Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Real Problem With The Public Option

The public option is in the news again of late, despite the Obama administration's politically motivated indifference to the idea. For those who may not remember (or have never been quite clear), the public option, put simply, would involve creating a government health insurance company to compete with private insurers. Supporters claim such a plan would help insure more Americans and lower costs, while opponents claim such a plan would result in higher taxes and higher premiums for those with private insurance.

Obviously, I'm in the latter camp, but it occurred to me today that there's a major, simple flaw with the public option beyond the more complicated looks at future costs. That flaw becomes more clear when you ask the simple question, what specific problem is the public option looking to address? The general problem is health care costs, but the specific problem must involve the pricing particulars and profit margins of the health insurance industry and that alone makes me suspicious of the public option.

Health insurers simply don't make enough profits to explain the drastic increase in health care costs that have occurred over recent years. And from what I understand, profits in the health insurance industry have been traditionally lower and remained traditionally lower from a large number of other industries. If increases in health care costs were be explained by rapidly growing corporate profits, than you'd expect to see the same exponential increase in health insurance profits that you see in overall health care costs. That we don't see such trends tells us that if we're looking to the health insurance industry and the practices of third party payers to fix the problem of escalating health care costs, we need to look not at profits, but at administrative costs and the payments to health service providers. And this is where the argument for a public option breaks down even further.

That the competition of a publicly administered health care plan would somehow reduce administrative costs in the private sector is preposterous on it's face. If simple, practical, and legal solutions to reduce the administrative costs of health care plans existed, someone out there would have figured them out, as it's not as though the incentives to reduce overhead and drastically improve profit margins don't already exist. What your left with is the real way for the public option to reduce costs and what the public option is really all about. What your left with is the ability of government to force health care providers to accept lower reimbursement rates than they currently accept from health insurance companies. And yes, it works, but at what cost to the economy? There's never been an individualized market for products and services in the history of the world that's been able to provide a better product for less money through government fiat. What we're talking about is either a system that would pass costs on to those with private insurance coverage or a system of de facto price controls. It's one or the other and supporters of the public option can't seem to be honest about it. Unless you beleive in the magic wand of government there's just no reason to beleive in the long term success of the public option.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This Week's TV Power Rankings

Monday Oct. 19th - Sun. Oct. 26th

1. Mad Men (Last Week #1) (And what are you supposed to be? Just oh so good as Betty confronts Don over his hidden past. But in typical Mad Men fashion, this confrontation occurs as Don's fling in sitting in the car on the street, waiting to run off on a trip with him. Not only is the audience left waiting for the other shoe to drop (which it never does), but arguably the greater sin of Don's continual infidelity is kept hidden.)

2. 30 Rock (Last Week, #2) (Will Arnett's Devin Banks is every bit the comedic equal of every regular on 30 Rock. If I had to make a minor complaint it would be that last week's installment ended rather abruptly and for a show that thrives on actual storytelling, I'm a bit unclear as to whether or not Jack intended to accept Devin's offer of a Washington bailout. If he did accept the bailout that sort of cuts against my argument of Jack as a Randian superman, doesn't it?)

3. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (Last Week #3) (Bonus points for relatability in the form of baseball and parking ticket court. I loved Mac's letter to Chase Utley, Mac's first instinct of scaling building, and Green Man versus the Philly Frenetic.)

4. Fringe (Last Week #4) (Off for the week, but nothing has surpassed it.)

5. Californication (Last Week #5) (Ahhh Hank Moody. Californication works because amidst all the sex and raunchiness a healthy layer of love anchors the show. And as this week's episode shows, there is a big, big difference a man who loves sex and loves women and a man who only loves sex.)

6. Parks and Rec (Last Week #6) (Kaboom! Parks and Rec continues to soar, bolstered this week by a Kaboom! appearance by the same guy who played Kenneth's page nemesis on 30 Rock.)

7. South Park (Last week, #8) (That's not Wrastling! Great return of "they took are jobs!," one of my favorite South Park jokes ever and clever utilization of the same sort of humor in having the boys wrestling matches morph bit by bit into actual theater. The past few weeks have been good, but this was finally one of those South Parks that works on several different levels.)

8. Flash Forward (Last week #7) (I desperately want Flash Forward to be Lost and each week I think the writers are trying to tell me they want the show to be more like 24, as last week's episode started an ended with an explosion and gunfight far more reminiscent of 24 than Lost. That the show wants to be more action than character drama is my own problem, but the continued mediocre writing falls solely on the shoulders of the show's writers and creators. It's not that I'm not enjoying it, but right now Flash Forward seems stuck on brilliant premise, mediocre execution. Case-in-point from last week, everything about the Janis-girlfriend plot was just so bleh, almost as if the writers had started with two chicks kissing and worked their way back from that point. The dialogue from their dinner date was painful, as if the only thought was, "let's write a quick scene to show some chemistry." What sucks- and what keeps me watching- is that there's such weighty material just hanging out in the background. Thus far, the flash forwards have been dealt with primarily through the question of whether or not they are true and our characters acceptance of those truths. But about fate and the nature of time and of the universe, the show has been almost silent. Lost spent an entire season with an incredible mindfuck about time and fate and we get nothing here. Somehow the real weighty question about our existence- do we have choice or free will- has been glossed over.)

9. House (Last week, not ranked) (Finally back in the top 10 where it belongs, House seems to finally have put the plot heavy baggage of the James Earl Jones African dictator episode behind it. Last week also featured a presumably dead man coming back to life and a confrontation between House and Wilson over their individual demons. Clearly, what had been missing over the last few weeks was Wilson, the one character on the show weighty enough to counterbalance House.)

10. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Last Week, #9) (Some funny moments, but a fairly uneven episodes with some atypical jokes that fell sort of flat. The interactions between Jerry and Larry were interesting, but not particularly funny or enlightening and the jokes centering on the assistant's inappropriate attire strained credibility. To top it all off, the Jesus drips and the entire subplot with the assistant's mother and the literal collision with the Richard Lewis subplot seemed forced. That the ending was terrible was painfully evident with so many other good comedies on the air.)

Not On The List:

# The Office (Last Week, Not Ranked) (Michael dating Pam's mother is potentially a jump the shark type moment. That being said, not such a bad episode, but the Office still has a lot of work to do to work it's way back into the top 10.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Truth About Water

For the past several months, the New York Times has been running a series of supposedly hard hitting investigative pieces on water quality in the United States. Earlier this week I happened to catch part of the syndicated Dr. Oz program, in which the good doctor devoted half an episode to the threats from our drinking water, culling most of the information presented from the New York Times series. And on Thursday, October 22, the Times followed up it's series with an editorial calling for more money and more regulation to fix these dangerous problems.

I've blogged about this before, but the manner in which these types of stories are reported are downright disgraceful, pure agenda driven reporting. It's not that any of the information here is wrong, but, to go back to this blog's theme that narratives matter, the narrative here is a story that should be unrecognizable to anyone familiar with the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, business and regulators alike.

The most damning story is told in this Charles Duhigg piece on Clean Water Act violations, which is accompanied by a database of Clean Water Act violations. The theme of the piece is that the Clean Water Act is not enforced as strictly as it should be by state regulatory bodies. The database chronicles the millions of violations made by polluters and notes how few of those violators have faced fines. Several stories are told, most notably the one about the West Virginia coal mining town, about drinking water supplies that have been polluted by activities that presumably should be Clean Water Act violations. The end result is a scare story, designed to worry people about the safety of our drinking water supply and designed to push a solution of more forceful and heavy-handed regulation. The problem is as I mentioned above, that the facts may be correct, but the story lacks any comprehension of the regulated world of public drinking water and discharge permits. The individual stories of polluted drinking water may well be serious issues that require some form or another of government action (water can be a very complicated issue), but there's no evidence that justifies portraying them as indicative of a nationwide problem.

First off, some basics on the difference between the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Clean Water Act regulates polluters, or really, anyone making a point discharge into a regulated body of water. This includes, as the article indicates big companies, small companies, and, as the article neglects to mention, municipal and other government sources of pollution. The term pollution itself is a bit misleading, as the Clean Water Act doesn't ban pollution, just restricts it. Polluters obtain a permit, usually obtained through the appropriate regulatory agency within their state which indicates the limits of what can be discharged into the given waterways. The permits are industry specific and require monitoring on varying schedules, once again, in accordance with the nature of the pollution. The Safe Drinking Water Act regulates all public water systems rather broadly, requiring water quality monitoring at various intervals in accordance with the size and nature of the system.

What's driven the New York Times story is not the facts of polluted water, of which they have only several specific stories to tell, but the language of regulation, which tells us the following:

Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000 companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by polluters themselves. Companies sometimes test what they are dumping only once a quarter, so the actual number of days when they broke the law is often far higher. And some companies illegally avoid reporting their emissions, say officials, so infractions go unrecorded.

Environmental groups say the number of Clean Water Act violations has increased significantly in the last decade. Comprehensive data go back only five years but show that the number of facilities violating the Clean Water Act grew more than 16 percent from 2004 to 2007, the most recent year with complete data.


Some violations are relatively minor. But about 60 percent of the polluters were deemed in “significant noncompliance” — meaning their violations were the most serious kind, like dumping cancer-causing chemicals or failing to measure or report when they pollute.

The problem is, none of this data is indicative of any environmental or health hazards. The thrust of the narrative is that these violations are a cause for alarm, but there's miles and miles of difference between a regulatory violator and a polluter. As the article itself indicates, significant violations include "failing to measure or report when they pollute." Maybe it sounds bad on the surface, but let's unpack those words. Discharge permits require specific monitoring during specific time periods. And ask anyone subject to any form of regulation and they'll tell you that the biggest problem is paperwork. Being very familiar with the Clean Water Act I can say for certain that a number of those polluters in "significant noncompliance" are guilty of having committed a paperwork violation. Monitor in the wrong time frame and you're in "significant noncompliance." Monitor for the wrong parameters in the wrong time frame and your in "significant non-compliance." Monitor in the correct time frame, for the correct parameters, but using a method the EPA deems unacceptable, and once again, maybe you'll find yourself in "significant noncompliance." My guess is that a large percentage of these violations are paperwork violations, but that's just a guess. I can't be sure, but neither can the New York Times or Mr. Duhigg without any of the specifics. On it's own, the data tells us a lot about regulation, but tells us very little about pollution or clean water.

There are other major problems here as well. The focus here is the Clean Water Act, with nary a mention of the state and local laws that protect watersheds and public drinking water supplies. These laws vary by state, mostly because drinking water circumstances vary a great deal according to each state's geography. Connecticut for example has very strong watershed protection laws, such that bodies of water that receive point sources of pollution are not intermingled with the drinking water supply. This is not the case in some other states, where local conditions necessitate different sorts of protections and the strict laws of a Connecticut would result in either no business and industry or no public drinking water. The larger point is that a multitude of laws and various layers of government are supposed to protect water quality. The individual cases cited in the Times piece are relevant and should not be dismissed out of hand, but again, the connection between these specific instances and a larger national problem is tenuous to say the least.

The underlying assumption seems to be that regulation can solve everything, but even in the West Virginia coal mining case cited in the article, stricter regulation wouldn't have prevented the groundwater contamination that occurred. According to the story, the coal mining companies exceeded the limits on their discharge permits and were never cited or fined for doing so. But a fine or a citation wouldn't have change the fact of the discharges, nor would it change the discharges made within the limits of the permit. The biggest problem here was a poor assessment of the ground water situation as those discharges shouldn't have been permitted at any levels if they were likely to contaminate a drinking water supply. The lack of after-the-fact enforcement through the Clean Water Act is sort of besides the point as all of us, big government liberals and small government libertarians don't like the idea of poisoned drinking water in the first place.

That such a major story could miss the target is disappointing, but hardly surprising. Journalists still do a decent job on some subjects, but the intersection of law and science, a notoriously complicated affair, is not one of those subjects. I referred to this as agenda-driven reporting and I don't mean the sort of blatant biases that are easily weeded out. What I refer to is the pernicious sort of bias that permeates the mainstream narrative, in the case, the narrative that a heavy-handed can and should prevent all harms in the world. Unlike some, I have no problem with this viewpoint being presented in the context of news, so long as this viewpoint is made clear, rather than hidden beneath the facade of neutral reporting. More importantly, I'd like such a story to show some understanding of the subject matter in question, more than could be gleamed by reading through the EPA website. Yes, Charles Duhigg has come up with a monstrous amount of data, but without context, that data lacks real meaning.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Politics of 30 Rock

I remember a few years back that Bill O'Reilly did a piece on 30 Rock that was some what of a hit job, trashing the show's liberal politics and claiming that the critical attention the show garnered was only from like-minded liberals. Or something like that. The problem was, Bill O'Reilly clearly hadn't seen the show and I may be making this up, but I can almost remember him smugly asserting that he didn't need to see it. It'd be easy to dismiss 30 Rock as liberal propaganda, just as some dismissed the brilliant Arrested Development for it's subtle critiques of the Iraq war, but it's missing the point. It's easy to dismiss the Jon Stewarts and Bill Mahers of the world because their shows are about news and politics, but 30 Rock is a fictional, character driven drama. Good fiction is rarely first and foremost about politics and when it is, it has to be about ideas to succeed. In other words, there's a difference between a few throw away jokes about Republicans and a show designed to point out how Republicans are stupid.

But beyond the basics, I've found 30 Rock to be pretty darn fair, particularly considering it's writers and stars, notably Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, are well known liberals. As I was saying above, it's obvious that their primary concern has been making a quality show, not pushing liberal propaganda. 30 Rock isn't always great on big D and big R Democrats and Republicans, but they know people and they're awesome when it comes to class issues. Baldwin's Jack Donaghy was designed as a stereotypical Republican executive, but over the course of the show's first three seasons, Baldwin has infused Donaghy with such humanity that the character has outgrown the caricature. It's a very unique situation in comedy, where characters tend to become caricatures over time rather than the other way around.

In making Donaghy a real character, Baldwin and the writers have had to make him relatable and that's taken the far too easy jokes- such as Republicans being racist- off of the table and instead we get throw away lines about the free market, big business, social class, and the value of hard work. I don't know what the exact intent of the writers is, but Baldwin is so good that he makes the audience believe in Jack Donaghy's earnestness.

Jack Donaghy's counterpart on the show is Tina Fey's Liz Lemon, a liberal in name only. In her politics, Lemon is a lighter version of Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, the stereotypical guilty liberal who's politics are just as much about what she's supposed to believe as they are about what she actually believes. But unlike Donaghy, who's been shown to be reasonably consistent and honest in his beliefs, Liz Lemon is shown time and time again to be not as principled as she likes to think she is. There was the episode where Liz admitted that she'd probably vote for John McCain while telling her friends she voted for Barack Obama. Or the episode where Liz was ready to drop everything in order to "go corporate." Or the episode where Liz refused a flu shot as part of a principled stand against the companies policy of rationed flu shots for the most integral people, only to turn her back on those principles to save her own skin. Time and time again, Liz is shown to abandon liberal principles in favor of her own interests.

One of the major thematic elements of the show since it's inception has been Jack's John Galt-like role as mentor to Liz, where he's tried to help her unleash her inner Randian egoist. Superficially the characters of Jack and Liz are very different, but time and time again we see the ways in which they are similar and that is precisely what Jack tries to nurture. To go back to the class issue a moment, just look at Jack and Liz's treatment of Kenneth, the lowly page. Generally, both Jack and Liz treat Kenneth with respect, but when he stands in their way, neither are above cursing at him or referring to him as a hillbilly. But when Kenneth hosts his annual party, Jack is confident enough to tell Kenneth that the invitation was ridiculous, while Liz, fully in tune with her liberal guilt, reluctantly accepts the invitation. Jack is actively pushing Liz to be more like him- to be confident, to be a leader, and to accept her position in the hierarchy of GE and society at large.

And I can here the protests now, what about the Season 4 premier, where the pages went on strike and large executive bonuses in the face of recession were ridiculed? Once again, the brilliance of 30 Rock doesn't lie on the surface of the plots, but the intricacies of it's characters. As we're reminded at the end of the episode, the page strike was never really about money, but honesty. Kenneth, who already gets paid next to nothing, doesn't object to the lack of overtime pay, he objects to having to lie on his time card. And Jack's justification of his bonus is simple and he puts it bluntly: he deserves it. Kenneth puts one over on Jack and that's because Jack knows Kenneth is right about the honesty issue- it's never about the money and we don't see Jack giving in on anything to do with the money.

Does 30 Rock make fun of Republicans? Certainly. Season two ends with Jack out at GE and taking a job in the lame duck Bush Administration. Sure it's brutal in parts, but no one ever said comedy was nice. I found the jokes funny and as an exercise in political humor, it's the government that comes off looking incompetent. Perhaps the writers intended this to be seen as unique to the Bush administration, but that's in the eye of the beholder. So yes, there are plenty of jokes made at the expensive of Republicans, but on the deeper level of political ideology, 30 Rock isn't so clear cut. Is 30 Rock a leftist take on the big business of tv? Or is a Randian justification of television's elite and accomplished? Or is it both? Like any good show, what you take from 30 Rock depends on just where you're coming from.

The Problem With Health Care Solutions

Will Wilkinson responds to a philisophical argument for universal health care.

That argument, from philosopher Daniel Little:

It seems a bitter but unavoidable truth that there are very substantial inequalities in the provision of health care in our society. One person’s likelihood of surviving a devastating cancer may be significantly less than another person’s chances, simply based on the second person’s ability to pay for premium health care services. Further, it seems unavoidable that these extreme inequalities are flatly unjust in any society that believes in the equal worth of all human beings. And where this seems to lead is to the conclusion that some system of universal health insurance is a fundamental requirement of justice.

And Wilkinson's response:

Clearly Little is merely gesturing at an argument, but I cannot follow the gesture. That some are able to afford, say, a treatment with very expensive new technology that significantly increases (how much is that?) their chances to survive a devastating cancer compared to the chances of those who cannot afford it does not seem to me unjust, flatly or otherwise. It seems a trivial consequence of the fact that new technology is often much more expensive than older technology. Moreover, it seems plain that any economically feasible scheme of universal health insurance must refuse to cover many expensive treatments (new or otherwise). So a system of universal health insurance will do nothing to eliminate “extreme inequalities” in many kinds of cases. In these cases, the only hope of eliminating the inequality is forbidding access to treatments that cannot be provided to all under the universal health insurance system. But a policy of coercively preventing exchanges that help someone (the doctor, at least!) but harm no one is flatly unjust. Which leads to the conclusion that the attempt to prevent some inequalities in the provision health care is ruled out by the requirements of justice.

If Little limited himself to the much weaker, and much more plausible, claim that justice demands a system of institutions that offers health care that is as good as it gets for the least well-off, then justice might plausibly demand in health services what we have (and Little seems to endorse) in food: a competitive market with means-tested vouchers.

That just about everyone left of center, including philosophers, seem to glide from their moral premises, whatever those might be, to “some system of universal health insurance” will some day be appreciated as the peculiar ideological reflex that it is.

The discussion brought to mind this piece in yesterday's New York Times from conservative columnist Douthat. Douthat makes the argument for markets in routine care, but government coverage of catastrophic illness or injury.

But there’s another path, equally radical, that’s more in keeping with the traditional American approach to government, taxation and free enterprise. This approach would give up on the costly goal of insuring everyone for everything, forever. Instead, it would seek to insure Americans only against costs that exceed a certain percentage of their income, while expecting them to pay for everyday medical expenditures out of their own pockets.

Such a system would provide universal catastrophic health insurance, in other words, while creating a free market for non-catastrophic care. In the process, it would marry a central conservative insight — that we’ll never control spending so long as Americans are insulated from the true price of their medical care — to the admirable liberal premise that nobody should go bankrupt paying for life-saving treatment.

It's an interesting thought and one that I've entertained before, but that little hook at the end about avoiding medical bankruptcies is what gave me pause. Like most liberal initiatives, it just sounds so good, but is it really? First off, why are medical bankruptcies so much worse than bankruptcies caused by other tragedies not of one's own making? And more importantly, what does eliminating medical bankruptcies actually mean? To literally put an end to all medical bankruptcies would require either, 1- having the government foot the bill for all expensive medical care, an obviously impossible option, or 2- having the government decide which medical treatments are and are not cost effective and literally stand in the way of those who would bankrupt themselves on the more experimental and expensive treatments that the government deems as not cost effective. This goes back to Will's point that new technology costs money and the only way to really insure equality is to deny access to that technology.

This is the problem with attempting to bring notions of fairness and equality into the realm of cancer. Cancer is not fair and cancer is not equal. And for those with cancer stricken family members, money is usually not a consideration. Most folks are willing to go bankrupt for even the smallest, most unlikely chance that their family member could pull through and you can't transfer those costs to the rest of society without just crushing the economy. I don't deny the tragedy of medical bankruptcies, but remember, the institutions of bankruptcy exists so as to allow people to rid themselves of the debts they cannot afford to pay. And as tragic as it is, it would be worse in my book to forbid people to make these sorts of choices for themselves.

And maybe there's something to be said for the rich spending their money and the middle class going bankrupt on the newest, most experimental treatments. After all, this is how markets work, and the price of technology goes down as more and more people use it. Where will innovation come from if there's no one there to actually pay for it?

Monday, October 19, 2009

TV Power Rankings

Monday Oct. 12th - Sun. Oct. 18th

I haven't had much time for other blogging, but this is a hell of a lot of fun and I've been able to work on it bit by bit at night and over the weekends. Here goes week three of the television power rankings.

1. Mad Men (Last Week #1) (Wow. I wonder if the other dramas here tend to duffer in their rankings because of how good Mad Men is. Mad Men is first and foremost about Don and Betty Draper, but the show also manages to seamlessly integrate it's supporting characters in a way that I wish Battlestar Galactica could have learned from. This week, Paul Kinsey was featured and given the opportunity to drink himself silly and forget his best idea ever. Just as interesting were the sexist comments he directed at Peggy, all the more surprising considering he's been shown to be one of Sterling Cooper's most progressive characters. In the end though, we wind up with a nice little bit where Peggy bails him out and he gains a measure of respect for her abilities. But there are much bigger problems brewing in the world of Mad Men, where Sterling Cooper may be up for sale yet again and where Betty has discovered, but not yet confronted Don about his past.

2. 30 Rock (Last Week, Not On Air) (30 Rock operates at a comedic level that I can only remember in Arrested Development, where the jokes flow quickly and naturally as part of the dialogue. At times some of the jokes may fall flat- Pete and Liz sneaking around and struggling to cover it up was a bit contrived- but the pace of the show keep such moments from weighing it down. More than anything else, 30 Rock succeeds as a real study on class. It's typically a bit more subtle, but this week it was successfully woven into the plot in the form of Kenneth's page strike and Tracy's attempt to reconnect with the common man. Stay tuned regular readers, because I think 30 Rock is deserving of a post onto itself.

3. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (Last Week #2) (I'll have "the milk steak, boiled over-hard, and a side of your finest jelly beans, raw." Another Sunny classic, with Charlie's milk steak and career as a "full on rapist" getting the most laughs. Only down a notch because 30 Rock is just that good.)

4. Fringe (Last Week #3) (Last year at this time I would have never thought I'd have Fringe on a top ten list, but it's gotten to that point by both embracing the program's inner X-Files and giving the characters a chance to get some depth. The characters of Fringe don't quite match Mulder and Scully and the cast will never be the equal of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, but Fringe has reached the point where it's enjoyable on a weekly basis. Last week seemed a bit reminiscent of several X-Files episodes, but the neat little twist at the end of the episode made the whole outing worth while.)

5. Californication (Last Week #4) (Still going strong.)

6. Parks and Rec (Last Week #5) (America, Fuck Yeah! In last week's episode Parks and Rec may have finally hit it's stride, allowing all the characters to react to an outside threat in the form of a delegation from Venezuela. Very much over the top, but true to the show's premise and quite a cute yet clever defense of the mess that is democracy.)

7. Flash Forward (Last week #6) (Let me just say that I am enjoying this show and it's great to see a show of this sort on the air, doing so well in viewership. That being said, my list of complaints is growing. To go back two weeks ago, the 24-like scene where the crow deaths in Somalia were discovered by a quick google-like search was just a painful example of style over substance and the more I think about it, the circumstances of the release of the Nazi war criminal were just preposterous. Last episode we had more painful plotting and more clunky character development. Dmitiri's reaction to his impending doom never made much sense and makes even less sense in the wake of his discovery of the specifics. Either you fully beleive it to be true, in which case you'd be living out your life like a terminal cancer patient, or you'd have doubts about the infallibility of these visions, in which case you could more or less go about your life until you got close to the time in question. Dmitiri is running around acting like he's going to die in a week, leading to the inevitable and unsatisfying confrontation with Mark. Mad Men does brilliant work in relying on only it's characters, but Flash Forward can't even manage to do a halfway decent job when it has the tapestry of the flash forwards to work with. Part of the problem is the focus on the mosaic investigation, where each week since the pilot has focussed on the investigation. In a way it reminds me of the beginning of Fringe's first season, where the character growth was similarly stilted of a very formulaic plot structure. I loved the reveal at the end of last episodes, but can we please get some good writing.)

8. South Park (Last week, #7) (Better than last week, but still not quite that elite level that the show is capable of operating at. You've just got to love a Butters episode, but a tiny, tiny part of me wonders whether or not South Park reached it's creative peak with Imaginationland a few years back.)

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Last Week, #8) (Wendy Wheelchair and Denise Handicapped provided plenty of laughs, but in a week where 30 Rock took on class and economic issues full bore, Larry's argument with Rosie O'Donnell seemed particularly out of place. While 30 Rock's Tracy Jordan was trying to rediscover his roots, Larry's rants about flying Rosie's whole family out to L.A. to go out on her yacht seemed to delve full bore into the realm of unrelatability.)

10. Full Color Football: The Story of the AFL (Last Week, #9) (Say bye bye, as the saga of the AFL ended with the Chiefs victory in Super Bowl IV and the merger that represented an end of an era.)

Not On The List:

# The Office (Last Week #10) (The only reason it's out of the top ten was because 30 Rock returned and no one else slipped enough for the Office to make a leap up. But this is more like it. The best episodes of the Office don't involve special events, but give the characters an opportunity to react ridiculously to run-of-the-mill events. I loved Kevin using Jim's office and accidentally canceling Jim's credit cards and I loved Oscar as the lone remaining voice of reason.)

# House (The disappointment of the year thus far. Ever since the opener, the cases have seemed stale, the non-House characters dull, and the structure overly formulaic. Chase's murder of the African dictator may wind up as a jump the shark moment as it's just something a much lesser medical drama would have attempted.)

# I'm behind in Community, which my wife has given up and Bored to Death, which I've just fallen behind on. I also heard a good review of ABC's Modern Family this weekend from another couple who liked Arrested Development.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Watch Out For The FTC!

Meant to link to this last week, but Jack Shafer at Slate has a nice round-up of the FTC's crazy new guidelines that assert the power to regulate and fine bloggers, social networkers, and twitterers who write about goods or services and don't disclose where they may have received such goods or services for free. The Shafer piece is a quick read, well worth the five minutes it should take you, but as simply as possible, here is the problem. If a friend gives you a free meal at his restaurant and you write about it on your blog without disclosing you got the meal for free, you could be subject to FTC fines. If you get a free advanced copy of a book and you review that book on a personal blog without disclosing how you got the book, you could be subject to FTC fines. This sort of overreach is no surprise to me, but this bit by Shafer outlines my real concern:

Because of a pesky thing called the First Amendment, the guidelines don't apply to news organizations, which receive thousands of free books, CDs, and DVDs each day from media companies hoping for reviews. But if the guidelines don't apply to established media like the New York Review of Books, which also happens to publish reviews on the Web, why should they apply to Joe Blow's blog? Regulating bloggers via the FTC while exempting establishment reporters looks like a back-door means of licensing journalists and policing speech.

This is the exact same problem we see with campaign finance reform, where newspapers and the news media are free to opine on issues and candidates, but ordinary citizens are restricted in their ability to organize and speak on the same issues and candidates. The FEC has avoided a great deal of backlash by avoiding bloggers, but the FTC may have more of a taste for controversy. Whatever the reasoning is, what's truly frightening is the notion of an institutional media and a nation where the newspapers are more free to speak than private individuals. And it's just plain crazy. The Bill of Rights does specifically refer to freedom of the press, but no where does it say that the government can distinguish between the press that is the New York Times and the press that is this blog.

TV Power Rankings

Monday Oct. 5th - Sun. Oct. 11th

1. Mad Men (Last Week #1) (Betty discovered that her fantasy wasn't what she envisioned, Connie Hilton told us how he could never satisfy himself, then blew up at Don for not giving him the moon, and Sal received the come on he'd been dreaming of from one of the last men in the world he was interested in. Just another typical week from the best show on television.)

2. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (Last Week #2) (Not as good as last week's failed road trip classic, but still top dog in the comedy field nonetheless. Loved 24's Chloe as Gayle the Snail and can't get over Frank's response to the grease fire call: Show up drunk, gun drawn.)

3. Fringe (Last Week #3) (Really creepy stuff with all the cryogenically frozen heads and Olivia's sudden flashback to last season's meeting William Bell was quite unexpected, but enjoyable. Fringe doesn't have the hook of Flash Forward, but at this point it's just a much better written show.)

4. Californication (Last Week #4) (Unlike Don Draper, David Duchovny's "Doctor" Hank Moody is actually likable as a sex starved womanizer. Why? Because Moody actually loves women. The sex comes easy, but as the ending showed us, it's the relationships that are hard.)

5. Parks and Rec (Last Week #6) (Growing on me by leaps and bounds each week. The supporting cast has been given more of a chance to shine and the scripts have stayed more true to the mockumetary style than it's older sibling, The Office.)

6. Flash Forward (Last week #5) (It'd be tough to beat the mystery and well structured plot, but last week's effort left a lot to be desired. I don't mind the dead ends we may discover during the investigation of the mosaic, but I'd appreciate more character development in the mean time. The politics of releasing the Nazi war criminal was clumsily handled and the dialogue along the way just plain poorly written. Still though, I can't wait to see what happens next.)

7. South Park (Last week, not on air) (South Park debuts at #7 with a rather clever episode about dead celebrities. I was surprised to see Michael Jackson return after Matt Stone indicated on the BS Report that the show probably wouldn't be going in that direction. Not the show's best outing, but certainly not it's worst.)

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Last Week, #8) (Actually haven't seen this past Sunday's episode yet, but it would have to be pretty bad to knock it down.)

9. Full Color Football: The Story of the AFL (Last Week, #9) (This may be one of the best football documentaries ever made, capturing both the massive changes undergone by professional football in the 60's and the connection between those changes and the turbulent cultural and social changes of the period.)

10. The Office (Last Week #7) (The Office treads a fine line between believable and unbelievable and they thoroughly crossed that line with the wedding ceremony church aisle dancing of every single member of the Office. I said it, my wife said it, and McBlog said it: Why are all the co-workers dancing in aisle? It's weird, inappropriate, and just doesn't make any sense. We can suspend disbelief for the things that happen in the closed off world of our characters, but it becomes a bit more difficult when that unbelievability extends outside our little circle. But here's my biggest complaint about The Office and it has nothing to do with this episode or the wedding. Dwight's character just makes no sense and it's a result of bad writing that's more concerned with quick jokes than characters. We've seen Dwight as, alternatively, a rules-obsessed workaholic and a bomb-making over-the-top prankster and there seems to be no logical consistency in his interest in women or sex. It's odd because the Office isn't nearly as off-the-wall as a classic like Arrested Development, but the Office still lacks the internal consistency of plot and character that kept Arrested so grounded.)

Not On The List:

# Ken Burns's National Parks (I'm still trying to make my way through, but off the air means off the list.)

# House (Has struggled since the very excellent season opener and last night's episode, technically not a party to these rankings, doesn't get much better. The real problem is, not enough House and too much focus on the procedural aspect of the show. After that season opener it's sort of a let down to be back to the patient emergencies, cut to commercial bits.)

# Lie to Me (It's enjoyable, but I'm not sure it's ever going to be much more than second rate House.)

# 30 Rock (Comes back this week, so someone better be prepared to be kicked off.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Narratives Matter

I had been meaning to do a post on Glenn Beck after I finally sat down and watched a full hour of his show, but now that I'm a week behind schedule, I figured Beck would fit quite nicely into a discussion on liberal versus conservative journalism.

I've heard Beck before, in bits and pieces, but I'd never experienced the full range of his incoherence before sitting down to watch his show. That's not to say he's not right on some very important issues and that's not to say he doesn't make good use of libertarian lexicon, but context matters and the stories we tell matter.

Beck started the hour I was watching it with a blackboard lecture on the "war on the dollar." From what I gather this was about inflation and the declining value of the dollar worldwide, but there was so much hyperbole and unnamed boogeymen that I couldn't quite make out the point. Beck loves to use the word "they," as in "they are responsible for this crisis" and "they don't care about ordinary Americans," but he never really got into who "they" actually are. At times I thought he may have been referring to Obama, while at other times, I'm not sure he really meant anyone.

Beck moved on from the war on the dollar to discuss a story about a small town in Montana that (if I'm remembering this correctly) spent stimulus dollars on having a private police company build a large prison and come in and set up shop. I couldn't tell you the specifics because I couldn't make them out from Beck's interview with the local news personality covering the story. What I did get was shadowy hints about this sinister company and the questionable background of it's CEO and lots of questions about how the prison was built and whether or not members of this private police force were patrolling the streets of this small Montana town. There were some shreds of real reporting and some seemingly relevant issues for a national forum, but the presentation was such that I couldn't make out what the hell was going on.

This is why narratives matter. Glenn Beck may be full of truths and small government lexicon, but as an intelligent person, I don't think I'm getting much from listening to him. Reason's Jesse Walker comments on the Glenn Greenwald piece relating to Beck which I linked to a few weeks ago, here.

And to come at this issue of narratives from another perspective, here's Reason's Matt Welch, posting last week on the question of whether or not there are any good conservative journalists. But before addressing the narrative issue, let's just delve a bit into this issue of political bias in the media. The right always tells us that the mainstream media has a liberal bias, while from the far left you tend to hear about the important progressive issues which are ignored by the mainstream media and there's some truth on both ends, as the biases of the mainstream media have little or nothing to do with traditional left-right politics. The mainstream media and traditional journalism in general is problematic not because of these biases, but because of the narratives they promote. Three examples:

1) In the months leading up to the Iraq War, the media accepted the statements of the Bush administration without criticism and in the early months of the war, essentially played the role of cheerleader.

2) During the 2008 election, the mainstream media seemed to not-so-subtlety favor Barack Obama.

3) The real meat of my argument, that the mainstream media tends to approach any social/economic issue from a statist, big government perspective.

The first two examples are rather time specific, while the third one has been true of the last 30 or 40 years of journalism, but my point is the same: Politics don't matter as much as the stories were presented with and an understanding of where those stories actually come from. There are such things as facts and truth, but any good journalist worth his salt works at actually telling a story and any story worth reading has to have some point of view off of which it's based. Even the simple decision that something is newsworthy is a value judgment. Quite simply, I think the concept of the unbiased journalist is pure bunk and came about as more of a business decision to appeal across party lines by not taking part in the partisan politics that date back to the founding of the nation.

The real crime of this notion of an unbiased press is the way in which various narratives become the gospel truth. With Iraq, the story was as I mentioned it above, with nary a critical word to say about the justification for war and no real journalism in regards to the truth of that justification. When the weapons of mass destruction justification was shown to be wrong, the media switched gears into Vietnam mode, declaring Iraq a quagmire only a few years after the invasion began. The problem on both ends was the lack of dissenting voices in he mainstream media as to whether or not the prevailing narrative was actually true.

Then there was the Obama election, but contrary to what plenty of conservatives believed, the media's support of Obama wasn't really about politics or ideology, but about the story. Barack Obama, the historic election of the first black president, was the story the media ran with and and the cult of hope and change surrounding Obama only increased the furor of their enthusiasm.

And finally, there's the meat of my argument, which is the manner in which every reporter on the planet not named John Stossel approaches social and economic issues. The general thrust of the narrative we typically get is that X is a problem and we need government action in order to address X. Most people are familiar with the manner in which the media hypes and exaggerates every perceived crisis, but the simple fact is that the result of crises mongering is usually a call for someone- usually the government- to do something. Stossel- who simply turned the techniques he used as a consumer reporter to look into big government is considered by many to be an outsider in the field of journalism if not a downright fraud, all because he's questioned the traditional narrative.

Stossel is a good reporter because he's honest and because he dares to question the standard narrative. I've commented recently on Ezra Klein and Glenn Greenwald, two liberals who's blogging I enjoy and respect because of their honest approach. The mainstream media tends to suck ass, not because of the narratives they use (which are generally more coherent than Mr. Glenn Beck) but because they refuse to admit that alternative narratives may have validity. We live in a society that tends to focus on the output, but the input is just as important if not more so. Hopefully as the traditional newspaper models die off we'll get more John Stossel's of multiple political persuasions and the model for the future won't be the rantings of Glenn Beck.

Catching Up, More on Health Care

From last week:

Megan McArdle has a long, rambling response to a commenter who asks this question:

And Megan, no one on your side of the argument seems willing to answer two simple questions. If every other country (don't split hairs, you know what I mean) can cover ALL of their citizens for LESS than the US does, with better outcomes, why can't we do that?

It's a good question and I think Megan spends too much time dancing around the differences between the United States and Europe. The answer she ultimately gives is that we can't do it in America because it's politically unfeasible, which I don't disagree with at all as a practical matter, but probably isn't the answer the commenter was looking for. I think the commenter's point was meant to be much more theoretical than practical: Why not a single-payer system (or something similar), if such a system would cost less than our current system and provide better results?

I'm not at all qualified to delve into the nitty gritty of health care economics, so we'll stick solely to theoretical here. I'd question the assumption on which the commenter's question is based- does Europe truly get better results for less money? The money part is easy- Europe does spend less money- but the results part is a bit more difficult. After all, any attempt to quantify health care results is going to be far less of an exact science than say, adding up dollars. I have two major problems with this idea of health care results and I'll outline them below:

1- Nations have their own standards for reporting health care statistics. I beleive I've read in the past that infant mortality is one of those areas where the technological status of the United States tends to count against us. I don't have a link readily available, but from what I recall, the United States saves more premature babies than most of the rest of the world, but this tends to count against the U.S., because premature babies are far less likely to make it through their first year of life and therefore far more likely to be counted in the infant mortality category.

2- Various measures of health care effectiveness can be impacted by factors outside the health care system. Take something simple like life expectancy. Obviously health care plays a major role in the average age people live too, but so do a great many other factors. In the United States for example, people are far more likely to be in a fatal car accident or to be a victim of a murder than they are in most Western European nations. And beyond the obvious, there's the very complicated: Just how do you factor lifestyle choices into health care effectiveness?

And let's just go back to that money for a minute. The numbers tell us that the United States spends more per capita on health care than do most European countries. But those are huge numbers in regards to huge populations that don't take into account who is spending what and how. How much do the wealthy of the United States spend in comparison with the wealthy of other nations? Given we're closer to a free market system than most of Europe, it's quite possible that the health care dollars spent by the wealthiest Americans skew the numbers in terms of what ordinary Americans are paying.

My point isn't to shutdown debate, but only to point out that such a simple statement on health care dollars and outcomes is really loaded with all sorts of complexities. Ultimately, this is the problem in judging any government run program because you're dealing with statistics, not individuals. The reason for a true free market in health care or any other area is to allow individuals to make choices about what they want based upon their own unique circumstances.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Michael Moore

I hadn't really intended to get into the new Michael Moore film (Reason's Sean Higgins has an interesting take here), but that was quite a response to the last post, so I figured Moore deserved his own entry.

McMc, I think you're spot on when you discuss Moore as a filmmaker. The problem people tend to have with guys like Moore is that it becomes difficult to separate the film making from the politics, but it is possible to say the same tactics that make for great theater make for poor and incoherent political argument. (And speaking of which, I've got a Glenn Beck post kicking around as well.)

Roger and Me still holds up as a great film 20 years later because it does ask tough questions. Other than the conspiracy tangled Fahrenheit 911, you have have to admit Moore's film's do ask tough questions, but the truth of tough questions is they shouldn't have ask answers, if they have answers at all. The question of what to do about the dying economy of Michigan is still poignant 20 years later, whether or not we agree with Moore's narrative. And for those of you who remember, Bowling For Columbine, Moore asks some great questions about violence in America before delving off into anti-gun hysterics and fucking around with an elderly Charlton Heston.

And if you want a very different taste of Moore, try his little talked about 1996 film, "The Big One," in which Moore chases down Nike CEO Phil Knight to question him on outsourcing and other corporate evils. Unlike in the rest of his films, Moore actually succeeds in getting Knight to sit down with him and the confrontation is more odd than anything else, as the jovial Knight tells Moore that Nike has no shoe factories in America because "Americans don't want to make shoes." It's odd because Knight is so straightforward with Moore, refusing to play the stereotypical role of CEO as politician. If you hate capitalism, Knight probably doesn't come off so well, but for the majority of Americans, he probably comes across not as evil, but as a guy simply trying to run a shoe business.

And while I'm responding to comments, Rose, your point is well taken, although with education these sorts of problems extend beyond politics. I would probably be a teacher today if I hadn't heard all the horror stories about what education degrees entail and turned and ran the other way. It's interesting that the process has become so authoritarian while education itself has trended more toward self-expression and self-realization as the student level. Ultimately though, people need to learn how the world works for themselves- in terms of education maybe the key is more real world experience. People can work for decades for a big company and not realize what they're a part of, so why not have students learn what it's like to be a part of a small business. College students love to opine on things they know nothing about, but I've never heard a small business owner argue in favor of more regulation and higher taxes.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I generally hate using one line that could potentially be taken out of context, but I can't resist this little gem from Matt Taibbi in regards to Michael Moore's new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story:

In Capitalism: A Love Story we’re now talking about how the compensation for professional jobs we used to consider upper-middle class, like the job of airline pilot, have dropped below level. This is a portrait of a society steaming toward a feudal structure.

Really? The job of airline pilot has dropped below subsistence level? Really? Airline pilots don't make enough money to feed, cloth, and house themselves?

I'd love it if someone would tell me I'm taking that out of context because otherwise, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to react to that statement.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

TV Power Rankings

My new favorite television critic, the San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman, has started a TV Power Rankings column for his blog every week. I love the idea, particularly as the number of shows I watch regularly grows thanks to the magic of DVR. Power rankings are fun for sports, so why not television? Goodman's idea is simple, to do a weekly top 10, specific to the shows he's familiar with that are currently on the air and taking into account each show's weekly ups and downs. I was so enthralled with this idea, I decided to start my own. So here goes, my first power rankings, covering last Monday, Sep. 27 thru Sunday Oct. 4.

1. Mad Men (Continues to be the best show on television. Other than perhaps the Wire, I can't think of a show where each scene, each line, had so much of a story to tell. Last night we got Pete's boredom and dalliances while his wife was away and Don taking a back seat to Betty on a trip to Rome, but the best scene of the night may have been Pete's attempting to pass off the German nanny's dress as his wife's to a very discerning Joan.)

2. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (They continue to work with the formula that simple is best. The road trip instant classic was followed up with another very solid outing about the recession. My favorite moment? When Dee offers wine to her and Frank's potential victim after Frank has cut his finger, the woman responds, "I don't drink in the morning," to which Dee responds with a wink, "neither do I.")

3. Fringe (I have to say, I'm glad I stuck with it. The show has reached the point where they can go and do more fun, creepy things, without it seeming like too much of an X-Files rip off. As I mentioned to my wife last week, the underlying story of alternate universes veers precipitously close to uber-nerd territory, but the show has maintained it's relatability by focusing on the characters and the X-Files-ish monster of the week. Also awesome is this notion that travel between universes is particularly violent, brining to mind memories of the worsening impact of time travel on the island folks in Lost.)

4. Californication (What I don't understand is why none of my friends- particularly my male friends- watch this show. There's a lot more to show than sex and jokes about sex, but you think that would be enough to pull 20-something males in. Maybe my bigger point is, you're watching Entourage, but not this? This week's had episode had Charlie try and fail to fulfill his ex-wife's rape fantasy and Hank drive a vampire loving gay student to suicide. What more do you want?

5. Flashforward (As a sci-fi mystery, the show has been awesome, with a new layer, like an onion ready to be unpeeled each week. But if this is supposed to be the next Lost, I feel as though the characters are getting short thrift. My buddy McBlog! was upset that we didn't see more about the aftermath of the blackout, but I'll go a step further and say that the series probably should have started maybe a month or so after the blackout. You could still go back to the blackout in flashbacks, but you avoid the narrative need to show the immediate response and more importantly, the necessarily awkward writing needed to explain how the world comes to realize that people had shared visions of the future. Four predictions as this is my initial post on the show: 1- Demtri Noh (John Cho) will not be killed, 2- the suicidal doctor turned happy prophet is going to have a "John Locke" type episode some time early this season, 3- Olivia will not cheat on her husband, which leads into my forth prediction, 4- the flash forwards are just pictures of the future, but much of what we see and hear about them is being read into them by the individuals experiencing them. So Olivia may have had unfaithful thoughts and assumed that she's feeling love for the man in her vision and Mark may have seen himself drinking from a flask and just assumed he was back on the wagon.

6. Parks and Rec (I know a number of people who just haven't bothered because this was basically another Office. Well, it is the same formula and it has the same sense of humor (as we're talking about the same writers), but just as with the Office, what makes the show unique is it's characters, and none of the characters are office clones. Yes, Amy Poheler's Leslie Knope is a bit Michael Scott-like in her naivety, but she's certainly not the jerk the self-centered Michael Scott can be. It's worth a watch for anyone who laughs at the Office and it's not to the point where you won't be able to jump right in.

7. The Office (It's fun seeing Jim as the boss, but was it just me, or did last week's episode end without a real resolution? You have to love Jim as boss though, as he proves time and time again that no matter how much smarter he may be, he's not the boss at Michael is. Folks in the office get irritated with Michael, but every time Jim makes decisions, people really get upset.)

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Curb's episodes this year have gone from good, to excellent, and back again to merely good last night. What was oh-so disappointing Sunday night was no follow up with Leon and not enough Michael Richards. And I like the humor potential of why Larry wants to do a Seinfeld reunion, but I don't get the motivations from the cast members, especially Jerry.)

9. Full Color: The Story of the AFL (In honor of the AFL's 50's anniversary, Showtime is running this truly excellent series about the rival league that changed the face of professional football. The NFL films footage is beautiful, and the narrative is compelling, doing more than the typical sports documentary to put the football of the 60's in a historical context.)

10. Ken Burns's National Parks (I recorded the entire 12 hour miniseries this weekend in HD and it's taking up most of my DVR, so you better believe I'll get through it quickly. There's just so much crap on tv I figured Ken Burns deserved a spot. The visuals of the National Parks are amazing (thanks HD), but the narrative is a bit too "thank God for government" for my liking. As good as Burns is as a filmmaker (I loved the Civil War, Baseball, and the War), his historical perspective tends to be a bit lacking (and this is a legitimate complaint for a 12 hour mini-series). In the first two hours, which covered the period up until 1890, there was no discussion of the growth of leisure time activities which was part and parcel of the push for national parks and the interesting class distinctions to be made between many of those who fought for preservation and those who sought to make their living off the land.

Also watching:

House (Would have made the top ten last week. The season opener was awesome, but last week's follow up was only so-so. Jacob Sullum had a post on Reason's Hit and Run last week complaining about the way House is being treated for his Vicoden addiction, despite the fact that the point had been made that House's hallucinations from last season were specifically not caused by the Vicoden. Additionally, as Sullum points out, why is House being urged to find hobbies when his problem is that he can't sleep because of the pain in his leg. I have to agree with Sullum and I hope the writers aren't chickening out on the drug issue, which they've done such a good job of in the past.

Community (I like Chevy Chase and Joel McHale, but the series has yet to grab me.)

Lie to Me (A poor, pretentious season opener last week, made all the worse by the reliance on multiple personalities as a plot device, a tough sell after having watched Showtime's "United States of Tara.")

Monday, October 05, 2009

NFL Week 4

Just a few random thoughts and observations from this weekend's NFL Games:

1. Most of the discussion on the Pats-Ravens game has focussed on the Brady-Flaco quarterback match up, but far more interesting was the teams roles almost seemed reversed. It was the Ravens not sticking with an at-times successful rushing attack, with only 17 rushing attempts versus 47 passing attempts, while the Patriots showed the balanced attack of 32 passes and 30 rushes. It was the Patriots converting a 4th and short, while the Ravens got stuffed. And it was the Patriots forcing a fumble on the games opening kickoff. To be sure, these Ravens are still incredably talented and the offense is more explosive than it ever was under Brian Billick, but that defense yesterday didn't seem anywhere near as scary as even that 2007 defense was in that Monday night matchup.

2. Tony Romo is not a good NFL quarterback and I'm beginning to question whether or not he ever was. The man can make plays when the pocket collapses and we saw that again on several occasions yesterday, but he's not particularly accurate while sitting in the pocket and I'd question his ability to read a defense. Watching the second half of that Cowboy-Broncos game was just plain painful and it makes me wonder, as I said above, how much he was actually quarterbacking when the Cowboys offense was successful and how much he was just running around making plays with all the playmakers around him.

Brett Favre at his best, combined the skills of a quality, top-5 type pocket passer, with the instincts of perhaps the best playmaker in NFL history. At his worst, Favre was a fairly average pocket passer with a cannon arm who could still make plays. I bring this up in regards to Romo because I think just about everyone who watches or is in any way involved in football tends to be overly influenced by playmaking ability. It's a great skill to have, but I'd argue that the best quarterbacks in the league- Manning, Brady, Drew Brees- are definitely not the best playmakers at the position. Michael Vick was electric for certain, but it became quite clear over time that he struggled in the standard drop back mold. I'd argue Ben Rothlisberger is more of a playmaker than Manning, Brees, or Brady, and he does have the two Super Bowl rings, but how many out there can say they're confident in Big Ben's ability to sit back in the pocket and pick a defense apart? What Romo needs to do is work to become more like Big Ben- just be a halfway decent quarterback who can make big plays in big moments. Don't quote me on numbers because I'm not sure who I'm comparing him too, but I'd argue that what Romo gives you on the field should put him in the bottom half of quarterbacks in the league.

3. Last week I wrote off the Dolphins, Redskins, and Browns. This week the Dolphins won convincingly, the Redskins barely beat the terrible Bucs to get to .500, and the Browns narrowly lost an overtime game to the should-be undefeated Bengals. I'd keep them all on the write-off list. The Dolphins beat a terrible Bills team, the Redskins wound up even in the points for-points against margin in their combined three, back-to back- to back games against the Rams, Lions, and Bucs, and no one has any illusions about the Browns.

4. We're left with 5 undefeated teams, although the one of those is the Vikings who are playing the Packers tonight. Of the four who won yesterday, I have to put the Saints at most impressive, as they've won games on the road and have been winning games without their passing attack the past few weeks. The Manning brothers both quarterback very good teams, but I'm still waiting for the more marque matchups for both brothers. And finally, that leaves Denver, about whom I still know nothing. If they beat New England next week, mark me down as sold.

5. Speaking of the Patriots, they have now offed undefeated teams in consecutive weeks (the 2-0 Falcons, followed by the 3-0 Ravens). Their reward? A trip to 4-0 Denver. But cheer up Pats fans, that Denver game is followed by back-to-back games against the now winless Titans and the likely to still be winless Bucs.

6. You can now officially write off the Titans, although the historical Oilers did follow up an 0-4 start in 1993 by winning 12 straight before losing to Joe Montana's Chiefs.

7. Teams that I have just no read on at this point: The aforementioned Broncos, the 0-3 Panthers sitting out this week on a bye, the 3-1 Bengals, the 2-2 Jaguars, the 2-2 Steelers and the 2-2 Chargers.

Friday, October 02, 2009

You Just Might Be A Racist

In case you were curious, has put together this little flow chart to help determine whether or not you are an anti-Obama racist. (Via Reason.) Enjoy!