28 January 2011

Something about voting

Apparently, Yao Ming hasn't played very much this year. But fans (or mostly, Chinese fans) voted him to start at Center.

And so did I, repeatedly. The primary reason? None of the Western choices for the center position were worthy All-Star candidates. They would be taking a spot away from a far better power forward, where the West is perennially loaded. So I don't care that Al Jefferson (the best "Center" in the West, and also not listed as a center on the ballot) didn't get in or that Andrew Bynum missed out which, like Yao, would have been a ridiculous pick had he been healthy because of time missed to injuries. This is because Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol can take care of the Center spot and should have been so listed on the ballot as they are both excellent low post players.

The best actual "center" listed on the ballot was probably Okafor. And he would be about 13th on the power forward list out West. That list goes something like this
1) Blake Griffin (will get in, and it's in LA, but might not have without this silliness)
2) Kevin Love (the two guys who would be jockeying for that last spot if there wasn't one created by injuries, also happen to be the best two power forwards in the league, both on crappy teams)
3) Pau Gasol (will get in, it's in LA and he's awesome)
4) Lamarcus Aldridge (may get in, Portland is at least decent)
5) Zack Randolph (team sucks, might get in, but doubtful)
6) David West (probably not getting in, Paul's already there)
7) Tim Duncan (will get in, San Antonio is killing everyone)
8) Dirk Nowitzki (will get in as Dallas' rep)
9) Lamar Odom (may get in, again LA, and this is about the dividing line of even potential all-star seasons)
10) Al Jefferson
11) Paul Millsap
12) Luis Scola
13) Emeka Okafor

Plus there's the small forwards Durant and Melo who were voted on as the "forwards", and the guard spots. 1) Kobe, 2) Westbrook, 3) Williams, 4) Paul, 5) Manu, 6) Parker, 7) Ellis, 8) Nash, 9) Gordon, probably the first 5, or one of Manu and Parker makes it, with two already voted in, and Ellis, Nash, and Gordon are all on crappy teams anyway.

Anyway it's a deep position and a deep team. But Western Conference Center was not. So who cares that Chinese nationalism voted on a dud who cannot play at all this year because of injury. Three cheers for it says the statistics.

East is pretty straightforward and the starting five looks right. Garnett's probably better than Amare in reality, but New York is decent this year and Boston has no defined "star", so Amare gets in. The main question mark to me is whether or not Rondo makes it despite the injuries. Should be a bench of Horford at center, Rondo at point, Bosh, Garnett and Pierce at the forwards, and then some combination of Granger, Felton, and Josh Smith, and maybe Ray Allen as well. Shooting guard is pretty weak in both conferences, and Boston is loaded, much like San Antonio could get three out West.

And yes, that would mean all three Miami players too. They do not have a Rondo type player to be the fourth option like the Celtics had a couple years ago however, so LeBron hatred may get at least a year of celebration (plus the possible lockout, and then it's probably due).

26 January 2011

As if we don't

have enough things to ban and regulate and control...

Now exercise! Complete with less fun!

They may have wanted to note that the number of pedestrian death increased by about 6 total. In the whole country. Or that they decreased by thousands over the last several years... all while millions have taken to the sidewalks with ipod, cellular phones texting away, and so on. So never mind that the statistics don't back up that there's some scourge of walking deaths abound, we must have law!

Oh and never mind that over half of all pedestrian deaths involve alcohol or narcotics. And not "distractions".


I only watch this on CSPAN. And with good reason. There aren't people on there telling me what was just said.

So I missed out on this little gem of commentary, where apparently Faux decided to take offence that the President was unspecific in a broad speech about a specific thing that they and their various commentators have never offered or even preferred a solution. In otherwords...

"Fox news anchors chiding the president for not offering "specifics" in this speech for how he would simplify the tax code is not the pot calling the kettle black, it is the pot calling the color black black."

One good summary of the speech: "Gay soldiers will win the future by riding high speed trains to salmon farms". The salmon joke was effective, I was not laughing out loud, but it was amusing. I would find it more effective if they (the President, the various executive branches agencies, or even the new GOP Congress) had any intention and will to cut the various agencies that needlessly duplicate and/or confuse the regulations concerning salmon farms, among other useless federal programmes.

And get rid of those oil (and corn) subsidies along the way. Good luck with that. We've been trying to tell you how stupid those things are for decades.

I was at least pleased he talked about schools and a need for reform, but I am less likely to see anything meaningful emerge as a legislative achievement of school reforms than we are to see troops departing, and returning to, Iraq this year and next. On the plus side though, the broad strokes of reforms he's discussed, and in a few cases put in practice, are not nearly the pro-teachers union ridiculousness as we've had for decades as stock Democrat/liberal position. I'd be pretty ecstatic if we could hire and fire people as teachers with greater ease. For instance, in DC, there's a proposal contract in place finally that would reduce the amount of time it takes for firing a teacher, the various hearings and so on required, to a mere 100 days. If they get that down to 1 day, that would be a considerable achievement. If they also lowered the barriers to entry (considerably), again, a major reform. If they reduced the amount of top-down control over curriculum, again, a major use for recruiting new teachers and opening new schools (and fewer foolish battles with parents who want their kids to learn creationism instead of science, or learn revisionist histories about the Civil war and the deification and idolatry surrounding the Constitution, those kids can go be brainwashed with..err learn those things and leave the rest of us in peace instead of waging war on textbooks and local school boards).

25 January 2011

Pet projects

The.... sad news of Joe's impending retirement reminded me of an odd quirk. He was almost nominated twice to be Vice President, once by each party. And that Joe Lieberman was almost President twice reminded me of my pet old idea

Which went nowhere .

Anybody actually care who Joe Biden is? How about Thomas Marshall? If nobody cared all that much to replace William King when he died in office even faster than Harrison had (and was already being sworn in while in Cuba for health reasons), I don't see why we really need somebody to do the job. I mean, Pierce practically picked a corpse to be his VP as it was.

Parenting continuums and moral cognition

I see parenting tactics and strategies as somewhere between this and this .

And I'm far happier seeing parents adopt the latter than the former. Because most of the effort is wasted or unnecessary protection and otherwise imposes demands rather than allows for a bit of flourishing of the individuals.

Speaking of efforts that might be wasted... , kids apparently start early on that whole good-bad thing. Well before we get to them and start programming our particular favorite set of mandated religious rules.. err, whatever it is we prefer as moral flavor. Evolutionary speaking, this is not surprising that a social animal would have more or less pre-programmed to recognize good and bad social cohesion and to avoid bad behavior which might be harmful to the survival of the species by a) punishing it or b) avoiding it.

What's most interesting to conclude here is this part however. . Human beings appear to come pre-programmed to be bigots. Or at least to have heavy preferences for people who share common ground and to be disposed to actively dislike people who do not share those common interests. There are again, sensible evolutionary reasons why this would make sense. It fosters social cohesion to have groups of relatively like minded people, though it also may be sacrificing social innovations. But basically, "tolerating" other people is akin to "I don't give a shit" about you, and you, and you. Having a strong attachment to a particular interest however means that you will tend to have a strong dislike for its opposite when it appears. And this is pretty much where our sports rivalries come from (which I don't usually care about one way or the other, other than it might produce good quality games), and more importantly, where our political and religious sectarianism comes from.

What wasn't discussed up there, but what occurs to me, is that it's possible that infants are seeing these distinctions as "bad actions" worthy of punishment, because they do not align with their own likely goals. Of course we don't, in most cases, extend active hindrance of people's choice of food or music, but we do in competitive ventures like sports, politics, religion, and nationalism (and yes, most of religion is about signaling your competitive group associations with like-minded people, and not about establishing a better world). If our opposites in these fields are doing something "bad" by not sharing our preferences, then it is reasonable that we should desire to see them punished for it.

21 January 2011

A divide

Political philosophies operate off of some general core assumptions that they begin with. For this case, what is lacking is a distinction between an authoritarian state philosophy, which may (or may not) have limitations on that state but operates on an assumption of defined rights for citizens (such as they are) and expansive powers for the state everywhere else in societal life, and a strictly limited state which operates on an assumption of defined powers for the government and expansive rights for the citizenry everywhere else in life. This second one appears to be the logic behind most constitutional democracies and republics and provides a great deal of individual, economic, and cultural freedoms for the most part.

So when we start seeing court decisions that wonder where a "defined" right for the citizen is, rather than a court decision wondering why a government requires a power which may be used to violate or at best obfuscate whether violations of rights occur, I think we should be worrying.

Even if there is not a defined right to record the actions, and particular the words, of police officers and other government officials in situations like those of arrests or organised citizen protests which may be engaged by law enforcement, there is a defined right to avoid various violations of constitutional rights, and where a dispute arises between whether these rights are violated or not, some recording devices might provide concrete evidence which may either acquit public officials in the performance and service of their communities, or will show that they have indeed flagrantly defied their duties to uphold these rights and values. And it would be better if we had more evidence, and more sources of evidence, than the mere word of mouth of the subjects involved. But I guess disentangling civil rights lawsuits isn't a very pressing matter for some reason to our court system...

18 January 2011

Arizona and things

Note to (liberal) commentators: Sarah Palin is in fact a moron. You don't get to presume she actually knows what words are coming out of her mouth just because they're suddenly correlated with something more offensive than "Sarah Palin is talking."

I have no desk or interest in defending this woman (after all, she's a moron), but get a grip. I of course still maintain, and it appears vindicated now as more facts have come forward, that we're not creating these crazy people and inciting them to act with noxious political speech (such as Palin's). That said, I don't much care for noxious political speech when it is wrong, completely wrong, on its substance. It doesn't much matter what the tone is if someone is just spouting ridiculous nonsense (such as Palin). It is this, as was pointed out yet again by Stewart last night, that needs to be called out. I don't care how someone says it, if it's legitimately and factually wrong or distorted (sometimes for ideological reasons, or sometimes for stupidity reasons), that's the core problem. We cannot have a sound political debate where different sets of facts are involved.

One other thing that ought to occur to us is to stop leaping at the conclusion that yes, some master force of hateful speech and climate has orchestrated every act of violence, be it political or otherwise. There are occasions where this link seems at least less tenuous (the example of the assassination of Rabin has come up a few times now, and that of the Governor of Punjab more recently). But not so much here.

I'm also not very convinced now that the gun control issue is well correlated with having a restriction for mental illness. There doesn't appear to be much of a link, much less a causal link between insanity and violence. This should be obvious in that we have lots of violent crime and very few people who might be considered insane.

It sounds more like we just need better resources for dealing with mental illness rather than stronger gun restrictions for the insane. That is that we need a better way to filter out the dangerously insane and identify them, park them somewhere for a bit or medicate them appropriately. I'm not sure how we do that and still preserve individual rights and especially do so without a process of mental hospitalisation becoming a source of police power or an abused system. In the absence of such a system and appropriate safeguards, restrictions on access to guns for the dangerously insane, perhaps without medical approval, would be about all we're getting. I don't at all subscribe to some system of requiring the reporting insane behavior by family or friends or authorities (like schools or police), but I do think that some means of sussing these things out collectively would work a lot better for the treatment of mental illness, and impose less restriction ultimately on not only the rest of us, but also the crazies themselves.

As for the proposals of Congress to protect itself from violent attacks... just stop it. Please just shut the hell up Peter King and friends. Firstly, we've had far more violence in our past toward elected officials (see 1960s assassinations, and 1850-80s, particularly during and after Reconstruction), some of it even performed by other elected officials. The fact that there is so little, even in a toxic political atmosphere such as we have now, and with large amounts of repression and violence engaged in by government at all levels toward citizens, should tell us that there are either plenty of protections out there already, or that there are very few people with the time and inclination to perform attacks. One such attack does not prove the existence of dozens more in waiting.

And secondly, if you have to have more protections and laws, then at least come up with things that can be sanely enforced. 1000 feet bans? Plexi-glass walls? Whatever. Get over yourselves. You're not that important, and even if you are, I'd wonder how these sorts of things could even be necessary to protect you (and could be funded in this fiscal situation).

12 January 2011

Raising Arizona

I don't have much to contribute to this mess. Primarily I see "crazy person shoots 20" and I think a crazy person shot twenty people. I don't instantly search for greater meaning and political significance or to attach the raving lunatic to a "side". There are sometimes sides and usually not to senseless violence. The fact that this fellow lists the communist manifesto and mein kempf as favorite books and also seems to be a fan of Austrian economics (re: his anti-Fed rants) makes him pretty much unsided. Sometimes bad things happen and we don't (and won't) understand why.

That said, I would say that because most people, particularly the media, race to attach those sides, people, particularly political figures, might be smart to tone down their rhetorical use of violence so that there is not an ease for public blame to be bandied about. I'm not entirely sure how wise that is however (from a "I want to get elected" standpoint). I'm still fairly convinced that the chicken-egg problem here isn't a top down issue of leaders causing people to go out and commit atrocities, but is a set of motivated people most of whom are causing "leaders" to go out and say ridiculous or terrible things in order to gain attention and get elected, and a few of whom are motivated enough to take drastic actions. People want to hear that their opposition is terrible and powerful and must be stopped at all costs, and clever politicians (and "news" organs) will tell them precisely that.

That is: that the public is already "crazy" and doesn't need any extra help from Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or dozens of others in the Republican wing of politics. While it is true I constantly run up against people whose ideas of politics and political debate is something like "watch me deploy this devastatingly 'effective' talking point from right-wing talk show host X!" and when it doesn't work (as it never does), then accuse the person of being some other version of radical (socialist, racist, elitist, not open-minded, whatever), I'm also not seeing these as people likely to take up arms and shoot others who disagree with them in fits of violent political rage. They're, sadly, pretty normal, par for the course of American discourse. Even the conspiracy laden politics watchful for invisible black helicopters and UN death camps or other visions of some impending apocalypse is, while strange and depressing, still fairly common (I blame the "history" channel for lending any credence and legitimacy to these ideas).

Perhaps there's some central repository for these ideas, and certainly the attention gained by people like Beck, Limbaugh, and Palin and their ranting does little for creating meaningful political debates based on a factual universe by essentially creating a closed loop of "information". But I'm enough of a cynic to realize that the reason we don't have meaningful political debates and have a few wackos is that we have a population that a) doesn't want meaningful political debates based on a factual universe, they want to shout at the other "team", regardless of what "team" they are on and regardless of what the facts are (ie, who is in the right) and b) already has a few too many wackos in it.

It does seem reasonable to ask why some clearly insane person could acquire a firearm so easily (this does seem like a sensible restriction on second amendment rights, if perhaps easily abused). But otherwise, I'm not sure what we're accomplishing here by trying to assign the leftovers, the people who have no "team" and are apparently very pissed off about it, to one side or the other so we may shout louder at them. I much prefer being out in the middle of nowhere politically myself and I don't like it when people put me on a team.

Presumably this Loughner character we will find is much the same, even if his politics are based on insane rantings rather than a coherent ideology. How about we blame him and his "ideas" first rather than presuming that some nefarious central actor is directing the activity of all insane violent people in the country. That goes for the Becks of the world and their explanations of the logistics of say, a George Soros attempt to take down the US to explain the "threat" of the left just as much as it goes for every murderous event spawned out of what seems to be the insane rantings that occasionally lucidly draw on right-wing talking points.

04 January 2011

This would explain a lot

I always did very well in history courses, particularly any which required analytical writing and not fact memorizing. Which while I also do very well, is not actually a very good history course (I had a couple which heavily supplemented the text with actual thought)

But I also never opened the textbook. Or bought it.

So a line like this... isn't terribly surprising: "historians tend to rate textbooks as the least trustworthy sources while students tend to rate them as the most trustworthy"

And this is what you get, even basic factual errors by the pound

03 January 2011

An incomplete list of phrases that do not end debates

Most of these are used without any designs on their accuracy. But in most cases, even where they are accurate, they have little to do with the actual arguments either and do not make the arguments themselves wrong.

1) You're a Nazi/Fascist!
2) You're a Socialist/Anarchist!
3) You're a Liberal/Progressive/Conservative!
4) You're a Republican/Democrat!
5) You're a Racist/Bigot/Homophobic!
6) You're not a Parent!
7) You've never been in the Military!
8) You're an Atheist!
9) You're a (fill-in-religious/superstition here)!
10) You're a Religious Fundamentalist!
11) You're too Old/too Young (implied, to understand)!

That's not to say that some, perhaps most of these do not commonly raise incomplete, incorrect, or false argumentative points. Indeed, all of them sometimes will. But it's incredibly common for people to dismiss points with these as rhetorical flourish as though it ends the argument.

I myself will tend not to argue once a position is staked out solely based on the religious fundamentalism worldview, because I find it personally useless to argue with such people. If they can find a non-Biblical basis for it, I can attack that instead, but arguing over theology and metaphysics is boring and ultimately tied into far too much subjective interpretation and belief. And attacking someone's belief structure or schema tends to make them dig in rather than listen, sadly enough. I find it is enough to identify, or allow them to self-identify (which most religious fundamentalists will gladly do), that this is the basis of a point and move on to other more important matters.

I suppose it would be said that if these pejorative statements are accurately deployed, which in some cases is extremely rare, then it can be useful for the flow of the conversation, or to otherwise examine why someone holds a particular set of views. But it still usually doesn't have much to do with the arguments themselves as most arguments can flow from anywhere and very few people are monolithically identifiable with only a single set of values (even most religious fundamentalists, principally because there is not a single set of values to which ALL religious fundamentalists appeal to). So primarily what happens when they are used is the conversation changes from some preeminent meta-analytical point to a battle staked out over whether said person is really the very model of a racist or a socialist, and so on. And in most cases, the answer is no and we should move our attention back to something more pressing. In the case of many accusations of racism, the question should be more like "is it really a good idea to have someone this ignorant and careless running a state (I'm looking in your direction Mr Barbour)", for example.