNair 174 (48)
23. Chris Chandler 170 (56)
24. Drew Brees 168 (8)
25. Brad Johnson 166 (36)

The Great Quarterback Debate : TD's per start

Touchdown Passes per start, minimum 64 starts (1990-2008)

1. Peyton Manning 1.89
2. Tom Brady 1.79
3. Kurt Warner 1.76
4. Dan Marino 1.74
5. Brett Favre 1.72
6. Carson Palmer 1.65
7. Joe Montana 1.60
8. Drew Brees 1.58
8. Steve Young 1.58
10. Daunte Culpepper 1.54
11. Donovan McNabb 1.52
12. Randall Cunningham 1.50
13. Jim Kelly 1.48
14. Dave Krieg 1.42
15. Matt Hasselbeck 1.41
15. Warren Moon 1.41
17. Brian Griese 1.40
17. Mark Rypien 1.40
19. Ben Rothlisberger 1.39
19. Boomer Esiason 1.39
19. Elvis Grbac 1.39
22. Eli Manning 1.38
22. Jake Delhomme 1.38
22. Trent Green 1.38
25. Jeff Garcia 1.36
26. Aaron Brooks 1.34
26. Marc Bulger 1.34
28. Rich Gannon 1.33
28. Chris Miller 1.33
30. Steve Beurlein 1.32
31. Jon Kitna 1.31
31. Scott Mitchell 1.31
33. John Elway 1.30
33. Jim Everett 1.30
33. Drew Bledsoe 1.30
36. Brad Johnson 1.29
36. Jeff Blake 1.29
36. Chad Pennington 1.29
39. Erik Kramer 1.28
40. Wade Wilson 1.25
40. Bobby Hebert 1.25
42. Phil Simms 1.24
42. Vinny Testaverde 1.24
44. Mark Brunell 1.21
44. Jeff George 1.21
46. Doug Flutie 1.20
47. Jake Plummer 1.16
48. Steve McNair 1.12
48. Gus Frerotte 1.12
48. Bernie Kosar 1.12
48. Kerry Collins 1.12
48. Neil O'Donnell 1.12
48. Steve McNair 1.12
54. Ken O'Brien 1.10
55. Jay Schroder 1.08
56. Chris Chandler 1.07
56. Stan Humphries 1.07
58. Michael Vick 1.04
59. Joey Harrington 1.01
59. Bubby Brister 1.01
61. Troy Aikmen 1.00
62. Trent Dilfer 0.98
63. Jim McMahon 0.97
63. Mike Tomczak 0.97
65. Tony Banks 0.96
66. Kordell Stewart 0.91
67. Jim Harbaugh 0.87
68. Rodney Peete 0.82
69. David Carr 0.78
70. Rick Mirer 0.72

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Great Quarterback Debate : Total Yards

These are the top 25 career passing yardage leaders among our group of 70. The number following the yardage total in parentheses is that player's yardage per start ranking. This way we can see Brett's all-time yardage mark goes along with the eight best yards per game mark, but that Vinny's high total yardage ranking only corresponds to 42 out of 70 in terms of yardage per start.

1. Brett Favre 65,127 (8)
2. Dan Marino 61,361 (3)
3. John Elway 51,475 (22)
4. Warren Moon 49,325 (10)
5. Vinny Testaverde 46,233 (42)
6. Peyton Manning 45,628 (2)
7. Drew Bledsoe 44,611 (14)
8. Joe Montana 40,551 (9)
9. Dave Krieg 38,147 (47)
10. Boomer Esiason 37,920 (33)
11. Kerry Collins 37,393 (23)
12. Jim Kelly 35,467 (24)
13. Jim Everett 34,837 (18)
14. Phil Simms 33,462 (45)
15. Steve Young 33,124 (19)
16. Troy Aikman 32,942 (55)
17. Mark Brunell 31,826 (41)
18. Steve McNair 31,304 (53)
19. Randall Cunningham 29,979 (37)
20. Donovan McNabb 29,320 (15)
21. Jake Plummer 29,253 (36)
22. Brad Johnson 29,054 (25)
23. Rich Gannon 28,743 (38)
24. Kurt Warner 28,591 (1)
25. Chris Chandler 28,484 (61)

The Great Quarterback Debate : Yards Per Start

Yards per start, minimum 64 starts (1990-2008)

1. Kurt Warner 274.3
2. Peyton Manning 259.3
3. Dan Marino 254.7
4. Drew Brees 245.6
5. Marc Bulger 245.3
6. Trent Green 245.1
7. Daunte Culpepper 243.1
8. Brett Favre 242.1
9. Joe Montana 241.3
10. Warren Moon 241.2
11. Carson Palmer 240.5
12. Tom Brady 239.7
13. Jon Kitna 232.3
14. Drew Bledsoe 230.6
15. Donovan McNabb 227.8
16. Elvis Grbac 225.9
17. Matt Hasselbeck 225.7
18. Jim Everett 225.0
19. Steve Young 224.9
19. Brian Griese 224.9
21. Aaron Brooks 223.0
22. John Elway 222.6
23. Kerry Collins 222.0
24. Jim Kelly 221.6
25. Brad Johnson 220.9
26. Mark Rypien 219.4
27. Jake Delhomme 217.8
27. Jeff George 217.8
29. Ken O'Brien 217.7
30. Erik Kramer 217.1
31. Steve Beurlein 217.0
32. Scott Mitchell 216.5
33. Boomer Esiason 215.0
34. Jeff Garcia 214.9
35. Chad Pennington 214.8
36. Jake Plummer 213.5
37. Randall Cunningham 213.1
38. Rich Gannon 212.5
39. Gus Frerotte 211.1
40. Jeff Blake 210.9
41. Mark Brunell 210.1
42. Vinny Testaverde 209.9
43. Bernie Kosar 208.7
44. Ben Rothlisberger 208.4
45. Phil Simms 208.2
46. Wade Wilson 207.9
47. Dave Krieg 207.6
48. Stan Humphries 207.5
49. Chris Miller 205.6
50. Neil O'Donnell 205.2
51. Eli Manning 205.0
52. Bobby Hebert 204.7
53. Steve McNair 201.1
54. Doug Flutie 200.9
55. Troy Aikmen 199.6
56. Jay Schroeder 190.3
57. Jeff Hostetler 189.2
58. Joey Harrington 188.1
59. Tony Banks 186.5
60. Mike Tomczak 185.5
61. Chris Chandler 177.7
62. Trent Dilfer 177.5
63. Bubby Brister 177.1
64. Jim Harbaugh 175.8
65. Kordell Stewart 175.5
65. David Carr 175.5
67. Jim McMahon 174.6
68. Rodney Peete 174.5
69. Rick Mirer 168.4
70. Michael Vick 165.9

The Great Quarterback Debate : Winning Percentage

Winning Percentage, minimum 64 starts (1990-2008)

1. Tom Brady .782
2. Ben Rothlisberger .718
3. Joe Montana .713
4. Jim McMahon .691
5. Peyton Manning .665
6. Steve Young .657
7. Donovan McNabb .645
8. John Elway .643
9. Jim Kelly .631
10. Brett Favre .628
11. Stan Humphries .617
11. Jake Delhomme .617
13. Jay Schroeder .616
14. Jeff Hostetler .614
15. Dan Marino .613
16. Randall Cunningham .611
17. Mark Rypien .603
18. Phil Simms .597
19. Steve McNair .595
20. Eli Manning .592
21. Kordell Stewart .585
22. Rich Gannon .576
22. Brad Johnson .576
22. Doug Flutie .576
25. Michael Vick .575
25. Mike Tomczak .575
27. Elvis Grbac .571
28. Troy Aikmen .570
29. Kurt Warner .564
30. Matt Hasselbeck .563
31. Dave Krieg .560
31. Bobby Hebert .560
33. Chad Pennington .558
34. Neil O'Donnell .550
35. Brian Griese .542
36. Wade Wilson .522
37. Mark Brunell .520
38. Drew Brees .519
39. Rodney Peete .517
40. Trent Dilfer .513
41. Jake Plummer .507
42. Drew Bledsoe .508
43. Warren Moon .502
44. Jeff Garcia .500
45. Trent Green .496
46. Bernie Kosar .495
47. Bubby Brister .493
48. Carson Palmer .492
49. Gus Frerotte .489
50. Kerry Collins .482
51. Jim Harbaugh .471
52. Erik Kramer .463
53. Boomer Esiason .462
54. Steve Beurlein .461
55. Mark Bulger .460
56. Ken O'Brien .455
57. Scott Mitchell .451
58. Tony Banks .449
59. Chris Chandler .440
60. Daunte Culpepper .432
61. Vinny Testaverde .423
62. Aaron Brooks .422
63. Jim Everett .418
64. Jon Kitna .397
65. Jeff Blake .390
66. Jeff George .371
67. Chris Miller .370
68. Rick Mirer .362
69. Joey Harrington .342
70. David Carr .291

The Great Quarterback Debate

Unlike baseball, where game-defining statistics are batted around like balls in Home Run Derby, football statistics have long proven to be more elusive. Of course we can total yards and touchdowns, but the meaningless touchdown and the 11 yard completion on 4th and 12 show us just how limited such totals can be. But while football statistics are not determinative, than can still be insightful.

As a lover of all things Tom Brady, I've always enjoyed a good old fashioned quarterback debate and what better time or place for that sort of thing than right here on this blog and right now, with the Super Bowl a little more than a week away.

In order to best frame the debate I've come up with a list of 70 quarterbacks- these are all the quarterbacks who have played in the last two decades and have started at least 64 games or the equivalent of four full seasons. I chose 1990 as a starting point in part to limit these quarterbacks to those I've actually seen play and, additionally, because it actually serves as a good breaking point. This way we can say that all 70 QB's on this list are essentially contemporaries, with only several quarterbacks that were purely products of the 80's left out. Just to delve back into history, it's safe to say the modern era when it comes to the passing game began in 1978, when the NFL changed it's rules so as to prevent contact between defensive backs and receivers over five yards down the field. (Prior to that point, receivers could be chucked any time before the ball was actually thrown.) So in other words, this list of 70 is pretty damn complete, minus the few quarterbacks who started playing after the rule change but retired before the early 90's.

With those 70 QB's, I've ranked them in several categories: winning percentage, Yards per start, touchdowns per start, and interceptions per start. I'll be posting each category as a separate blog post over the course of the weekend and I'd like to conclude with a discussion on who's the best and who's the worst. As I said before, football statistics are not determinative and I use them here only as the starting point for our conversation. To frame this in a legal perspective (as that's what my background is), I'd say that good statistics create a presumption that a player is good and the burden would then fall on those who question the value of the statistics to disprove their value. Just take a look at the numbers and you'll see what I mean. Feel free to comment throughout, but I'll save my comments until the end.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

God Bless The Cynics

From Obama's inauguration speech:

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

What's terrifying/sick/troublesome is the sheer number of people worldwide completely enraptured by the Obama cult of personality. I didn't get the chance to watch during the day and the coverage tonight is just plain nauseating. I don't care if you agree with everything Obama's ever said, the idea of placing all your hopes in one political leader should be frightening. Bleh, that's all for tonight.

We Have To Go Back Kate!

This Wednesday on ABC, Lost makes it's much anticipated return. The show is kicking off it's 5th season with two back-to-back episodes and I'm just amped because it's the first time that I'll get to take part in the festivities. My wife and I discovered Lost and fell in love with it over several rainy weekends last March and have been eagerly waiting the show's return since season four ended last May. Lost is a television phenomenon unlike anything previously seen on the small screen, save perhaps for the X-Files. Like the X-Files, Lost is essentially a genre program with a mainstream audience, grounding it's speculative fiction with relatable characters from our own world. In the case of Lost, many of the characters are archetypes we've seen before in film and literature. Viewers can relate to the rogue with the golden heart (Sawyer), the tormented leader (Jack), and the man desperate to prove his worth to his love (Desmond), while enjoying the twists and turns of an imaginative plot and the slow unraveling of the mysteries of an island that's a character in and of itself.

Last season, Lost took a step forward in it's storytelling, transporting some of our survivors off the island in the form of the rescued Oceanic 6. Mostly abandoning the plot device of flashbacks, most of Season 4 worked through flash forwards, telling us the story of what happened to Jack, Kate, Sun, Hurely, Sayid, and Aaron after their rescue from the island. And for the first time, a season of Lost felt like a cohesive chapter, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The story wasn't entirely linear, but that was part of the fun. The weaving of the various plots was tremendously done, in such a way that right down until the last hour it was hard to figure how the survivors that we know had made it off the island were actually going to get off the island. The new season looks to continue the non-linear storytelling, with separate plot threads taking place both on and off the island.

Lost's forth season was bold, shaking up a show that might have otherwise become literally too big for it's island confines. The best part about last season's move off the island is it changes the nature of the story being told in such a way that the end of the series need no longer be about getting off the island, having the island's secrets revealed, nor be about the island at all. The end of the series is now about our characters and the next few seasons should wrap up everyone's story. I'm crossing my fingers that the writers of Lost don't feel the need to reveal every secret about the island rather than only revealing what's necessary for our characters resolutions. Some may disagree with me, but I don't need to know precisely who or what Jacob is, I don't need to know how dead people seem to be reborn on the island, nor do I need to know what the black smoke monster is. I don't want to know what makes the island so special because the answer to that question can only be horrible lame and unfulfilling. I'd rather have it be left mysterious than have it revealed that the island was special because of aliens, or God, or people from the future, or something equally stupid.

Just for fun, I figure I'd close out with some predictions for Lost fans, mostly in regards to our characters.

# Jack gets a happy ending. He has to, right? It certainly seems as though he's been set up for some sort of redemption, although I suppose it's possible that redemption could involve his death.

# Sawyer gets a happy ending. He's just gotta. The more I think about it now, my bet is Jack gets some personal redemption, but dies and then Kate winds up with Sawyer.

# Sayid will die. He already had his happy ending tragically taken from him He's like Michael, paying for sins before he gets to die a noble death.

# Aaron will stay on the island, with his real mother.

# Jin is still alive and will be reunited with Sun. Last season I was shocked when Penny was reunited with Desmond, if only because I was certain that their union would come later in the series. Since their happy reunion has already occurred, I'm expecting a possibly more powerful one with Jin and Sun. Plus, if Jin was really dead, how does the show end even remotely well for Sun?

# Both Desmond and Penny will die or at least Penny will die, ruining Desmond's shot at a happy ending. The intrigue that many fans seem to be forgetting is Ben's promise to Charles Widmore to return the favor by killing Widmore's daughter, who as we all know, happens to be Penny. Desmond and Penny have already had their happy reunion and given the set up, I have trouble seeing a happy end for the couple.

# And for a wild prediction, Walt's going back to the island too. Why include him in last season's finale if you're not planning to utilize him more?

# In terms of our other characters, I think Hurley will stay on the island, the one place where he seems happy. Juliet will get off the island and be reunited with her sister. Of the freighter people from last year, Miles will stay on the island because of the dead people and Charlotte will stay because it's where she was born.

Where We're Going

Last night I realized that there was a very simple answer to those who say they could have trouble finding humor in a Barack Obama presidency. It's not about Obama at all, but how we view politicians and more importantly, how we view politics. Generally, our political humor tends to be no different than our celebrity humor, focusing on larger than life personalities and bringing those personalities down to a more human, more relatable level. Now these techniques obviously worked well when it came to George Bush and Bill Clinton. Our last two presidents were such great characters you could have written a sitcom around either of them. But Barack Obama just isn't that guy. We don't have to get into questions about how honest or how great he is, because the larger point is that regardless of political affiliation, there's just not that much to find funny about Barack Obama- He'd make a terrible sitcom character.

Of course, it's rather simplistic when we view politics about nothing more than character, especially when it feeds into some of the preconceived notions that many people have about Barack Obama. It's almost as if we've reached a point where Barack Obama is a good President before he even takes the office, simply because he's a decent fellow. More sophisticated political humor deals not simply with characters, but with policy and that's precisely where there is room for Barack Obama-themed humor. Unlike Clinton and Bush, Obama will not be the butt of easy jokes, but that shouldn't be the end of the story. Hopefully, both writers of history and purveyors of comedy can see beyond the superficial.

Where We Are

I'm with Will Wilkinson and his MLK day piece on MLK, BHO, and Moral Progress.

The idea that ours is a culture in moral stagnation or decline is simply preposterous. Martin Luther King Day is an excellent time to expose the silliness of the moral stasists and declinists. It’s an excellent time to celebrate the profound and rapid progress we have made, and can continue to make.

Now, I’m cynical about the romantic personality cult around Barack Obama because I am cynical about the romantic personality cult around the American presidency, which, because it is contemptible and stupid, demands cynicism. I think I’m not being cynical about liberal democratic politics when I concede that it is a very advanced, civilized, and relatively peaceful form of organized coalitional agression. But I’m definitely not cynical about what Barack Obama’s election means in light of the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” I’m admiring, I’m proud, of that.

Because I intend to be pretty hard on Obama, the politician, and his starry-eyed, mush-headed followers, I think it’s important to note that it’s not only possible, but morally recommended, to assume a posture that ought to be comfortable, but is in fact culturally awkward. One should both recognize in Obama a real symbol of morally meaningful cultural change and attack the romance of democracy and the cult of the presidency — because that is the direction of further moral progress.

Will's right, we should be able to celebrate just how far we've come without having to embrace the cult of personality around Barack Obama.

I've had several requests to write about the inauguration, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to say anything that hasn't been said. Hardcore Republicans are a bit indignant (and rightfully so) that Obama'a inauguration is more of a coronation, the scope of which exceeds anything George Bush ever did and the Obama supporters are busy preparing for the second coming. And then there's this piece by Barton Gellman in the Washington Post, explaining how Obama could redefine the Presidency.

Obama arrives with a rare convergence of additional strengths, some of them inherited and some of his own making. Predicting a presidency, to be sure, is hazardous business, and much will depend on Obama's choices and fortune. But historians, recent White House officials and senior members of the incoming team expressed broad agreement that Obama begins his term in command of an office that is at or near its historic zenith.

"The opportunity is there for Obama to recast the very nature of the presidency," said Sean Wilentz, a presidential historian at Princeton. "Not since Reagan have we had as capable a persuader as Obama, and not since FDR has a president come in with quite the configuration of foreign and domestic crises that open up such a possibility for the reconstruction of the executive."

I forget where it was I read it the other day, but some obviously intelligent person lamented the disappearance of cynicism. Agreed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bizzaro World

The New York Times supports a change in New Hampshire law that requires hikers and skiers to pay for the cost of their own rescue, if the need for that rescue arose from negligence.

There has often been an appealing vein of common sense in New Hampshire, and that is true of its regulations for people who venture outdoors. The state has always done what it can to rescue hikers and skiers who get lost or in trouble. Since 1999, it has billed them for the costs of rescue if their behavior was reckless. But in July, the standard was changed. If you find yourself in trouble thanks to your own negligence, a lower threshold of responsibility, then you also may end up paying the cost for being rescued.

There is something a little peculiar about the need for a law like this. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is hoping not only to recoup some of its rescue costs, but also to warn hikers and skiers that their behavior in nature has consequences.

It’s hard to imagine Americans protesting about having to pay for their ambulance rides after getting sick at home, or injured in a highway crash. But most Americans live lives that are incredibly distant from nature. They often do not understand that venturing into the backcountry means entering a realm of purely personal responsibility.

So if I get this straight, those who venture into the outdoors do so at their own risk, but those who venture into finance or auto manufacturing should have their mismanagement paid for by taxpayers. Personally, I'm all for hikers having to pay for their own stupidity, but I just don't see how you justify sending a hiker a bill for a lifesaving rescue with one hand while using the other to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars to failing companies.

Law and Morality ... Oh, who am I kidding, this is about teenagers having sex with teachers

Caught this story on the radio yesterday: Outrage Follows Washington Court's Ruling That Teachers Can Have Sex With Students. Well of course it does when you put it that way. In the realm of more informative news, what the Washington Court of Appeals actually did was strike down a law banning sex between students and teachers as overly ambiguous. Specifically, the issue involved those students who had reached the age of 18. While the outrage is predictable, it's also troubling in it's own right. Apparently, there's no one left in the world that can understand the simple concept that law and morality can and do occupy different spheres.

"I'm shocked and surprised," Connie Severson told "They're going to be teaching our students and the last thing you want is sexual relations on their mind."

Severson, whose son Stephan is a junior at Hoquiam High School, said the ruling has "opened up the eyes of other parents" in the district.

"This shouldn't be OK," she said. "They are teachers. Every one of them should know better."

Severson said the ruling could dissuade parents from enrolling their children within the Hoquiam school district.

"I'm hoping from a parent's perspective that when my daughter is 18 and dating that she's not having a relationship with her teacher," she said. "This is not college, it's not a university, this is high school."

Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist, said the ruling sends a "very bad message" to students and teachers alike.

"Normally I would respect what the courts have to say, but this is a highly inappropriate message and one that is potentially dangerous," Kuriansky told "This is where ethics come in conflict with the law."

Kuriansky said the trauma that can be associated with such a relationship can last long after early adulthood.

"It can be very traumatic and be buried and repressed in their minds, and then emerge 10, 20 or even 30 years later when there is some kind of trigger or similar experience," she said. "It has the potential to create tremendous tension and trauma."

Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright, an author and sex educator, said other potentially troubling scenarios could arise and become somewhat acceptable due to the ruling in Washington. One such scenario, she said, would be a female student who is vying for the attention of an older male teacher.

Having a relationship with an older man could be seen as a status symbol, she said, but "It can certainly rob a person of their natural growing-up process and having first experiences with someone their age."

Overall, Fulbright, who writes the SEXPert column on, said young women who have sexual encounters with older men typically become sexually active sooner, which can lead to reproductive issues.

Those of us with common sense know that there are plenty of perfectly legal activities which are ethically and morally questionable. Equally interesting is the last bit from the Fox News Sexpert, who hints at the problem between relationships between young women and older men of all sorts (not just the teacher variety). That sort of discussion (given we're talking about young women who have reached the age of 18) seems to delve even further into the realm where no laws tread.

But what do we expect when we're bombarded by the right and the left with calls for the government to run our lives and make moral choices for us, be it about sex, abortion, gambling, or smoking. What are people supposed to think when we've given the government the role of mother and father?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Headlines That Made Me LOL

It's not as funny on the web, but take my word for it, the headline of this piece in the print edition of USA Today read, "EPA Nominee Vows To Rely On Science. I'm sure it's meant to be a not-so-subtle jab at the Bush administration, but come on. Wow, science huh? At the EPA? Who would have thought. Now that's what I call news.

The other funny headline, courtesy of buddy McBlog, reads Obama tells daughters he ran for president for them, all children. Excuse me while I choke back the tears. Actually, all I can think of is yet another great Simpsons moment:

Skinner: And now, because the children our are future, here
are the children or Springfield Elementary, with a
song they call, "The Children Are Our Future."
Children: [singing] Children, Children. Future, Future.
Milhouse: Are you ready for the ...
All: Children, whoa, whoa, whoa.
Lisa: The future is a ...
All: Comin' hey, hey, hey! Children, Children. Future,

Share Pain, Not The Wealth

Gannet Co., publisher of USA Today, has requested it's employees take an unpaid week off in an effort to avoid layoffs. Other newspapers have used this tactic as well, as have some state and municipal governments. And I get it, sort of, particularly when it comes to government employment. But I just wonder whether or not we've become so obsessed with jobs and preventing unemployment that we've become oblivious to any other economic realities. Maybe in some circumstances it makes sense to spread the pain so to speak, but I certainly wouldn't think that's true in every case. Particularly in an industry that was facing the threat of having to drastically change or die well before the economic downturn began, you would think a newspaper would be thinking beyond preserve every job.

Late To The Party, A Word on Madoff

If you don't know about Bernie Madoff and the 50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme he faces charges for, then you probably need to pick up a newspaper. I've been meaning to comment for a few weeks now, but just never got around to it. Philosophically, Madoff is important precisely because his scheme proved wildly profitable and wildly popular for so many years, dating all the way back to the early 90's. Some on the left were quick to point to Madoff as another symbol of greed run amok and yet another reason why we need more stringent financial regulations. But Madoff represents more than politics, as his relatively simple acts of fraud hoodwinked both regulators at all levels of government and thousands upon thousands of investors worldwide. Madoff shows us that some wrongs in this world are just inevitable and that not all disasters can be avoided no matter how hard we try.

The notion that government could have somehow prevented this is preposterous. Thousands upon thousands were swindled out of their own millions of dollars and if those with the most to lose never as much as raised an eye brow, how is it that the government was supposed to discover this sort of fraud? Nor is this the sort of incident that can be blamed on the Bush administration. Madoff's scheme prospered during the Clinton years as well. In fact, the scheme was only discovered in the wake of the financial crisis, as many investors began to demand their money back.

As a libertarian, I do take a bit of solace in this notion that "shit happens." I would hope that everyone, regardless of political affiliation, would take notice of the fact that not only can't government solve every problem, but that some problems don't have ready made solutions period.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

R.I.P. The Prisoner

The Prisoner star and creator Patrick McGoohan has died. McGoohan will certainly be missed as the Prisoner is one of those iconic television programs that simultaneously encapsulates nostalgia for a bygone era (the 60's) and still holds up as one of the best programs of all time. Reason's coverage is here, which I only mention because I'm literally cutting and pasting the classic Prisoner quote which they utilized:

Number Two: It doesn't matter which side runs the Village.

Number Six: It's run by one side or the other.

Number Two: Both sides are becoming identical. What in fact has been created? An international community. A perfect blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realize that they're looking into a mirror, they'll see that this is the pattern for the future.

Number Six: The whole world as the Village?

Number Two: That is my dream. What's yours?

Number Six: To be the first man on the moon.

And of course, there's McGoohan's famous line as Number 6, which a young lonely libertarian captured for all eternity as his high school year book quote:

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.

To anyone and everyone who's never seen the show before, give it a gander. It's available on DVD and you can probably check it out through Netflix. You can either appreciate the 60's imagery or just push past it and appreciate a show that works both as a psychological drama about a man held captive in the most pleasant of prisons and as a philosophical and political study about the nature of man, freedom, and the individual.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

24: Hours 3 and 4

So last night we discovered that Tony wasn't really a bad guy and that he was working with Chloe and Bill Buchanan in an attempt to expose corruption at the highest levels of government. Despite reports of this being a questionable plot device, I thought it was rather well-executed and rather believable given the overall framework of the show. The concept of CTU in exile is rather clever, given that one of this season's overarching themes seems to be a rejection by the powers that be of Jack and everything he's done the past six seasons. Even the explanation of Tony's death and revival was clever- it's nice when these questionable plot devices end up fitting nicely into the story being told. As I mentioned yesterday, this season seems to be content to rely more on suspense and mystery as opposed to shock and awe. And as my friend McBlog pointed out to me, Jack hasn't even killed anyone yet. All-in-all, it looks to be an entertaining season, but we'll see where it goes from here.

The complaints? Once again, the civil rights soaked world of 24 is perplexing and the continued stressing of the theme is grating. Last night, when FBI agent Renee Walker went to question a suspect and hinted at physical intimidation, the man gave a smug look and responded, "You can't touch me, it's illegal." I get it, but you don't need to beat us over the head with it.

And it should make for an interesting story this year, but how many corrupt governments can we have? This will make for three in seven seasons. To go back to my original point, in a world with this much terrorism and this much corruption, you'd think that public opinion would be overwhelming in favor of a hero like Jack Bauer and overwhelmingly against the political posturing of a corrupt government.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fabricated Political Drama : Thoughts On The New Season of 24

Two years ago, as 24 stumbled through it's 6th season, I pointed out several times that the writers attempt to ratchet up the dramatic tension by utilizing the security versus liberty debate was a cheap attempt to score points with viewers. The problem was, the on-screen debate was preposterous in a world where only hours ago terrorists had set off a nuclear bomb in southern California, killing millions. The debate President Wayne Palmer and his presidential circle were having may have been relevant to our world, but it wasn't relevant in the world of 24, where 9-11 would have struggled to make the terrorist's top 5. To put it simply, you don't debate the nicer points of law when you're on the brink of Armageddon.

Last night, after a nearly two year hiatus, 24 opened a new chapter, with the show's move from Los Angeles to Washington highlighted by Jack Bauer's appearance at an unusually early 8:00 AM Senate hearing. The premise was simple and we the viewers were quickly brought up to speed: CTU has been disbanded and Jack (and presumably others as well), must be made to account for their complete and utter disregard for the Constitution. However, it quickly became apparent that we were delving into more real world politics jammed into a 24 world. Unlike the real world, in 24, ticking time bomb scenarios are so common that not only do they occur multiple times a season, but they apparently occur off screen as well, as evidenced by Jack's testimony of more torture in case involving a bomb on a bus. And you would think the legal system and the political branches of 24 world would reflect that reality, but instead, what we're given is the morally righteous indignation of a Senator from our world. In a world where the country has been on the brink of at least five nuclear threats, you would think the threshold for torture would be higher, not lower than it is in the real world.

And the worst part is, it doesn't get any better. Near the end of the first hour, Jack and his new FBI counterpart, special Agent Renee Walker question a suspect- an old colleague of Jack's- who seems well aware of Jack's legal predicament. As the questioning begins, he warns that Jack had better not lay a hand on him because, "he has witnesses." It's an acknowledgment that Jack's Senate trial is not some dark secret in the bowels of Washington, but relatively public knowledge.

24: Redemption bordered on interesting because the idea of Jack's atonement was primarily personal, as it should be. From a strictly utilitarian perspective, nearly all of Jack's actions can be justified by the literally millions of lives he's saved- and you would think that should be enough for the rest of the world. But as a human being, as an individual, Jack has to live with what he's done and how it's taken away from his very humanity. And while part of Redemption was about Jack realizing just the sort of man he is, I still can't help but be disappointed that in this season, Jack seems completely at peace with himself and his past.

But beyond the torture, both the political and the personal, the new season of 24 seems to have a reasonable mix of high points and low points. Just a few other comments.

# That Tony Almeida would be this season's villain is actually more believable than his resurrection. Not to get to Star Wars-y, but Tony's passions have always led him precariously close to the dark side. After all, this is a man who through his career away and endangered innocent lives to save his wife's life.

# While the nature of this season's threat is still, as yet, not entirely determined, parts of the threat seem rather unrealistic. I get that these terrorists are able to break through firewalls and hack into the computers controlling our nation's infrastructure, as evidenced by last night's take over of the FAA's communications. But aviation seems to be a bit removed from power, water, sewage, and the other potential threats mentioned to the President. Can't the threat of cyber-terrorism be eliminated simply by eliminating the cyber, i.e., cutting these vulnerable facilities off from the internet? And as my wife pointed out, in the real world, most of these facilities are probably old and outdated in the first place.

# Lots of familiar faces and plenty of great actors. I'll leave the fun for you and your friends and family, pointing out who you remember and from what. Even when the writing delved into icky territory, the consistently high level of acting has kept 24 watchable. That being said, the writing this season is already much better than in season 6, although it does remain precipitously close to cliche territory.

# It's nice to see some mystery in 24 again, particularly some mystery when it comes to someone Jack cares about. Let's hope this season takes some clues from season one and allows the mystery unfold rather than revealing all in the early going. Plot twists are much more fun when they're unravelled as part of a mystery.

# The percentage of attractive red-headed female FBI agents is far higher in tv and movies than it is the real world.

# Traffic in D.C. seems just as light and easy to handle as traffic in L.A. Who would've guessed?

# On the whole, I'm interested, and what we've seen so far is miles and miles better than the disastrous season 6. We'll see what happens in the next two hours tonight.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Big Hollywood, Big Mistake

I've been following the debut of Big Hollywood, an internet destination that creator Andrew Breitbart envisions as a sort of conservative answer to the Huffington Post. Breitbart appeared on Red Eye earlier in the week to promote the site and more importantly in terms of my interest, a number of the Reason writers are supposed to be contributing a libertarian perspective to the site. So having checked in several times so far, I feel safe in saying that, thus far, the site is a literal internet abortion. Rather than trying to be interesting, most of the pieces just drench themselves in traditional politics, so much so that there's really nothing new being said.

Take this piece by Ben Shapiro on the top 5 conservative characters on Lost. As a Lost fanatic, it drew my attention, but I was quickly disappointed. Here's Shapiro's take on Sawyer:

Josh Holloway’s Southern con man, James “Sawyer” Ford, is the best conservative character on television, bar none. Sure he sleeps around – what con man worth his salt doesn’t? But he votes Republican – in Episode 16 of Season 1, Outlaws, Sawyer admits that he has never voted Democrat. He’s a proud gun-toter, carrying rifles and pistols with equal authority. He’s a true capitalist, buying and selling like Warren Buffet at a flea market. And he hates communism. When one female character suggests that everyone share a cache of food, Sawyer sneers, “Oh sure, Moonbeam, and then maybe we can all do Trust Falls and sing Kumbaiya.” Sawyer is the first to engage in racial profiling – he labels fellow crash survivor Sayid a terror suspect in Episode 1, Season 1 – but he also develops a deep friendship with Sayid as the show progresses. And boy is he tough. In Season 2, he rips a bullet out of his shoulder with his bare hands. Ask Al Franken to do that.

So Sawyer is the best conservative character on television because he votes Republican, he's good with guns, he doesn't believe in sharing, he engages in racial profiling, and he can pull a bullet out of his shoulder with his bare hands. I suppose now I finally know what real conservatism is all about. It doesn't get any better either. John Locke is conservative because he's a man of faith and he's tough. Benjamin Linus is a conservative because he's a bad ass. Mr. Eko is a conservative because he was a drug dealer who found God. And Charlie and Claire and conservative because of the whole redemption thing again and because Claire didn't abort her baby. So if I had to simplify this all down to it's bare essentials, conservatives kick ass first, take names second, and believe in God. And they don't kill babies.

Forgetting for a minute that Mr. Shapiro is ruining Lost for all of us who just think it's a damn good show, let me just point out that Mr. Shapiro's biggest mistake is reading politics into his characters in the first place. Characters may have political opinions or occasionally take politically charged action (like keeping a baby versus aborting it), but I'd challenge anyone to determine what characteristics make an individual conservative, or for that matter liberal or libertarian. You can't do it because political philosophies are about our world view, not about each and every single trait and characteristic that make us who we are. You could be a God-fearing liberal who kicks ass first, then takes names, and never aborts your babies.

There's a difference between themes and character traits and I'm just amazed Mr. Shapiro (who graduated from Harvard law apparently, and has columns appearing in countless publications) can't tell the difference. When looking at the show as a whole, I'm sort of at a loss to describe Lost as political in any way. Because the show isn't really about how our survivors actually survive, there's little to be said about how the survivors organize their community, other than that it seems to be a mix of sharing and people keeping things for themselves.

If this is what young conservatives really think about conservatism, it's no wonder conservatives are trouble. Just as an example, here's a conservative themes on television. 24 is an obvious choice, not because Jack Bauer's such a bad ass, but because the program showcases a world where America has very deadly enemies and national security is all-important. As a libertarian, I enjoy pointing out the moments in popular media where individuals are crushed by government bureaucracy, or where government is simply and realistically ineffectual. There are libertarians who loved the Wire for it's critique of the effects of the drug war on all our societal institutions and libertarians who loved Deadwood for it's portrayal of a functional society operating outside the traditional reins of government. Libertarians may support drug legalization, but that doesn't mean Charlie on Lost was a libertarian character who became a conservative character when he gave up drugs and started looking for God.

I'm sure the intention of Big Hollywood was to be clever- perhaps to point out the various instances where liberal Hollywood has actually championed conservative values. But this is just asinine. Thanks Mr. Shapiro, for raising the level of discourse by pointing out that Al Franken would have never pulled a bullet out of his shoulder the way your favorite tv character did.

No Sense Of Humor

So Greg Gutfeld, host of my personal late night favorite, Red Eye (airs 3AM on Fox News week nights), has been named by GLADD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) as one of the worst anti-gay and anti-transgender voices of 2008. Here's the blurb from GLADD's website.

FOX News Channel's late-night show Red Eye continued to feature sophomoric jabs at LGBT people. On May 20, host Greg Gutfeld and his guests grossly misrepresented serious medical concerns faced by transgender youth and laughed as one of his guests referred to transition as "turning a hole into a pole." Then Gutfeld criticized Ellen DeGeneres for announcing her upcoming wedding, saying Ellen should "shut the hell up about it." In his September 17 blog, Gutfeld ranted about diplomats saying, "These bloated bureaucrats would learn more in two days ducking for cover in Liberia, than two weeks trying to pick up transvestite hookers in Times Square."

I've got to be honest, if "turning a hole into a pole" is enough to get you on a list of evil bigots, than the Red Eye crew- Gutfeld and regulars Bill Schulz and Andy Levy, along with their guests- have probably said far worse things. Of course, they've also spoken out in support of gay marriage, in opposition to Prop 8 in California, and hosted more gay and lesbian guests than probably any other late night show. The guys at Red Eye have even provided a forum for Planet Unicorn, hosting the show's creators several times. In short, it's really sad that GLADD chose to rely on secondhand accounts off off the cuff remarks, rather than be bothered to actually see what Red Eye is all about. Personally, I'm not sure there's a more truly alternative show on television. All sorts of guests have found a home on Red Eye, from second and third tier comedians, to writers of all stripes, to D-list actors, musicians, pundits, and other assorted odd balls. Yet no one from GLADD, despite multiple offers to come on the program, has ever bothered to appear.

This doesn't say much for GLADD's sense of humor, nor does it say much for their organization as a whole. Surely there's a difference between remarks made on a welcoming late night program that tries to push PC boundaries and the anti-gay attacks that can be heard on serious discussion programs. I could rant and rave about PC culture, but this is more than that, this is just flat out ignorance- which is ironic given the fact that ignorance is what groups like GLADD purport to be stamping out.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Meet The New President, Not All That Different From The Old President

I caught some of Obama's speech on the economy on the news earlier and color me terrified. Some excerpts ...

Now, I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible. If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four.

Spreading the wealth around also means spreading around the losses.

It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.

Only government can break the cycle that are crippling our economy -- where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.

Only government can save us.

And this plan begins with -- this plan must begin today, a plan I am confident will save or create at least 3 million jobs over the next few years. It is not just another public-works program; it's a plan that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment -- the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there's so much work to be done. And that's why we'll invest in priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century. That's why the overwhelming majority of the jobs created will be in the private sector, while our plan will save the public sector jobs of teachers, police officers, firefighters and others who provide vital services.

I just wish someone could explain to me why the government pouring money into infrastructure, education, and health care is going to spur job growth and get the economy going.

And that is why the time has come to build a 21st-century economy in which hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded. That's why I'm asking Congress to work with me and my team day and night, on weekends if necessary, to get the plan passed in the next few weeks. That's why I'm calling on all Americans -- Democrats and Republicans and independents -- to kut -- to put good ideas ahead of the old ideological battles, a sense of common purpose above the same narrow partisanship, and insist that the first question each of us asks isn't "What's good for me?" but "What's good for the country my children will inherit?"

Take one part JFK, add one part George W, throw in a law school education and a dash of charisma and you've got President Barack Obama. The JFK "ask what you can do for your country" moment is obvious, but maybe my George W reference isn't. We've spent the last eight years with a President who has repeatedly told us to trust him- In Bush's case it was mostly about terrorism and now Obama's bringing that same theme to the economic crisis. Liberal or conservative, think about Bush what you will, but "trust me, I'll take care of things, and don't worry about the details" is not good government.

And remember what I've said about the push to crush small and limited government opposition? Here, Obama writes off small government as an old idealogical battle, framing opposition to any stimulus as merely a partisan relic of the past.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Danger, Danger, More Attenuated Tobacco Threats

I noticed this the other day in the New York Times and half thought it was a joke: Thirdhand Smoke Alarm. The link is to Jacob Sullum's response in Reason, which I'll post in full below:

A recent New York Times headline warns parents to be on the lookout for "A New Cigarette Hazard: 'Third-Hand Smoke.'" The freshly coined term, introduced by a study reported in the journal Pediatrics, refers to particles and gases that linger in a room after someone has smoked there or in the clothing and possessions of people who have smoked (or been around smokers) elsewhere. The genius of the study is that it tries to stir up alarm about thirdhand smoke without bothering to show that such trace levels of toxins and carcinogens cause any measurable harm to children (or to anyone else). Instead the authors simply assume that thirdhand smoke is dangerous and then do a survey to see how many people are aware of this "fact."

You can get a sense of the researchers' method from the first sentence of their abstract: "There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke." As I noted when former Surgeon General Richard Carmona said something similar in connection with his 2006 report on secondhand smoke, this is an article of faith, not a scientific statement, since it cannot be proven or disproven. But if you start from the premise that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke, it is very easy to arrive at the conclusion that thirdhand smoke (as well as fourthhand smoke, fifthhand smoke, and sixthhand smoke) is dangerous. Here is another taste of the researchers' approach:

The toxicity of low levels of tobacco smoke constituents has been proved. According to the National Toxicology Program, these 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust), butane (used in lighter fluid), ammonia (used in household cleaners), toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic (used in pesticides), lead (formerly found in paint), chromium (used to make steel), cadmium (used to make batteries), and polonium-210 (highly radioactive carcinogen). Eleven of these compounds are group 1 carcinogens (most carcinogenic designation).

Noting that many of the chemicals in cigarette smoke are toxic or carcinogenic in high enough doses proves nothing about the dangers posed by tiny levels of those chemicals. One searches the article in vain for any acknowledgement of the toxicological principle that the dose makes the poison. Talking to the Times, the lead author suggests we should instead apply the smell test, which tells us to fear a fellow elevator rider who has recently smoked a cigarette:

"Your nose isn't lying," he said. "The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: 'Get away.'"

On his tobacco policy blog, anti-smoking activist Michael Siegel notes that the Pediatrics article "cites just a single study to support its contention that low levels of tobacco smoke exposure are associated with health harm." That study found an association between low levels of cotinine (a nicotine metabolite) in children's blood and their scores on cognitive tests. Siegel, a public health professor who supports smoking bans but believes their advocates routinely exaggerate the hazards of secondhand smoke, details the study's weaknesses, which make it impossible to conclude from it that thirdhand smoke causes brain damage.

"There is no convincing scientific evidence that exposures of this magnitude produce any significant health harm," Siegel writes, "with the one possible exception being children who have asthma and are sensitive to tobacco smoke." He worries that propaganda campaigns focusing on thirdhand smoke may backfire, convincing parents who now make it a point to smoke outside the house or to smoke when their children are not around that such precautions are more trouble than they're worth.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I haven't blogged at all on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza because I don't feel like there's much worth saying. People tend to have very strong opinions when it comes to Israel, opinion of the sort that can't be swayed by experts, let alone ignorant bloggers. But there was something that caught my mind the other day and that's the fact that here in the United States, there are demonstrations to condemn Israel, but there are never demonstrations to condemn Hamas.

I suppose if I had to pick a side, I'd side with Israel. I just can't imagine living in Israel and having to deal with criticism of your somewhat measured response to having rockets lobbed at you by your neighbors. A couple hundred years ago, Israel would have just annihilated the Palestinians and been done with it. Now, I can understand the perspective that the Hamas rocket attacks that started this whole mess are just a response to various Israeli actions. But here's the thing- either war is justified or it's not. When your nation is attacked, most sane people would agree, war is justified. Now, I've heard arguments that Israel has violated international law repeatedly in regards to the Palestinians in Gaza- So be it. Then Hamas would be justified in their attacks. The real issue seems to be the amount of force Israel is capable of using, which has nothing to do with whether or not the use of force is justified in the first place. Debating fault in a longstanding dispute just seems rather pointless from my perspective.

Monday, January 05, 2009

No One Ever Asked FDR For No Stinkin' Proof

I spent time on him last week, but now New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is at it again. Today, he worries that Obama's Keynesian stimulus package will be too little, too late. But what caught my eye, was this little statement here.

The biggest problem facing the Obama plan, however, is likely to be the demand of many politicians for proof that the benefits of the proposed public spending justify its costs — a burden of proof never imposed on proposals for tax cuts.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't have a problem with a world where the government doesn't need to justify reducing the tax burden of it's citizens. And maybe I'm crazy, but requiring proponents of massive government expenditures to justify that spending, with, you know, evidence, isn't such a bad idea either. But what the hell do I know, I didn't win a Nobel prize.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Few Brief Thought On The Economy

I read a piece earlier today on student loans and the developing issue of the contraction of the private student loan market. And it got me thinking how this crisis, how the entire financial crisis fits very neatly into my theory that Americans today want all the good and none of the bad. This attitude has become so prevalent that even in the face of a financial crunch directly caused by it, the attitude continues to persist.

As home prices have fallen dramatically as part of the markets response to the crisis, the government has responded in all their wisdom by saying we should prop home prices up. This, despite the fact that the steep decline in prices is a direct response to the contractions in the financial markets. As I said, we want it all. Our thoughts on student loans tend to be the same- the government wants to ensure access for everyone no matter what the nature of the investment.

It seems to me that the market response to these various financial crises has been to tighten up lending standards, what seems to be a quite logical response. If this crisis was basically caused by the over extension of credit, surely the appropriate response is a reaction the other way. The problem is, the government's response has been to view this credit crunch as a problem it needs to attempt to solve. We want everyone to have it all, but we don't want to have to pay for it.

Friday, January 02, 2009

More Intellectual Dishonesty

If there's one thing I hate, it's intellectuals who slyly attempt to marginalize dissenting opinions through the use of conspiracy theory-styled logic. It's unbecoming, it's intellectually dishonest, and it's exactly what Paul Krugman does in his op-ed in the Times this morning, Bigger Than Bush. According to Krugman, the Republicans are first and foremost the party of racial backlash and their governance the past forty years has been a response to that philosophy, with the Bush administration just being the most recent example.

And you see, Krugman has evidence. Why the GOP, in the post-segregation era, did adopt a "Southern Strategy." And back in the 1980's Ronald Reagan did say that government was the problem, not the solution. And at times, the Republicans of the past did exploit racial and class tensions in their electoral politics. So by golly, Reagan's talk of limited government must have, first and foremost, had a racial rationale. And all the talk of government being the problem is why we ended up with such an incompetent administration today: because these Republicans don't care about good government. So it all makes perfect sense. At least, it makes perfect sense if you're the sort that can be convinced Israel and the US government was responsible for 9-11 and that by golly, the government still isn't telling us what really happened at Roswell after all these years.

It's terribly disappointing to know that a guy that just won the Nobel prize for economics (Krugman) can be either so stupid or so intellectually dishonest. Weaving truths and half-truths into a semi-coherent narrative is not an intellectual argument, it's pure fantasy. Obviously, the Republicans have racial demons in their past, but the party worked hard to vanquish those demons in the 90's. Democrats have racial demons as well, but no one holds them accountable for the racism of 50's and 60's Democrats when it is quite obvious the party has moved forward.

Equally obvious is the strain of libertarian, limited-government thought that appears, off and on, over the last 50 or so years of the Republican party. Equally obvious is that it comes and goes. Barry Goldwater was famous for his views on limited government- Richard Nixon not so much. And while Reagan is admired by some libertarians, you'd be hard-pressed to find either Bush on a any libertarian's heroes list. Electoral politics can be messy business and both parties can do nasty things. But there's a major difference in the business of electoral politics and a philosophy of governance.

Most glaringly repellent is the how Krugman melds everything together. Racial backlash=limited government=George Bush. To Republicans who would accuse Obama of favoring big government, Krugamn warns "they’ll learn two things: not only has the financial crisis discredited their economic theories, the racial subtext of anti-government rhetoric doesn’t play the way it used to." Or in other words, don't even try it.

It's one thing to point out the numerous mistakes, numerous examples of incompetence and general philosophical bankruptcy of the Bush administration, or at least make arguments in those directions. And it's another thing, as an intellectual to debate various philosophies of governance. But having already used the financial crisis to dismiss limited government without debate, Krugman has decided to take things a step further, connecting limited government with racism. With a black dude in the White House, that ought to really kill off any opposition to Obama's economic plans. God help us.