Monday, December 31, 2012

The world's worst negotiator

Nothing causes me more agita than watching the President negotiate with Republicans. It's like he's Walter from Fringe and he intentionally removed the part of his brain that deals with strategy and bargaining. If he strikes a "grand bargain" that doesn't include a permanent deal to raise the debt ceiling, then it's a Pyrrhic victory at best. The Republicans will just come back and extract the last pound of flesh when the debt ceiling needs to be raised. Is it really possible he doesn't understand this? It can't be right? He just really really really wants to strike a deal, just for the sake of striking a deal. God he really sucks sometimes.

Go over the god damn cliff already!

UPDATE -

Looks like a deal may have been struck. And surprise, surprise it's awful. It also does nothing to reduce the deficit, which was supposed to be the most important crisis EVAH!

It remains to be seen whether the Teahadists decide, once again, to save Democrats from themselves by beating the bill back in the House. Right-wing insanity - ACTIVATE!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Third Way?

Since the fiscal cliff isn't actually real (it's a creation of an incompetent media who through ignorance or ill-intent push the framing that it is real), and I find going over the cliff to lead to better policy than anything being offered in a Grand Bargain by either party right now, I am hoping that we, for lack of a better phrase, go over the cliff. Human beings work with baselines and demonstrate a status quo bias. On January 1, 2013, a new baseline is established. And that baseline is a higher tax rate and a substantially reduced Pentagon budget. That's a baseline that is very advantageous for political reasons. The President doesn't seem to understand that, but the President is a negotiating idiot. Good at campaigns, terrible at negotiating.

This puts Speaker of the House John Boehner in a very tricky position. He really is screwed if we go over the cliff. He is also screwed if a deal is signed that does not have majority Republican support. However, I don't believe Boehner is in a position where he can offer ANY deal that a majority of Republicans would support. Other than the complete and utter disintegration of the federal government, no deal would prove to be satisfactory to the Tea-Partiers. The right wing has been taken over by lunatics who care not a wit about this country or its economy. They are ideologues who cannot be persuaded by reason, statistics, or comity. In short, they are hopeless and they will not vote for any deal, period. Remember, these are the same Republicans who refused to raise the debt ceiling under any conditions. Given these circumstances, most political pundits (including those I respect) seem to believe that Boehner and some moderate Republicans (they exist?) will need to forge a House compromise that will attract votes across the aisle (meaning moderate deficit-hawk Dems). In today's parliamentary style politics, this doesn't really happen anymore (I believe TARP in 2008 was the last occasion). The problem is, I find a bi-partisan compromise to be rather unlikely because I don't think Boehner would survive a speakership challenge within the Republican caucus if he brought that compromise to the floor for a vote. It would essentially end his speakerhood. The right-wing would go ape-shit and speaker-to-be Eric Cantor would rise in ascension. Why would Boehner take such a political risk? In short, he wouldn't. Forget the "for-the-good-of-the-country" nonsense. If we know anything about political actors, it's that they seldom, if ever, take steps that doom their political prospects. We all have an innate ability to rationalize our worst behavior, and politicians are no different. Boehner would willingly go over the cliff if it meant he kept his speakership. Ultimately, in his mind, the country is better off with John Boehner, Speaker of the House, then otherwise, even if it means a tax rate hike and massive spending cuts during a recession.

There is, however, a third option, one which I am a bit surprised has not yet been thrown out as a possibility by many political pundits. And that third option is the creation of a new caucus of moderate Republicans and Democrats (mostly Dems) who would forge a compromise on the "fiscal cliff," the upcoming debt ceiling, entitlement reform, and even (possibly) gun reform.

This would be a deal that would allow Boehner to keep his Speakership, allowing him to save both face and his political power. It would also clear the deck of the most pressing political agenda items. Now, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't like those compromises. But there is a very broad constituency of deficit hawks, entitlement reformers and tax-cutters in both parties. The executive branch as well. Not to mention the press. Good God, don't forget about the press. The press reaction would be orgiastic. The press demonstrates what I would describe as a radical centrism - the unwavering conviction that taxes must remain forever low, that defense spending must remain forever high (see the WaPo's embarrassing attack on Chuck Hagel) and that the poor and the elderly must sacrifice their social safety net. These preferences are idiomatic within the press corps. A new caucus of "centrist" Republicans and Democrats would be the greatest thing to happen the mainstream media in the history of modern American democracy. I'm not saying the newly created "Centrist" caucus would be enduring, but it would certainly be celebrated. John Boehner would be the patron saint of bipartisanship. Even if his speakership only lasted until the 2014 election, journalists would be writing paeans to Saint Boehner until the day I died. I guarantee you that. And who doesn't want to be the foci of epic poems and 600 page historic manuscripts. I know I want that and I all do is write this shitty blog.

Given the histrionic benefits of creating a centrist caucus, and the inevitability of a right-wing flank at some point in the Speaker's future, Boehner should really consider this option. Is the formation of a new party likely? Eh - Probably not. But I suspect the probability is not zero. In fact, if I was Boehner's staff and press team, I would be testing those waters. Hell, if I was the Obama administration (who embarrassingly seems to really believe in the necessity for a Grand Compromise), I would be floating trial balloons like mad. Will those trial balloons attract ire from the Tea-hadists? Of course. But they hate Boehner anyway. He really should be looking forward to the next phase of his career. And that phase just might be his tenure as the "Great Compromiser". Hell, more words have been written about lesser men.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Sigh

I can't even imagine the racist rhetoric this morning's Newsday headline will bring. It's gotten to the point where I don't even have to read the article and its comment thread without getting depressed. They write themselves.

Don't get me wrong. I think Newsday has to run the story. And I don't think the title is particularly inflammatory. There is no other way to write it. But, ugh, I can only imagine what the xenophobic reaction will be. And since I DO enjoy casting aspersions on Newsday when appropriate, I would add that there is no doubt in my mind that Newsday's editors were probably licking their chops when they got this story. Because journalists are horrible people. Like bankers.


District to phase out Italian, replace with it Mandarin


Friday, December 7, 2012

Federal Marijuana Crackdown



I am starting to hear some rumblings that the Obama administration may call down the thunder on Colorado and Washington in regards to their decision to legalize marijuana in those states. BTW, they already have a track record of doing just that. I can't even begin to describe the despair I would experience upon discovering that the administration that didn't have the political will-power to investigate Bush-era torture practices or accusations of massive accounting and financial malfeasance would somehow have the political-will to waste billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of manpower busting potheads. The morality of that executive particular decision would be unforgivable. Especially considering our president is a self-admitted former pothead/habitual cocaine user. Sometimes I wonder how he sleeps at night.



Thursday, December 6, 2012

DIixonthewall Theme Song

Most of my readers probably ask themselves:

"Hmm, I wonder if my favorite blog, Dixonthewall, has an anthem or theme song?"

Why yes, yes we do! 
(hat tip Keith):



My environmentalism briefly defined

I like to think of myself as an environmentalist, but I don't think "real" environmentalists would agree with my self-characterization. I think my enthusiasm for strict open-space/preservation-oriented/non-invasive species environmentalism is tempered by my belief that nature, and our environment, is a hell of a lot more resilient than we give it credit for. I also think nature is meant to be enjoyed by man. Not in the Biblical sense [in the manner that man should feel free to rape and pillage the Earth for all of its worth], but in the sense that environmental protection should be pursued as a means to enhance human happiness, well-being and enjoyment. This means to me, in practice, that something like Lake Ronkonkoma should not be set aside as a natural relic to be divorced from human entertainment and enjoyment, but as an asset to be developed in a way that ensures human access - whether that means the establishment of bike and running trails around the border or if it means the building of a nearby pavilion and restaurant to serve as a congregation point for family meals and concerts. Don't get me wrong. If we bought up all of the surrounding lands around Lake Ronkonkoma and returned them to nature, it would make a wonderful nature preserve. But it would make a wonderful nature preserve at a massive taxpayer expense and that preserve would be enjoyed by me and about 300 other hiking enthusiasts on Long Island. I mean, thank you and all, but there are other options that more effectively maximize environmental preservation with social use.

As I mentioned previously, I believe nature is exceptionally more resilient than we give it credit for. (It's why, for instance, it is safe again to swim in Lake Ronkonkoma after decades of massive pollution). Some of my attitudes here are clearly shaped by my farming background. Farming, in many senses, is a daily battle waged by man using wit, engineering ingenuity, brute physical force, and chemical sorcery to bend nature to our whims (yes, we need all of those things!). And yet, despite these man-made advantages, nature will ultimately triumph. When one of us decides to stops farming, it does not take nature too long to reclaim the territory it had lost. What we discover is that nature finds a way - whether it's native and invasive weeds battling my tomato crop or it's squirrels and raccoons adapting to increased residential development and urbanization.

That's why I found this article today pretty cool. It talks about how birds took one of mankind's most cancerous, toxic creations (cigarettes!), and found an evolutionary, life-affirming use for them. That's pretty awesome and it's an interesting data point in my "nature finds a way" file.



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Update: Gilgo Beach Investigation and Media Coverage Still Terrible

Another bang-up job by Newsday today -

NYPD: Lucius Crawford a possible person of interest in Gilgo Beach murders


If you read the story, you need to get about half-way through before they admit that this "person of interest" was in jail for a period overlapping some of the homicides. So yeah, if you ignore that esculpatory evidence, I guess he would be a "person of interest". 

I mean, I guess you could subscribe to the theory that there are multiple serial killers dumping bodies in the same spot over the same period, like the head of Homicide and the DA seem to believe, but most of us who live in the reality-based world realize that is most likely not the case. It's a shame that our entire Suffolk County law enforcement unit thinks otherwise:

Added [Suffolk County DA Tom] Spota: "Not one detective familiar with the facts of this case believes one person is responsible for these homicides."
If that statement about our homicide detectives is true (and I have no reason to think otherwise), it's not surprising why they haven't even come close to solving this case. Statements like that indicate that our DA is much more interested in being proven to be personally right about the case rather than actually solving the damn thing. And that is a very dangerous mind-set.

I guess Newsday has to cover this "update" since I do believe its important to keep the unsolved murder of ten or more people in the public consciousness. But they should have had the decency, or credibility, to admit the honest truth that there is no real new information there. But they are too lazy and/or greedy to actually do that.

UPDATE: Huh, no shit Sherlock...

Suffolk cops: Lucius Crawford doesn't appear to have 'any involvement' with Gilgo Beach murders


Top 10 Movies of 2012 - Forthcoming

I'd like to go to work soon on my Top Ten movies of 2012 (I have a list of 11 right now that will need to be whittled down), but I realize I'm missing too many movies to make an accurate list. Meaning, there are too many remaining movies to be released (The Hobbit, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained), and too many movies I haven't yet seen yet (Life of Pi, Brave, Ted, Wreck-It-Ralph), which have a legitimate shot to crack my top ten.

When I start to write these lists, I'm always surprised to remember how many good movies have been released in the past year. I saw a LOT of good movies this year - just like last year. However, I am confident in declaring this year to be the worst year for comedies in cinema history. The only comedy that will make my Top Ten list (probably) is 21 Jump Street. Yes, I am as surprised about that as you are.

But even though I am eager to get started on my list, I think I will wait until at least Django is released before I write my Top Ten list. It sounds strange, but I might be the only person who thinks Quentin Tarantino is underrated. His very worst movie (Reservoir Dogs) is only "good". [That train-wreck Death Proof never happened]. All of his other movies, including Jackie Brown, are fantastic. Inglorious Basterds, which I thought was average when I saw it in theaters, really gets better with time. And I think it made Michael Fassbender, who was brilliant in the movie's best scene.


True story, when I saw Inglorious Basterds in the movies, I fell asleep during that scene. What?!? I was tired!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Our Failed Media Experiment

So I am perusing Newsday this morning and I see an article entitled Boy Killed in Bus Crash Was in Illegal Bedroom. Well then! I think we can all agree that young boy deserved to die! Jeebus help me, I do not have the courage this morning to read the story and the comment threads that will follow. I can only imagine it's going to contain the vilest, most racist shit imaginable. And this is an entirely predictable reaction to a bogus, bullshit article written by the shitheads at Newsday. Assholes. Just eliminate the media altogether already.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A quick point about filibuster reform

I don't give a flying fuck if filibuster reform is good or bad for Democrats in the short term. It's bad for fucking democracy. Period. Majorities should be held accountable for their policies, good or bad. But we can't appropriately do that when the minority party can arbitrarily hold up any and all legislation, judicial appointments and executive branch nominations. Get rid of the fucking thing already. Enough is enough. Harry Reid, please God, pull the fucking trigger.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Can I make a recommendation?

I think I've mentioned to people before that if I ever went back to school to get my PhD, I would like to teach a class on the media. Primarily so I could tear it apart. I think the media experiment in this country has been a massive failure and, overall, the media has done as much to misinform the general populace as it has done to actually inform the general populace. In fact, with corporatization of the media, I don't think "informing the public" is even part of the mission statement anymore. And that's too bad. We can't have an informed democratic population when businesses are financially rewarded for misinformation. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it". 

My criticism of the media aside, I think there is a massive communal advantage to daily or occasional reading of local newspapers/websites. I just started reading some of the Patch sites (for work reasons mostly) and I have to say, I think they do an excellent job of building a connection to the "community" that in many senses is lacking in these hyper-individualized times we are living in. Is there a lot of hard-hitting journalism on these sites? No, not really. Are a lot of the stories fluffy? Absolutely. But they are fluffy stories about your friends and neighbors. They are fluffy stories about fundraising and charitable drives. They contain information about town zoning board meetings and legislative discussions that are frequently unattended. They notify you about local concerts and children friendly events that normally go unnoticed. In short, they do a good job of covering the activities of volunteers, teachers, and politicians that normally go uncovered. While this type of media coverage may confer some incumbency advantages for local politicians, it also does a lot of good undermining the absurd notion that politicians and community activists are corrupt scoundrels out to line their own pockets. Because, for 95% of the local politicians I know, this is absolutely not the case.

What an outfit like Patch does is remind us that we belong to a community of neighbors, not just Facebook friends and Twitter followers. I am not one to bemoan technological advances. I think Facebook and Twitter have been a massive force for good, and my social capital is infinitely larger thanks to my enduring relationships with old work and grad school friends. But enduring friendships with old friends, technologically-based or otherwise, can get in the way of connecting with our immediate neighbors. I know I am guilty of this myself. As Robert Putnam would note in Bowling Alone, American levels of social capital are at all-time lows. And these low levels of social-capital have already doomed progress in places as advanced as Italy (see Making Democracy Work, also by Putnam). I dare say they are doing the same in the U.S. We need to take active steps to reverse these trends and unite our communities.

While I think Putnam overstated the beneficial advantages of social and fraternal clubs like the Elks Lodge, I think his overall point is well-taken. We need to foster means to create social and political capital if we want Americans to trust and believe in government again. And I think one strong way to do so is to read your hyper-local news outlets. I'm not just talking about Newsday and News 12 (which, honestly, I could take'em or leave'em). I'm talking about your Patch sites as well as your East Hampton Stars, your Suffolk Times, your Long Island Herald, etc. [The LI Press is an excellent investigative newspaper actually, but it hardly fits into my "building social capital model". I like the LI Press, but it does a better job of tearing our politicians down, rather than building them up. Which is fine! There is a need for that!]

But I really do think you can do yourself and your community a lot of good just by checking in with these outlets from time-to-time. I'm not saying you'll learn anything ground-breaking or life-altering, but it's an important reminder that you have neighbors that want to improve your local community. And who knows? Maybe you can take a moment to help those people? It's always nice to come across people who can help curb our own cynicism, even if it's temporary. God knows I need to from time to time...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

News Corp & My Yankees

I haven't entirely thought through the ramifications of this transaction yet, but let's just say I'm extraordinarily worried that the scumbag who sent the tweet below can potentially own 80% of the YES network.


In some ways, I respect Rupert Murdoch. He doesn't really hide the fact that he openly advocates for global policies that narrowly benefit himself and a small slice of fellow trillionaires. He's refreshingly honest about it actually. He doesn't see the need to maintain the fiction of the "wall of separation" between News Corp's executives and its editorial staff. They are one and the same.

However, I just get that icky feeling when I think of News Corp owning the YES Network. I know Murdoch isn't buying the Yankees per se, but by design, the network and the Yankees have been inexorably linked since the channel's inception. I had been led to understand that this partnership has been amazingly lucrative for the Yankees since the YES broadcast debut in 2002. So I guess I don't understand the Steinbrenners reason for selling. I don't believe they were experiencing any financial difficulties and they weren't dealing with the Madoff scandal like the NY Mets. So I'm not sure what's going on exactly. All I know is I am worried how this reduced revenue stream will affect Yankee spending decisions.

I understand outside criticism of Yankees spending habits (and I heartily embrace the Evil Empire moniker), but, personally, I love it. Some Yankees fans get personally offended by bad contracts, but they don't really bother me. It's not my money. What the fuck do I care? It's nice to be able to root for a team that can absorb multi-million dollar blunders like AJ Burnett, Carl Pavano, and Kevin Brown. But selling off the YES network to News Corp gives me pause. Will the Yankees be able to absorb bad contracts like Tex and ARod when we're not flush with YES money. I can't find the angle here.

Like I said, I haven't thought this all the way through yet. I just like writing dimwitted blog posts immediately after news is released in order to maximize google search results. Ka-ching!!! [Is what I would say if I had some kind of ad-revenue-generating model on my blog].

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Barack Obama is aware of all internet traditions

I hate to fall into fanboy worship (and I promise it won't happen too often), but it's kinda awesome how funny our President is...

President Barack Obama jokingly mimics U.S. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney's "not impressed" look while greeting members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams in the Oval Office, Nov. 15, 2012. Steve Penny, USA Gymnastics President, and Savannah Vinsant laugh at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Friday, November 16, 2012

Wye Oak - Civilian

I know there are six weeks left in the year, but this is probably my favorite song of 2012. I first heard it during The Walking Dead, then again tonight watching Safety Not Guaranteed (a top ten pick for 2012), and yet I still can't kick the idea that it should have been a song in Friday Night Lights. I don't know why I think that. I just picture a slow-mo with Aimee Teegarden...



NIMBYism

When Republicans and libertarians (yes I know they are the same people) spend time bemoaning the "loss of freedom," I really wish they would spend more time complaining about bullshit like this. As Matt Yglesias frequently explains, NIMBYism is the real threat to entrepreneurship and capitalism in this country. And unfortunately, Republicans are just as guilty of NIMBYism as Democrats. Democrats usually express their NIMBYism in environmental terms while Republicans are more interested in protected vested, established industries or minimizing private nuisance through wealth. Trust me, you'll find a lot more Republicans in those ridiculously micro-managed gated communities than you'll find Democrats. Maybe Republicans aren't as freedom-loving as they suppose.

Persistent NIMBYism is why you get counties, towns and zoning boards micromanaging American business development. I see it at work all of the time and it really has to stop. When people express broad complaints about federal "over-regulation", what they are really expressing, without actually knowing it, is opposition to obscure requirements on sign frontage, curb cutouts and heights, stylistic preferences, that have local, not federal, origins. And the regulations can be insanely mundane and arbitrary (commenters are encouraged to link to their own examples in the reply thread). Towns and zoning boards are happy to tell prospective business what they can and cannot open, even going as far as picking preferences within industry groups (Burger King yes, McDonalds, no. Target yes, Walmart no). But the people who complain about burdensome regulations are still the very first people at Town board hearing complaining about traffic, or noise, or the height of hedgerows. It's regulation for me but not for thee.

These are the real barriers of entry in American business. And they are not caused by the "federal government" or Barack Hussein Obama. They are caused by the peccadillos of our loudest and most vocal neighbors and family members. People really need to understand that the role of government is not to protect them from every real and imagined slight. This might sound funny coming from someone who isn't outraged by Michael Bloomberg banning large sodas (I'd prefer "sin taxes" personally), but I do believe our elected officials must begin to show a willingness to stand up to the loud, vocal minority that wishes to shape his town, county, and state in his/her own perfect image. Trust me. Try to open a business one day. I know I would like to. But the people who make you jump through the most hoops are not the big bad "socialists" Obama, Reid, and Pelosi. It's your local friends and neighbors who don't want you to open a lakefront restaurant because it will attract "undesirables", create more traffic, block public views, and force Canadian geese to relocate to an adjacent frontage. It will also reduce their taxes, increase recreational options, improve lakeside access, employ new workers, drive up local wages, and increase destination shopping, but people just don't incorporate those benefits into their personal evaluation.

Believe me, I think there is a role for prudent and wise municipal planning. But I think we get carried away with the notion. Speaking for my local community, we have pushed too far on the "over-planning" end of the spectrum. I, like all good social engineers [lol], believe people need to be nudged in the policy directions we prefer - towards sustainable development, improved mass transit, healthy lifestyles, etc. The tax code, cultural norms and shaming are all ways to nudge individual behaviors in social optimal directions. Heavy-handed regulation, on the other hand, really does impose heavy costs on individual liberty and freedom. They need to be avoided when we have other valuable, less authoritarian tools to shape public behavior.

Friday, November 9, 2012

David Petraeus and Extramarital Sex

David Petraeus makes a pitch for some more play.
Today marks an unfortunate reminder that our country is utterly insane about sex. I am of course referring to the news that Gen. David Petraeus is resigning from his post as the Director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair. People, this is lunacy. Utter lunacy. What the fuck does one have to do with the other? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. By all accounts, Petraeus, an unconventional pick to head the CIA, was doing an outstanding job. Now we have to bring in the B-team - we need to undermine our country's strength and security because David Petraeus fucked someone who wasn't his wife. This is madness. If he were doing a shitty job, or if Republicans won the presidency and wanted to replace him, that would be fine. Elections have consequences and it would be well within Republican prerogative to do so [albeit unlikely since Petraeus is seen within Republican circles as a kind of God]. But to consider this a scandal worthy of a resignation is maddening. We need to keep good, effective people in important government positions. We can't kick them out because their personal lives threatened some kind of sociotropic moral code.  This puritanical nonsense is killing us...


Spiking the football

Today I'd like to post a series of links that have had a significant effect on me after the election. However, first I'd like to point out that before the first debate, Barack Obama had roughly a 2.2% lead over Mitt Romney if you looked at poll averages (my source is my boy Nate Silver at 538). Now that Florida has been tallied, Obama has a roughly 2.0% lead in the popular vote, with Washington still be counted. And I guess my point is, again, that debates just don't matter my friends (particularly a performance in a single debate). Eventually, the mythical "independent" voter comes home to their preferred candidate. Period. People just like to describe themselves as independent because a) it makes them seem wise, and temperate and considered or b) because they want politicians to kiss their asses and promise them things. Sarah Kliff did a series of interviews with "undecided voters" and by God there is no doubt who these people are going to vote for.

I would also like to point off that gaffes don't really matter either (at least primarily in a presidential contest), because let's be honest, I think Romney's 47% video had the greatest potential to be a "game-changer" and it absolutely wasn't. On the other hand, gaffes CLEARLY matter in Senate races, huh? I mean Akin getting slaughtered in Missouri? Mourdock losing Indiana? So, um, yeah, I think we discovered the so-called "third rail" in American politics and it's not Social Security, it's rape apology! Just look at this track record...



And a big "Yay for democracy!" thanks to gay marriage wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Additionally, a Constitutional ban to gay marriage in Minnesota was defeated. That 4-0 record in 2012 ends an 0-32 streak at the state level. That's real progress there. Special thanks to Andrew Cuomo by the way. I don't have a good theory why, since New York state wasn't the first state to legalize gay marriage, but New York state legalization seems to have proved a critical turning point in the gay marriage debate. Joe Biden deserves special credit for forcing the President's hand on this issue as well.

The most surprising result, for me personally, was the straight-up legalization of recreational marijuana-use in Colorado and Washington. On a historical basis, this was not too surprising to me. I think the curve of history is bending in that favor. However, straight legalization in 2012? Man, that surprised me. I was in Colorado for the initiative to legalize marijuana in 2006 and it didn't even get close. I think the ramifications of these marijuana votes are, in the words of our Vice President, a big fucking deal. We waste a lot of money and human talent enforcing, prosecuting, and locking up human beings for individual marijuana possession. It's utterly insane. I have no horse in this race, (I'm not pro-marijuana legalization so I can get high), so please believe me when I say the war on recreational marijuana-use is horrible public policy. Just awful really. Awful in financial costs. Awful in human costs. It's good to see the American people slowly but surely come to their senses on this issue.

Finally, as promised, two good links. One is Rachel Maddow explaining why the Republican party needs to come to its senses. Our democracy operates more effectively when we have two sane, sensible, and reasonable parties. Right now, we don't have that. Believe it or not, even I can acknowledge that Republicans have good ideas! They do! I work with Republicans on the local level who have both excellent ideas and who are dedicated to good, effective government (not a lot, but some lol). The best example of excellent public policy that derived from conservative think tanks is the trading of pollution credits. Trading pollution credits was amazingly effective in solving our acid rain crisis in the 70's and 80's. It's free-market friendly, incentivizes long-term environmental stewardship, and minimizes government interference and monitoring costs. That's a win all-around. In fact, it would be the best policy to confront global warming if Republicans, you know, would admit that global warming is real. Republicans are also dead-right when it comes to free-trade. I am a fierce trader. I am also in the Yglesian school of large-scale reductions in regulatory oversight at the local level. For the most part, current regulatory policy is designed to protect entrenched and politically connected businesses, not to encourage competition and enhance consumer experiences and outcomes. There is a lot of room for agreement between Democrats and Republicans there. Simplifying the tax code could be an area of agreement as well.

Anyway, here is the link I mentioned -


Here's the other link. It's a more uplifting link. I think this link is important because it's nice to remember from time to time that Barack Obama is a human being who is remarkably well-intended and takes his job and his role in history seriously. It's also important because its nice to see someone so successful admit that there was a time in his life where he wanted to affect "change," whatever that meant, but he had no idea how to do it, and no idea how to go about it. I find myself even older than he was in that story, and I can relate. I am still casting about, looking for small opportunities to change minds, affect electoral outcomes, and influence policy. Because I honestly and legitimately want to make peoples lives better. I want to make the lives better for people who agree with me and for the people who disagree with me. Honest to God, that's all I want to do. Right now I suck at it, and it drives me mad. It's depressing and despairing, and I frequently find myself casting about for better options, better opportunities, better mentors, better experiences. But Barack Obama sucked at it too. And now, slowly but surely, Barack Obama is changing the arc of history for the better. And maybe one day I can overcome my own personal failings and laziness and do the same.




Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The razor's edge

So it's election day and I am massively stressed out. Which is weird because I'm also somewhat convinced Obama is going to win. I don't know how I'd feel if I thought he was going to lose. Despondent maybe? Massively depressed?

Anyway, all comments on facebook or twitter are candidates to send me over the edge. It's not a nice place to exist. I already have some "de-friend" targets on facebook who probably won't make it through the day. Don't worry. If you're reading this blog right now, I don't think you're one of them.

Let me give an example of how emotionally unstable I am right now. (Warning: Massive Humblebrag Alert)

Sometimes at work, I interact with people who assume I will be running for office one day. Instead of telling them I can't run for office because I am a massive life fuckup (i.e. the truth), I tell them I can't run for office because I've never influenced anyone about anything, ever. To be truthful, I've never had a conversation with a person where they said to themselves at the end, "Wow - This person just made a very well-reasoned argument and I really need to re-evaluate my position on 'X'". It's never happened.

It's never happened mostly because I'm a massive asshole, but also because human beings (including myself) envelop themselves in a core set of beliefs that dictate their world attitudes. These attitudes are rarely, if ever, successfully challenged because they are governed by a lifetime of core experiences and influences. In fact, it would be silly if these attitudes were affected by, for example, my facebook rants.

However, as I mentioned previously, I have, on occasion, spoken with somewhat influential politicos who assume I'll be running for office one day. I must admit, I do reek of that ambition, despite the fact that my personal failings would warrant an entire chapter in the Encyclopedia of Mental Health. So instead of telling them the truth ("I suck"), I tell them that I can't run because I am the most unpersuasive human being on the planet. Any argument I've ever had is much more likely to harden the attitudes of the people on the other side, rather than move them towards my position. Let's put it this way, if debate teams had an "anti-matter", it would be me. If you want to win an argument, just put me on the other end of it.

Anyway, as I continue to explain to this person how unpersuasive I am, I usually try to lighten the mood by adding that I literally know only ONE person who seeks out my opinions on political matters. One person who I think I can influence.  One person IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD who respects my opinion and appreciates the thousands and thousands of hours I spend reading and writing about politics. One person who thinks I just might have something valuable to add to our political discourse.


 
And then that person sent me a text message this morning saying that he voted for Mitt Romney and I just started crying...


Thursday, November 1, 2012

How some people will vote on Tuesday

Between the years 2000-2008, Republicans came to your house and burnt it to the ground. Four years later, Democrats have rebuilt your house to its former stature, but you are pissed off at them because they haven't gotten started on the second flood addition and the new backyard outdoor kitchen yet. To punish Democrats, you have decided to vote for the Republicans again because Mitt Romney has promised to finish those additions. But first, please trust him while he builds this little fire in the corner of your house. He promises it won't get out of control this time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An era of new Star Wars films? Yes, please!


I just returned to the Internet today expecting to catch up on Hurricane Sandy twitter hashtags and facebook updates when lo and behold the most surprising news I could have ever expected in a million years (yes honestly) came to light - George Lucas has sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney and Disney plans on releasing a LOT of new Star Wars movies (one every two or three years). This is amazing news. I'm pretty much jumping out of my seat right now. I mean, I couldn't imagine a better fit. Yes, Disney makes some clunkers these days, but they also make some amazing movies, particularly the Marvel and Pixar divisions. You are telling me you don't trust those people with the Star Wars franchise? I do. Much more so than George Lucas himself, who, sadly, lost the feel for his own franchise decades ago. Who isn't excited about the possibility that we might be able to see a Joss Whedon directed Star Wars someday? Or Peter Jackson? Or Guillermo del Toro? Or Wes Anderson (okay, kidding about that one). This is joyous news.

I have to admit, there has been a massive, gaping hole in my heart since the last Star Wars movie was released. Anticipation of a new Star Wars world and a new set of movies has been intertwined with my childhood and my personal identity since I was a little kid. It didn't matter that the prequels were disappointing (they were). What mattered were the possibilities - the new storylines, the new adventures, the new characters. A massive piece of wonder and excitement died for me when that last movie ended. Not to get too dark (though remember this blog is "mostly fueled by anger and alcohol") but I really don't have a lot too look forward to in my life. It's the truth. Here's what I have to look forward to these days - new seasons of Game of Thrones and the next book in the George RR Martin series. If he can write it before he dies. That's it. That's what I had to look forward to. But now? Now, at least I have Star Wars again to look forward to. That's something. That's a start.

I think the most exciting opportunity a Disney/Star Wars collaboration permits is a Star Wars theme park. Like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Let me tell you, when this park opens, I will be there. This has to be a no-brainer for Disney right? [Wait, I wonder if I can get it built on Long Island?].

One thing I wonder about this collaboration is whether or not it allows Disney to relaunch the prequels. I am going to assume the answer is "Not while George Lucas is alive," but at some point I think re-launching the franchise around good actors, good dialogue, and "non-trade-war-related" plotlines is a must. The sad reality is, a lot of Star Wars fans are perfectly willing to pretend the prequels don't exist. So I don't see re-making those movies as a threat to canon. Most hard-core Star Wars fans ignore them anyway.

For now, Disney is (rightly) moving forward with chapters 7, 8, 9, so we can table the prequel discussion for now. The question is, what form should these sequels take? Alyssa Rosenberg, who writes for Think Progress and has read many of the books, has a smart take here. I have never read any of the Star Wars books (except for a stand alone book on the bounty hunters from Empire Strikes Back). Personally, I'm not sure Luke, Leia, or Han have a place in the new sequels. I think it might be time to bring in new characters and plotlines. God knows, the Star Wars world is rich enough. A clean break, with the new Disney team in place, might work best. I think it's massively important that the Pixar screenplay writers are brought into the Star Wars division. No studio has a better track record than Pixar (though Pixar-affiliated director Andrew Stanton swung and missed on the movie adaptation of John Carter, the book of which was a Star Wars antecedent).

I know some people are concerned about new Star Wars movies, having been disappointed by the prequels and arguing that they somehow taint Episodes 4-6. I can understand their skepticism. I mean, they probably think Disney, roll their eyes, and wait for a heavy dosage of children-friendly characters like (sigh) Jar Jar Binks. But to be honest, I just don't see that happening. There is no way that Jar Jar Binks (or his ilk) makes it through a Disney-run script read. Disney will certainly insist on child-friendly characters, but they'll do it a lot better than Lucas. And Disney clearly doesn't have a problem with edgy. I mean, Tony Stark anyone? Honestly, I am just not personally affronted like some people when a sub-par Star Wars movie is made. Even the shittier movies offer something new and exciting like the three best light saber fights ever! I can take them or leave them at my leisure.

In short, I am super excited for 2015 (the anticipated release date for the next Star Wars movie). This is like waking up and finding out Pearl Jam is going to make a Ten-inspired record. Or Radiohead is going back to it's Pablo Honey/The Bends roots. I couldn't have asked for better news. And really, you should get on-board too. I mean, at the very least we should get a kick-ass theme park out of this. Don't you want to take that ride with me?



Friday, October 26, 2012

Goodbye Islanders - Sort of.

As regional Long Islanders are well aware, recently Long Island lost its one and only professional sports franchise when the NY Islanders decided to relocate from Nassau County into Brooklyn. As you can imagine, I am both relieved and saddened by this development. Saddened because I, like all sentient human beings, take a perverse pride in rooting for my neighborhood sports franchise. And the Islanders really are (or were) the only major sports team to be based on Long Island. For readers outside of the NY metropolitan area, Long Island is customarily (though not geographically) assumed to be the counties of Nassau and Suffolk (I am a resident of the latter). The Islanders played in Nassau and both the County and the Town of Hempstead have been negotiating with Charles Wang, founder of Computer Associates and owner of the NY Islanders, on a new stadium for, well, I guess as long as I can remember - 10 years maybe? It certainly seems that long. At one point, it actually seemed like the Islanders were headed to Kansas City for sure (which would have been idiotic in the long-term but, as I've discovered, most of these franchise relocations are more influenced my hubris and personal pique than actual sound, financial planning). So it was with some relief to find out that the Islanders will be staying in New York, albeit further removed from my residence.

Ironically, though the Isles are moving further away from my home, I'm actually excited about the move, but not because Nassau Coliseum was some kind of decrepit shithole. It wasn't. Nassau Coliseum was a perfectly fine place to watch a live hockey game (which are massively improved in-person, more-so than any other sport). There really wasn't a bad seat in the house. But two things sucked about the Coliseum and both of these things are immediately remediated by the move to Brooklyn. One, there is nothing to do immediately in and around Nassau Coliseum. And no, I don't really count Hooters (which is turning into Bud's Ale House anyway). Two, there are no public transportation options to get to games. You have to drive to games which makes pre and post-gaming problematic. Now, with the move to Brooklyn, public transportation options are available (albeit, imperfect ones). That's a lot more convenient for me. And Brooklyn is an awesome place to hang out. So that's a massive upgrade there. I am very much looking forward to my first Isles experience at the Barclays Center.

However, I wanted to take this opportunity to once again bash owners who use their ownership of sports franchises as an opportunity to blackmail citizens, politicians, municipalities, and regional economic development teams for massive taxpayer-funded handouts for, what amounts to in essence, their extremely lucrative luxury items. I am a Islanders fan. I also, occasionally, find myself in a position where I can influence regional economic development. But there is no way I would have supported a taxpayer funded stadium for the Islanders in Suffolk County, even in (or especially in) the current economic climate. And Nassau was right not to either. Right now, there are a lot of fingers being pointed at Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray for allowing the Islanders to leave Nassau County. Bizarrely, few fingers were pointed at the citizens themselves who overwhelmingly voted down The Lighthouse Project voter referendum which would have redeveloped the area and constructed a new Isles stadium. And you know what - the citizens were right to vote down the proposal! Put simply, taxpayers shouldn't pay for stadiums. Period. See here. And here. And here. And here. And, well, I can do this forever.

“The basic idea is that sports stadiums typically aren’t a good tool for economic development,” said Victor Matheson, an economist at Holy Cross who has studied the economic impact of stadium construction for decades. When cities cite studies (often produced by parties with an interest in building the stadium) touting the impact of such projects, there is a simple rule for determining the actual return on investment, Matheson said: “Take whatever number the sports promoter says, take it and move the decimal one place to the left. Divide it by ten, and that’s a pretty good estimate of the actual economic impact.”
Building sports stadiums for billionaires is a suckers game and we should refuse to play. They are public handouts, pure and simple. I don't think corporate subsidies are all bad. Many of them are quite good actually. But tax and bond giveaways for sports stadiums are awful. Giveaways of this nature combine the worst components of a purely socialist system, a pure free market system and a purely oligarchy/corporatist system. It socializes the costs and risk at public expense while privatizing all of the profits. And these profits are funneled to a politically well-connected billionaire who wants free public money to sign and swap human beings like they are playing a real-life version of Baseball Stars.

Think of it this way. Let's say everyone's favorite asshole, Donald Trump, wants to build the world's largest, most luxurious yacht and he is going to dock this yacht at Chelsea Piers. He tells Mike Bloomberg that he will let the hoi polloi take guided tours at $25 a person on weekdays between 9a-5p. However, on nights and weekends, he retains ownership and he can take the yacht wherever he likes. He also gets a 6 month window at the end of summer to take the yacht around the world at his own leisure. Also, after ten years, he can permanently take the yacht to any other dock in the world and NYC gets nothing in return. He says he wants NYC to chip in $300 billion through a combination of cash, docking fee waivers, and tax breaks for this "tourist attraction." Trump also reserves the right to sell this yacht after ten years. Should NYC residents agree to fund this boondoggle? Of course not.

Or let's try a different fuckwit. Let's say conspiracy theorist Jack Welch wants to buy the Mona Lisa which he plans to exhibit in the Guggenheim Museum for three months in the fall and three months in the spring. Welch collects all Guggenheim entrance fees during that period. The rest of the time, he is free to exhibit the Mona Lisa around the country (of which he allowed to charge fees) or simply hang the Mona Lisa in his bathroom next to the shitter as he sees fit. He is also allowed to sell the Mona Lisa after fifteen years and he appropriates 100% of the subsequent value increase (which is pretty much guaranteed in an item of this nature). But he wants NYC to chip in half of its $768 million assessed value first. Should Mayor Mike agree to this deal? Of course not!

These might sound like absurd examples but they really aren't. These are the kind of deals sports owners demand and receive all of the time. And please keep this important point in mind - no major professional sports team in America, has ever, ever, been sold at a value lower than its purchase price. Professional sports teams might be the safest investment in world history, regardless of whether or not that franchise is running operating profits. Operating profits are really ancillary to a professional sports owners primary anticipation - which is to own and control the coolest, most amazing luxury item in the world. Ask yourselves - how much would you pay, out of pocket, to own and operate the NY Islanders? Or the Cleveland Browns? Or the Toronto Raptors? (intentionally picking terrible teams here). Hell, I'd take a $20,000 pay cut to own any one of those teams. So why should we give a shit if professional owners make any money on their franchises? The answer is, we shouldn't. Neither should we fall for the discredited argument that professional stadiums pay for themselves. Because they don't. Trust me, I wish it were so. I'd love to plant the Islanders in Ronkonkoma and watch my hometown blossom into the economic powerhouse I've always envisioned it to be. But the reality speaks differently. And as citizens, and decision-makers and policy analysts, we must acknowledge these realities. We just cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by rich bullies who don't give a shit about the municipalities they purport to adore.

So yes, in conclusion, I shall miss my Nassau-Suffolk Islanders. It was fun while it lasted. But I shall see them again someday. In Brooklyn. You know, when the world's most "unselfish" people agree to let them play hockey again...





Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Unilateral Disarmament

I think I may have touched on this topic before, but those readers familiar with my work know that I am not a fan of unilateral disarmament. Meaning things like, yes, I hate the fucking filibuster in the Senate, and I am a huge advocate of eliminating the filibuster altogether (none of the bullshit half-measures that have been proposed), BUT, if the Republicans re-take the Senate, the Democrats should not hesitate to use the filibuster at every given opportunity. Those are the rules of the game as they are currently written. So those are the rules we play by. When we change the rules, then we'll change our behavior. Not a second before that.

I bring this up in the context of Citizens United and Super-PAC money. I was reading this brief article on a debate between two candidates in a local state Senate race. The debate between these candidates, Democratic challenger Bridget Fleming and long-time Republican incumbent Ken LaValle, for some reason orbited around the influence of Super PAC money in the race. First let me point out that this is a pretty aggravating failure by the moderators since state senate candidates can't do ANYTHING about Citizens United or Super PAC influence. They just can't. We shouldn't be harping on this in a debate where time and access to the candidates is finite. I find it to be a massive failure of our media personalities when they continue to pepper candidates on policy issues they cannot possibly influence. We can't continue to give the public the impression that politicians can influence policies outside of their jurisdiction. These are the kinds of memes, when relentlessly (and falsely) perpetuated, ultimately undermine public confidence in government institutions. We come to expect specific politicians to fix all of our ills and inefficiencies when most politicians simply aren't empowered to enact the reforms we demand.

Anyway, what really grinds my gears in this article is actually a statement in the comment thread. Fleming, who rails against Super PAC influence in the debate, is accused of hypocrisy. I know, I shouldn't feed the trolls, but I just can't help myself:

True George, Ms. Fleming is noble. Although I am curious as to why she has been making so much hay about how evil Super PAC's are, yet she recently cashed $10,000 in checks from Super PAC's? Please explain, I'm sure there is a rational explanation - maybe she needs the money from evildoers to fight evil? Looks like a typical do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do situation. Very courageous indeed.
Let's be clear about something here. There is absolutely nothing (zero, zilch, nada) hypocritical about soliciting Super PAC money while railing against the Supreme Court decision that unleashed Super PAC contributions. The floodgates have been opened. Bridget Fleming cannot plug the dike by unilaterally refusing Super PAC contributions. Nor can any other candidate, Democrat or Republican. In fact, that type of religious purity would only have the opposite effect. It would continually reward the candidates that support the Citizens United decision and continually punish the candidates who oppose the decision.

Let me use a sports analogy to demonstrate. Many National League fans hate the Designated Hitter rule. No doubt, many National League Managers hate the Designated Hitter rule. However, the DH is here to stay, whether we like it or not. It would be pretty foolish (and indeed a fireable offense), if a National League manager refused to use a DH in an interleague game in an American League stadium. We don't expect, nor should we expect, the NL manager to send up his .154 hitting pitcher out of some misguided dedication to traditional baseball rules. The reality of the situation is that the game has changed. Like the 3-point line in basketball. Or the two-point conversion rule in football. We do not ignore rule changes because we do not agree with those rule changes. If we disagree with those rules, you need to fight to get a seat at the table so we can change the rules. We don't sit on the sidelines and whine and stomp our feet and say, "That's not fair!!!" We play the game by the rules as they are currently constructed. There is no hypocrisy here.  I repeat. There is no hypocrisy here!  It's merely an acceptance of reality. And any candidate who ignores these realities does so at their own political peril.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The value of human life and its policy implications

I have to admit, I don't really know how to calculate the value of a human life for purposes of policy analysis. And yet, the value of a single human life is fundamental to any of the cost-benefit calculations we need to construct optimal public policy.

For example, if I were to ask someone how much they would pay to save the life of someone close to them, the number would be incalculable. How much would you spend to have a parent back, or a spouse, a brother, a daughter? No number is too high - $10 million, $50 million, $1 billion. The number is unreliable and can't really be used for policy purposes. And yet, like I said, some value is necessary, particularly when evaluating environmental or healthcare policy. And the estimation of that value, the assumption if you will, ultimately makes or breaks any policy proposal. In short, the valuation of a human life has massive policy implications.

Fortunately, we don't ask people how much they would pay to save a human life because the numbers would be a) massively overstated when asked to save a close personal acquaintance and b) massively understated when it comes to saving the life of a random stranger. Think about it. If you could save the life of one human being in, say, Pittsburgh, who you'll never get to meet, for $50, would you cut the check? What about $500? Keep in mind. You'll never know or meet this person. What if the person lived in Shanghai? Beirut? Still writing that check? By the way, you should probably be aware that you can already do this. $100 bucks will feed 50 children for a month in Haiti. I'm pretty certain you can literally save someone's life for $50, somewhere in the world. The point of this exercise is not to guilt you into a donation (though if that happened, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing). The point of the exercise is to demonstrate how difficult it actually is to put a price on a human life. The EPA currently sets the price of a human life at $9.1 million. I actually think there is some validity in the current methodology, as explained in this NY Times article:

The current rise in the value of life is based on the work of Professor Viscusi, who wrote his first paper on cost-benefit analysis as a Harvard undergraduate in the early 1970s. He won a prize and found a career.
The idea he and others have since developed in a long string of studies is that differences in wages show the value that workers place on avoiding the risk of death. Say that companies must pay lumberjacks an additional $1,000 a year to perform work that generally kills one in 1,000 workers. It follows that most Americans would forgo $1,000 a year to avoid that risk — and that 1,000 Americans will collectively forgo $1 million to avoid the same risk entirely. That number is said to be the “statistical value of life.”
I actually like this method because it uses behavior (revealed preferences) rather than opinion (expressed survey preferences) to ground its findings. But here's the thing - is the value of a human life really $9.1 million? I just don't buy it. To me, it doesn't pass the smell test. I mean, there are probably thousands of things we can do, short of spending $9.1 million dollars, to save one human life. But we don't. Obviously the value we place on an ambiguous human life is substantially less than $9.1 million.

My problem with the $9.1 million number is that it seems so detached from reality. Playing around with the numbers, we could probably justify pretty much any public investment or regulation on those grounds. Want the public to pay to install metal detectors in movie theaters? Require roll cages on SUVs? Criminalize cigarettes? I can't think of a single public policy you couldn't justify on the basis of that $9.1 million number. It is so high it renders itself meaningless. Particularly when, as I pointed out earlier, I doubt the average citizen could honestly be roused to spend $50 to save the life of an anonymous stranger.

Like I said, I really don't know what the correct number should be. I do know it is difficult to execute sound public policy with such a widely inflated valuation. I'm just way to cynical to think that human beings value other human beings in this matter. Hell, we could provide universal healthcare in America and prevent hundreds of thousands of unnecessary, painful deaths each year for much less than $9.1 million per person, but God knows we won't do that - because of "Liberty" or something...

Anyway, since I don't want this post to be massively depressing and cynical, and to prove that there is a tiny, albeit dormant heart in this lumbering, dead soul of mine, here is a link to my charity of choice.






Monday, October 8, 2012

You don't have to be smart to be rich

Data Point #3,475,630,127 that there is no correlation between being wise or politically savvy and being obscenely rich. From the recent New Yorker article written by Chrystia Freeland and avocated by the man ("One-Percenter" Leon Cooperman) who recently wrote a letter comparing Obama to Hitler:

Now Cooperman is planning another political volley. With his Omega partner Steven Einhorn and fellow-billionaire Ken Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot, he has drafted a second open letter, which he hopes will be co-signed by a large group of self-made billionaires, and published as a newspaper advertisement in some swing states. Cooperman estimates that it will cost around a million dollars, a sum he says the group will split. “It’s going to be, you know, ‘We are the one per cent that came from the ninety-nine per cent, and we want to see more of the ninety-nine per cent move in our direction, but we fear the President’s policies discourage that from happening,’ ” Cooperman said.

Can I be the first to donate $5 to these guys to run this newspaper ad? I know I'm not one of the top 1%, but I want to do my part to fight encroaching communism too! I can't imagine a more convincing campaign ad then a hysterical, hyperbolic whine from the world's richest white men. I'll throw in $10 if they agree to include individual photos of themselves covered in flop-sweat, wearing ill-suited suits, and lighting cigars with $100 bills. We will will turn those swing state undecideds into Romney voters yet!





Sunday, October 7, 2012

How to Make A Dominant BLT - In Pictures


These are from my garden - Not bad for 10/7/12!
Assorted greens left over from a Suffolk County Farmland Committee Meeting
Wasabi Mayo is dominant! Highly recommended!







Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary



Everyone is talking about the infield fly ball rule these days so it seems like I should weigh-in with my own Swiftian Modest Proposal, except, I'm kinda, sorta, serious.

Apparently, while I was sorting through my DVR's backlog of crappy new ABC/CBS procedurals (I don't know why either), there was a rather epic umpire blunder in which the infield fly rule was called on a flyball that was eventually dropped 50-60 feet deep into the OF grass (video above). While the Atlanta runners on the bases advanced on the play, the fly rule call cost the Braves an out in the inning. Obviously we can't know for sure, but the outcome of the game may have run its course differently if the Braves are saved that out.

Now, I don't really want to question the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the playcall. Joe Posnanski, who's judgment is unimpeachable on subjects non-Joe Paterno related, seems pretty convinced it was the wrong call (the comment threads on his site are informative as well).

No, what I want to propose (I think?) is the elimination of the in-field fly rule entirely. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Is this guy smoking crack? [Answer: Recreationally only, and never to the point of addiction]. I mean, the infield fly rule serves a very obvious purpose - it prevents the intentional dropping of flyballs by infielders in order to turn double plays. And I say, "So what?". Why should ground balls lead to double plays but not infield pop-ops? They both represent failures by the batters. In fact, I would argue that an infield fly is a better job by the pitcher and a worse performance by a hitter and those performance should be rewarded and punished accordingly.  Would this lead to infield anarchy during infield flys? Uh, yes - and that's good! And strategic! And interesting! Think of all the game theory we can introduce into 2-3 seconds of an infield fly. Defensive players must consider the score of the game (game situation), speed of the runners on base, potential caroms of intentionally dropped balls, strength of their own arms, the quality of the on-mound pitcher, etc. Runners must consider all of these things in addition to the defensive player's perceived degree of craftiness. I mean, this could lead to all sorts of anarchy, bloopers, and botched players. And I mean that in a good way! Those things are fun (when not committed by my Yankees).

I realize my suggestion will probably be met with hostitility. But this hostitily is grounded in a baseline psychological preference for "how things are always done." But ask yourself this, if you were starting the game from scracth, why would you penalize hitters that hit a ground ball to the SS with runners on 1nd and 2nd anymore than you would punish batters that hit a pop fly to the SS with runners on 1st and 2nd. There really is no good reason to draw a distinction between these outcomes.

And hell, if we take that judgment call out of the umpires hands, we'll never have the scenario we had last night.

The Indie Rock Band Persona


I'm in the middle of reading an article about Grizzly Bear in New York Magazine and I'm reminded of the silly rule that indie rock bands can't admit to be famous, rich, or successful. To wit:
“Bands appear so much bigger than they really are now, because no one’s buying records. But they’ll go to giant shows.” Grizzly Bear tours for the bulk of its income, like most bands; licensing a song might provide each member with “a nice little ‘Yay, I don’t have to pay rent for two months.’ ”
And:
“Obviously we’re surviving. Some of us have health insurance, some of us don’t, we basically all live in the same places, no one’s renting private jets. Come to your own conclusions.”

Listen. I don't want pick on Grizzly Bear - I like them, but they're pretty much a poor man's Radiohead. And in their defense, I unfortunately have met and have known MANY indie rock fans who will abandon bands once those bands gain popular, mainstream success. It's a weird mindset, but it's been going on for decades. It's not just a new hipster trend. Good Lord, look at what they did to Dylan!

But gosh, golly, gee wiz. Is song licensing really only getting Grizzly Bear two months of rent? Because if that is true, their agent is either criminally corrupt or criminally stupid. Perhaps both. That, or the band is living in the Barclays Center and renting multiple suites on a pay-by-the-day basis.And if they don't have health insurance, well, that is a choice that I highly suspect is more closely tied to be a young, dangerous rock star and probably has virtually nothing to do with the affordability of health care. If it IS an affordability-issue, I'm curious to see what happens when the Obamacare healthcare mandate kicks in. Will Grizzly Bear be forced to work part-time at California Pizza Kitchen in order to have access to health care benefits?

It's just weird to me that indie rock bands need to play these games. They are constantly apologizing for their rock stardom. Hell, why did you get into the game if not for the success. You can play other instruments if you're not interested in the money.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Unemployment Numbers and Conspiracy Theories

A quick post on today's unemployment numbers. According to job creator douchebag Jack Welch, "the fix is in" and the numbers were cooked!


Look, I think it's a good thing when these so-called non-partisan captains of industry like Trump and Welch expose themselves for the ratfuckers they are. It gives us the opportunity to undercut their image as unbiased wise old sages. Really they're just a bunch of lucky idiots who can't figure out the basic premise of their business model which should read, in short, that people NEED MONEY to spend on their products. Squeezing every last penny out of the middle and lower income classes, cutting their benefits, eliminating infrastructure investments and reducing their social services will not sell more dishwashers. The path to economic prosperity is not, as they suspect:
  1. Tax cuts for the rich
  2. ????
  3. PROFIT
But anyway, the right-wing is convinced that Obama cooked the books in order to bring the unemployment numbers under 8%. There are two things I find funny about today's trendy conspiracy, which has obviously been given serious mainstream media attention, because, uh, um, the media is liberal? Or something?

One, it's funny that the Obama Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which are, like, totally in cahoots with one another, are corrupt enough to game this month's job reports numbers, but apparently not smart enough, or not corrupt enough, to game the last two years of job numbers. Did it just occur to the "corrupt" Obama Administration to trick the job numbers now? Is it possible that David Axelrod only realized now that declining unemployment numbers might give the Obama campaign a boost? That seems like a pretty glaring oversight for a man considered to be somewhat of a campaign savant. And is 7.8% unemployment really some kind of magical number when it comes to re-election? I mean, that number still seems pretty bad to me. If this is the Obama administration cooking the books to win a presidential election, they are pretty fucking miserable at it. Better corrupt Democrats please!

Two, the consistent right-wing harping of today's "bogus" unemployment will only ELEVATE the amount of media attention paid to these numbers. Generally, who the hell pays attention to the monthly unemployment numbers? Nobody. But now, when everyone following the Twitters and the Facebooks and the color TVs are talking about unemployment numbers, and they hear, "Hey, the unemployment numbers are really good this month but the crazy Muslim socialist may have cooked the books," well they're just going to discount the crackpots and take away the message that the economy is slowly but surely getting better. These conspiracy theories may work on the true-believers, but they turn off the so-called independent swing voter (or so I'm told). All it really does is remind people that the economy is getting better and that the right-wing can get pretty fucking crazy. And that's not a particular welcome reminder for the Romney campaign.



Thursday, September 20, 2012

My address to SCAME - 9/20/12


Here are my prepared remarks to address the SCAME's decision to endorse Randy Altschuler over Tim Bishop. Not sure why I continue to pretend on this blog that people can't figure out who I am but please  allow me my self-delusions!
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hello everyone,
My name is                             and I would like to address the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees union’s recent decision to endorse Randy Altschuler over Tim Bishop in New York’s 1st District Congressional race. First off, I want to make it clear that while I obviously have my own ideological preferences, I am neither a paid nor voluntary member of Congressman Bishop’s staff or re-election team.
A couple of years ago, I was teaching the American Political Systems class at the University of Colorado in Boulder. At that time, I was reminded on a daily basis how poorly incoming students understood the basic tenants of our Congressional system. While this was embarrassing, it was somewhat understandable and furthermore, correctable.  However, when I see supposedly-engaged political actors like yourselves completely misunderstand Congressional influence and authority, I am left flabbergasted. It is extraordinarily embarrassing that I need to lecture my elected union representatives on how the United States Congress operates, but unfortunately it’s necessary.
I haven’t met Randy Altschuler personally. Maybe he’s a great guy to have a beer with. Maybe he really did believe, and wasn’t merely being political opportunistic, when he said that the John J. Foley building should remain in public hands. But here is something I do know about Randy Altschuler (and I hope it’s clear to you now as well). Randy Altschuler, as a potential Congressional representative, does not get a vote on the John J. Foley building sale. Here is something else I know about Randy Altschuler. Randy Altschuler will vote for John Boehner to be the Speaker of the House. And John Boehner will appoint Republican members to the House Education and Labor Committee who are dedicated to destroying unions and defeating workers’ rights legislation. These committee members will kill bills designed to increase the minimum wage. They will kill card-check legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act. They will vote for bills designed to weaken unions and undercut their political influence. They will vote for bills designed to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public unions, mirroring on a national scale successful statewide efforts in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana.
Any way you slice it, an endorsement of Randy Altschuler is an implicit endorsement of these policies. It doesn’t matter how much we may like Randy Altschuler personally. It doesn’t matter what he says on the stump about policies he cannot influence. What does matter is which party controls Congress and what kind of legislation this new Congress will ultimately pass. Electing Randy Altschuler over Tim Bishop helps hand that control to Republicans and these Republicans have made their war on unions abundantly clear. It is abhorrent to me that my union could be so na├»ve, short-sighted, and strategically inept when it comes to endorsing political candidates. We seal our own political extinction when we endorse candidates from a political party who are, to their credit, surprisingly candid about their intentions to crush public service unions. One need look no further than the recent Republican convention to see the GOP war on unions first-hand. By gosh, it is a stated tenant within the 2012 national Republican platform! I quote, “We salute Republican governors and state legislators who have saved their states from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions.” By this, they are obviously referring to the aggressive anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states. Why is our union supporting this agenda? How do we look at Republican voting record, and their stated intentions, and then decide to endorse a Republican candidate who will ultimately vote for Congressional leadership supporting these union-crushing policies?
What’s further infuriating is that Congressman Tim Bishop, who, by the way is a member of the House Education and Labor committee and has been rated 100% by the AFL-CIO, has cast extremely important votes on bills that actually matter to the union movement. Votes to expand unemployment benefits and job re-training efforts. Votes to dramatically expand healthcare access. Votes to restrict employer interference in union-organizing. Presumably, these are the issues and policies our union was created to protect. Yet instead, we make a potential election-altering endorsement to advance the interests of a party whose stated agenda is to destroy public and private sector unions. We spent all of our political capital and influence and received absolutely nothing in return. In what way does this make any sense?
What I would like to know is who made this decision? How do you defend this endorsement? In what world is this considered to be prudent or wise? How can SCAME union members continue to support management that is so utterly myopic? I actually voted for the Farrell-Finland ticket a few months ago but I don’t like to be played for a sucker. Can someone please convince me that I didn’t make the silliest vote of my life?

UPDATE
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I didn't deliver this address because I am a pussy. Also because Altschuler was in attendance. And I was accused of being some kind of mole for the current administration. So best that I didn't.