27 February 2012

One other note

I've mostly ignored commenting on the rise of Rick Santorum within the GOP primaries. Occasionally divesting some time into demonstrating the problems with some of his more repugnant social convictions, or the social convictions of his fellow travelers, is not the same as commenting on his political fortunes.

This is mostly because I am quite certain that one of two things will happen:
a) Romney will end up with the nomination and not Santorum. (or a split convention will block Santorum with a similar result). Meaning Santorum isn't worth talking about because he won't be the nominee.
b) If he is somehow the nominee, he will lose anyway because his candidacy will assure a much stronger liberal-independent vote turnout than would be the case if say, Romney, were the candidate of the GOP. While I'm sure there are Obama fans who would turn out to vote against Romney, this would be true regardless in that case. What we're talking about is the legions of advocates for social causes that Santorum despises, including independent libertarians who are putatively Republican voters (and whom Santorum despises) and who all have built-in networks for dispersing the vitriolic reaction that they will all have to virtually any statement on social values that Santorum makes (his base of supporters can do likewise, but they were always likely to vote for him with or without his candidacy). In this instance, the story isn't Santorum either. The story is that the Republican base went AWOL and lost by "sticking to their principles". For which I'm dubious that Santorum is the appropriate vehicle for their stated principles, things like "limited government" have nothing to do with Santorum. But he might well be the right vehicle for the unstated assertions they put behind them in the same way that Bush the second became the same also a "team affiliated leader". The effect of all that is defeat at the polls. And thus requiring them to get new principles in order to win elections at the national level.

Personally, at this point I'm not quite rooting for this as the improbable outcome, but it would settle a lot of our political problems in one fell swoop with the unfortunate consequence of placing more years in an Obama Presidency (something I'm not exactly sympathetic to either, for foreign policy and civil liberties issues especially). One possible outcome for example is a much stronger turnout for the libertarian candidate and a general fracture of the strange political alliance that has sustained over the last several decades between libertarians and conservatives, despite all manner of bizarre violations of libertarian philosophy inherent to conservative principles (aggressive policy abroad in foreign affairs and aggressive moralizing policies at home, as but the strongest examples)

The Soviets are gone fellas. You can come out of the closet now and leave them behind.

As far as Santorum personally, I still maintain the principle reason for his candidacy was to get his google search results changed, in the same way that Cain or Gingrich were trying to sell books and increase speaking fees. I will change my mind on that only if he somehow manages to run a campaign that wins the nomination for himself. And I'm not sold that he can garner enough delegates to actually win or that he could win in a split convention if he were to fail in that vital task.

Minor note. And one less minor

The All-Star Game was vastly more entertaining, particularly at the end of the game, than watching a collection of nostalgic films pat themselves on the back repeatedly. I still haven't seen A Separation, or Melancholia, but otherwise, I think we should just admit to ourselves that movies in general had a bad year. (Other than my aforementioned pleasant experience with Dragon Tattoo).

I do think however that nostalgia is an overriding cultural feeling in America, and that celebrating it might have been worthwhile economically. Except that none of the films that were up for awards were celebrating anything that Americans are nostalgic for. The closest to that nostalgia was probably Captain America, so far as I can tell. And not silent films, movie making, France, WWI, or campy 9-11 movies. It's possible that the "gone with the wind" level idiocy of treatment of the 60s era (1960s instead of 1860s) was something that Americans were nostalgic for (the Help), in the sense that we get to tell ourselves that are a good and noble people and that Southerners were (or are) not. Otherwise, I'm not sure I get the movies up there as servicing the public's desire for nostalgia. Glenn Beck, for all his many faults, did a far better job of this than anything Hollywood nominated because we (Americans, if not human beings) seem to prefer whitewashing out the blemishes of our misremembered past and covering ourselves in glory whilst pretending that our futures are bound to be less innovative and noble than our days gone by. 

As far as the influence of nostalgia on society more generally however, I think this argument:

is persuasive that it is the weird nostalgia for a particular version of "traditional marriage" as that practiced by our parents or grandparents, generationally speaking, is what "we" want. That "we" being the sorts of people who oppose gay marriage. There are several interesting responses to this line of logic then.
1) Marriage has itself undergone a dramatic set of changes over time. We don't accept polygamous arrangements as valid now. We don't tend to allow younger people to get married, nor use it for the explicit purpose of child-bearing. We don't use it principally as a means of transferring property, nor as treating women as property for arranging alliances over other forms of property, or power, to be transferred. These are in fact, relatively recent innovations in marriages, that they are to be used with a normative purpose of having two people who are generally emotionally committed to each other to express that commitment in the form of a marriage ceremony and contract.
2) That we use it now for that purpose, it makes no sense that we don't allow adult individuals to commit to one another simply because we, as outsiders, disapprove of their affections. If their friends and/or families observe their affections approvingly, why do the rest of us care? Does it not strengthen this nostalgic version to allow and encourage more people to marry people of their own choice and to satisfy important pair-bonding elements like sexual preference? Taking this to a logical absurdity, would it make sense to require people to marry other people they found sexually repulsive or even physically hideous because we, as outsider observers, found those people more acceptable mates for them? Preferences for local knowledge should be at the center of a liberal democracy's success wherever possible and it thus seems utterly ridiculous that we are using central control to overturn individual peoples most basic private decisions in this case.
3) That the "bigot" level of disgust or dismay at homosexual's marriage or even sexual preferences are generally diminishing by both the decrease of aged persons and their attitudes toward homosexuality in our societies and the increase in experiences of (generally younger) heterosexual persons who know and are genuinely tolerant of the (private) lives of their homosexual counterparts.
4) That the argument then must ultimately rest upon some factual assertion that it is these post Victorian/Suffrage era 1920-1960s version of marriages are either a) worthy of preservation for reasons beyond mere nostalgic attachment and served some vital social function that is currently abandoned (presumably things like the raising of children or social welfare goods that are otherwise required to be public goods) and b) is being in some way weakened and diminished or damaged by extending basic rights and privileges associated with them to others that were or are previously prevented (as we did by allowing people to marry inter-racially for instance). There are very few, if any, factual assertions that can be raised for either of these arguments that it is homosexuals that have destroyed this version of marriage. There are other grounds that can be argued upon, relating to general social shifts and cultural attitudes toward marriage as a practice as opposed to a ceremony (whereby our society seems to prefer and laud the ceremony to the practice), changes in divorce laws, and so on. But none of these seem to have very much to do with whether or not gays may marry each other.
5) Further, if the argument is to rest upon some sort of child-bearing and child raising stance, there are various problems with this as a basis of marriage. First, the argument against adoption likewise ultimately turns on the grounds of evidence. It by far strikes the empirical world as a bald-faced lie to claim things like children are better off with a father or parent in prison or jail than to have two loving adults care for them (as Rick Santorum implies) simply because those adults are of the same gender. Evidence of childhood outcomes would cut against such an inference and the implication of the argument should be that any two adults willing to raise a child together and in reasonable possession of their full mental and physical faculties should be permitted and encouraged to do so, including two homosexual adults, two non-married heterosexual adults, and so on.

Secondly, that we allow and support publicly various marriages that are privately occupied without any indication or ability for child-bearing (re-marriages by the elderly for instance or the infertile), and make no requirement that a marriage must bear children and must cooperate to raise them to adulthood. That's not part of the contract, nor the ideal basis. It could be inferred that two younger people who care for each other in an emotional and psychological sense would likely find some pleasure in producing and raising a child or two (or more). But we make no promise that they must. Why, if the premise of marriage is thus, do we make no social effort to establish requirements of such things, or why do we not absolve people of their marital duties through contracts and vows when they have raised children to adulthood and are no longer physically able to produce more children of their own?

NCAA week 5

1) Kentucky 12-1
Small Gap has shown up here finally.

2) Ohio State 9-6
3) Michigan State 12-5

4) Kansas 12-5

5) Syracuse 16-1
6) North Carolina 12-4

7) Wichita State 9-3-1
8) Wisconsin 8-6-2
9) Missouri 11-3-1

10) Duke 14-4
11) Indiana 9-5-2

12) Georgetown 7-6
13) Florida 6-5-2 (this is not a good sign that someone with a losing record shows up in the top 15. I suspect it means Florida won't be in the top 15 by the end of the SEC tournament)
14) Marquette 9-5
15) Memphis 8-7-1
16) St Louis 6-4-2
17) Baylor 11-5
18) New Mexico 7-3-3

19) Belmont 4-4-3
20) Vanderbilt 10-7-2
21) Alabama 6-8-1
22) California 10-6-1
23) Kansas St 7-7-2
24) Louisville 9-6-1
25) UNLV 6-5-1
25) Virginia 9-6-1

Texas is looking a lot like Georgetown a few years ago, finished 16-14 with the 3rd toughest schedule in the nation, rated like a 7 seed, and then missed the tournament. The difference being that Texas is at least 18-11 instead of 16-14, and the field is a lot weaker this year. Teams like Butler, Dayton, Maryland, and Boston College were on the bubble that year (2009) and had quality records against good to solid teams (all of them had better records than say, Georgetown this year). The bubble this year has lots of teams with losing and terrible records against better competition. Indeed, there are teams that are likely in with room to spare with such records. Iowa State for example is in the mid 30s with a 5-6-2 record and appears with universal acceptance in mock brackets. It's hard to say who should be in or out of this sort of pool.

24 February 2012

A personal note

In a game of basketball I managed to injure another player this week. It was, as such things often are, an unintentional consequence of two people attempting to contest the result of a sporting event through their physical efforts. As he went up to attempt a layup, I went up to attempt to block this shot attempt (something I often do, being as I am tall and most other players I encounter are not). His movements and attempts to protect the ball brought his head into alignment with my arm, and elbow in particular, as it came down and some manner of neck injury resulted.

Fortunately the gentlemen in question appears not to have suffered any major permanent effects or damage. I am awaiting further developments but so far this is pleasant news. Pain and suffering imposed upon others is generally to be avoided if it can be. I consider myself fortunate to have few injuries afflicted upon me by others, what injuries I have are old wounds and are generally non-physical if they come from others, and to have, so far as I am aware, inflicted few insults upon others. I prefer to keep it that way.

That being said, I have no cause to avoid the risk of such injuries by stomping out my own behaviors. If I had it to do over, I would still have attempted to block the shot, and he, from experience, likely would have continued to press the attack and have attempted to score. Accidents, be they happy or unhappy, have the quality of being accidental.

22 February 2012

Speaking of the mess

This cropped up on my social networks. I have some friends who are, in their own view, in the squishy middle, are usually parents themselves, and whose personal stances on abortion are disgust and dismay (but are still fine with the prospect that someone else may make a different choice). "Arguments" like this are therefore occasionally persuasive or common to circulate approvingly.

There are numerous bones to pick. For starters. 60% of abortions are conducted by week 8, with 80% by the end of week 10. So that means for the most part, abortions are closer to #5 than to #6 in appearance (indeed, scientifically speaking, we're not even talking about a "fetus" at all until week 10). They look more like this in real life.

I suddenly have a desire to eat some peanuts personally rather than any relative emotional attachment to this figure as a human being. It looks more like a future puppy dog than a human being in that shot actually. Which is not the best lights I admit.

And I could also admit I don't have much relative emotional attachment to other humans anyway (most of them at least). But I am still reasonably fond of dogs.

Cherry picking the imagery further, they could have gone with week 12 (after which only about 10% of abortions occur). When there's fingernails growing and the photoshoot produces what looks (more) like a human face instead of a recognizable head.

This then means that the shot in frame #3 is not recognizably what is generally produced by an abortion (much less emergency contraception). More over, it should be possible to place by that disturbing image an equally disturbing image of a dead young woman. Since after a point where such a gruesome sight could be produced, we're talking often about health of the mother issues where death is a possibility. The trouble with the shots #3, #5, and #6 being used here then is that we're talking past each other in the hopes of grossing each other out or presuming a level of disgust that should take precedence over other concerns. Disgust has often very questionable use as a moral indicator because it is not universal in all cases. We are not all disgusted by the grisly and gruesome imagery of death and corpses at their various ages. I don't particularly care that this is what a reasonably advanced dead fetus looks like afterward, because I could have other considerations that take precedence (what a dead human woman looks like). It is therefore not a convincing argument to raise.

The most interesting shot is the one in frame #4. I think however that people should acknowledge that women don't always think this and that offering it up is nothing more that a tautology rather than an interesting and engaging argument. While it would be nice to hope for a scenario where every pregnancy is desirable, and there are no unwanted events, there are plenty of women who react with horror, fear, or other negative emotions to the discovery that they are pregnant. Seeing a "gift" is scarcely associated with these feelings. To be sure, not all of them end up getting abortions (and not all of them end up carrying to term for many other reasons), for various reasons. But all this image does is insist that they should feel this way when there are various reasons that they might not. They might already have children, be very young or older, on birth control or not, may have been raped, might discover some physical or mental deformity developing, and so on. Perhaps these reasons are unpersuasive to people who think they should feel very good about it. But to me these reasons are just as valid, if not as persuasive, as when a putatively happy couple doesn't have the same strong feeling that they should have particular colours for their wedding as you do, or the same desire for expensive diamond rings as you do, and so on. A child who is not wanted, for any particular reason, however silly you think it is, is going to suffer the consequences of being unwanted. You cannot compel people to love someone they don't want to in other words. That's a you problem. You would, presumably, wish to love this being as it forms and grows and eventually becomes a live baby boy or girl. They do not. The world is not just yours. You don't get to tell everyone else how to behave just as you would given similar circumstances that you yourself often didn't actually live through.

The image in frame #2 suffers from both the cherry picking problem (it would be just as possible to post an image of the dead George Tiller or the Olympic bombing in 1996 to show what pro-life advocates have done, and just as intellectually dishonest as this image already is) and the tautological assumption present in #4, and really the same problem all of them suffer from. That is, a metaphysical transference of our own desires and wills upon primitive organisms that human beings do all the time (to dogs or other pets for instance). Personhood, and any accompanying legal and moral dignity involved, is not something we can arbitrarily impose upon human beings prior to their birth with equal value without lots of messy consequences involving things like miscarriages or still births. Even assuming that we could do so, it is a further assumption to presume that a) a developing fetus has demands and wants of its own, a generally free will desiring of existence in the first place, b) that these are similar to those of other living human beings and not altered by their own peculiar circumstances into less recognizable demands, c) they are in possession of all available information that we are relative to their potential for existence and flourishing therein when they are clearly not capable of ascertaining much of anything for most of their development. All of these are questionable assumptions.

So, at best, that leaves us back with frame #1 as useful. I'm not sure that this is the case that all people who have abortions feel that this choice involved denying the basic humanity that pro-life people seem to wish to impart upon primitive human development in utero, but it is among the closest approximations involved for how and why our legal system treats abortions the way it does, with questions over viability, sustainable life cycles, and why most women probably get them so early as a result. That doesn't help us address the question of why they get them at all really, but it is at least more useful than showing us deceased fetal remains and pretending that we should all be equally grossed out by that as you presumably are. Sorry. I'm not grossed out. Or showing us happy and cheerful protesters for pro-life causes and presuming that we should all be on their side because of their glee in defence of life. I'm not all that convinced that all human life is equally valid and worthy of preservation at all costs and for all reasons in the first place. But I'm really not convinced that the formation of human life is some mystical sacred process, unrepeatable, unplannable, and so on. Perhaps where it contains uncertainties, I am willing to share your misgivings, but these uncertainties are legion and do not all involve the creation of life so much as the safe delivery of that created life into a functioning and screaming infant with substantial needs of its own prior to having a sustainable life of its own and all the attending demands that this might place upon women, both throughout their pregnancy and into motherhood (or adoption). Presuming these are negligible or costless events is to presume a set of values that is not universal but is rather based upon your own private preferences. This is about as useful as "disgust" as a result.

It would certainly be invalid to argue that women should all be forced by the state or some other agency to have abortions at some other will and time than their own. It might be possible to relate some sort of universalizing morals here but we would have to acknowledge these universalizing morals only apply to very specific circumstances and aren't therefore preventing women, and by extension human beings, from ever generating new human life. So I'm not sure what is gained by arguments like this. We're back to the normal, every day experience, in which we actually live, and not in the sort of dystopian fantasies imagined in our weaker moments.

Perhaps it would be best if we tried to understand why the world we live in looks like it does as a result instead of presuming a level of malevolence upon our political opponents in comic book versions of our views like this.

Having poked my nose into the mess

I will say a few more bits on the abortion topic.

1) Most people are in a squishy middle of being committed fully to neither pro-choice or pro-life positions in their strongest ways. That means that they are mostly comfortable with a moral assertion that abortions are probably wrong and probably would be deeply conflicted if they or someone they knew or loved needed or wanted one, but that they can certainly see points, like a pregnant women's health and life or perhaps the fitness of the fetal development (such as disorders that would likely insure a brief existence post-womb complete with suffering and pain and agony rather than hopeful futures), as legitimate grounds for abortion being maintained as a legal option. That is, that they would oppose outright bans on it or things like Mississippi's (and other states') personhood amendments, but also don't feel totally comfortable with say, Planned Parenthood, because they're the ones doing the actual abortions. 

2) What they don't oppose are things like the new Virginia law requiring transvaginal, internal, ultrasounds, laws requiring ultrasounds more generally, parental consent laws, and so on. The reason for this is highly irrational on some level.

First, it appears that the conclusion reached by many as a basis for these laws is that people considering getting abortions have not thought through their decision adequately and that an ultrasound is necessary in some way to get them to reconsider. There is some evidence that this is effective at getting some people to reconsider their decision. Certainly not all or most, since most people have considered this decision at great length and have often had to go to the trouble to select a location far out of their way to get one. But by and large whether it should be mandated by the state to do so is another question entirely from whether or not it works to reduce the number of abortions in some way. Note: It is medically useful to use ultrasounds to determine that a), someone is definitely pregnant and b), that the abortion procedure was successful in ending that pregnancy, but this is different from requiring someone to view said ultrasound as a patient or offering it to them as a condition of state policy. It makes sense from a medical perspective but not as a meddling means of the state in other words. Planned Parenthood does ultrasounds itself when conducting the procedure, as but one example.

Second, in the case of Virginia, the idea is to use transvaginal ultrasounds because early embryonic development of the sort commonly associated with most abortions tends not to be visible on the less invasive "jelly belly" procedure that most people would associate with ultrasounds. This means that people aren't seeing anything when offered a common procedure. Which actually does provide them as a patient, should they choose to view said ultrasound, with some medical information (that their pregnancy is likely not very far advanced, something they likely already knew). That they are then required to get the more invasive procedure instead does strike me as an onerous method of determining how best to execute the abortion by a means of state law. If a doctor uses this procedure to insure its effectiveness, that's one thing, but using the instruments of the state to dictate the effectiveness of abortion outcomes doesn't seem like something we should be doing.

3) As is it naturally compared to the invasive nature of the procedure is akin to a rape. Though by no means is it the same in psychological and moral terms, it is far closer than things that advocates of this law have compared to actual rape. This is especially true for real rape victims seeking an abortion, one of the few exceptions that many pro-life types are willing to grant. An exception I find morally inconsistent and bizarre myself. To me the rape exception is a key moral determination that somehow creating children should be a voluntary act and that fathering children should be done consensually, but the idea that somehow this is the basis for only THIS exception, and not any other exceptions that parents or potential mothers can conceive of, is beyond a little strange to me. In any case, the idea that we should be using state policy to control what procedures are used on these women and their families in particular rather than appropriate local medical determinations (ie, preferencing local knowledge over centralised controls), is repugnant to the basic model of a free liberal society. Precisely the sort that conservatives presume to claim a sole desire to institute through a "smaller government".

That is to say, that rape victims should be able to consult privately with their doctors the appropriate methods available to insure that they receive the care they desire rather than have the state impose a particular method in preference to alternatives. If rape victims can do this, I would presume that there is a logic available that other women could do so also.

Update: We can always count upon the political ambitions of Governors to become Presidents or Senators. It sounds like McDonnell is attempting to get the transvaginal requirement stricken from the law.  Since there are numerous states with ultrasound laws already on the books, Virginia would hardly be unusual or radical there. But the unpleasant necessity of explaining why rape victims had to be violated again in order to obtain an abortion (when this is, by far, one of the few relatively popular reasons behind legal abortions in the popular view of morality) if he were to run for higher office beyond Virginia, tends to matter.

21 February 2012

I don't see a conclusion here

About the only thing I agreed with was the idea that if you want people to use up their desire for tribalism, have them follow sports instead of politics.

I suppose it is possible to say that measuring pro-Republican or pro-Democratic politics correlates with some version of liberal-conservative axis. But it's a very strange version.

One because what constitutes "conservative" or "Republican" has varied widely even within the last 5 or 10 years, ditto for liberals and Democrats. Saying that these are indeed even correlated groups (that is that liberals are Democrats or Democrats are liberals) is relatively questionable as an assumption.

Second, because there is plenty of agreement between these two parties which goes ignored, particularly as it relates to media bias where the bias runs toward statism, regardless of its origin. Definitions of marginal terms are allowed to be skewed by their use by people have little in common with the real political ideologies that underlie them ("libertarians" and "realists" are prominent among these terms. As are "patriots".)

Meanwhile. The test used to generate quotients for instance tends to ask lots of biased questions that favor issues like technicalities and riders and amendments to overall bills without explaining the overall value of the intended bill. Opposition to these bills could have been based upon both the technical or overall value and little interest was taken to distinguish. The problem with this is that these technicalities are invoked by either political party to suit their pursuits. The timing of TARP related legislation for instance was crucial to determining whether or not it was a "conservative" division issue (ie, during the Bush administration, it was reasonably popular, under Obama it is almost universally reviled). As a related problem, almost none of these amendments and thus questions dealt with what are popularly defined as liberal-conservative divisions (gay marriage, abortion, welfare policies). The gaps between were not brightly defined and thus were putatively useless.

Finally, it is possible to account for "bias" that is observed or perceived by seeking alternative sources or balance and still finding the purported biased source to have at least occasionally valid uses to perform some other social function. It is also possible for that bias to be less easily measured or quantifiable as is proposed here. But in the case of the bias being measured, it is unclear that measuring it served much purpose. One basis for this would be the overwhelming appearance of American political figures to be mostly "conservative" in the global sense and the traditional sense of the ideology, and the purported appearance of mostly "liberal" political coverage and mostly liberal Democratic politicians. Bias in this sense would comport not to some structural ideological divide, for which it would be rendered useless to use any source of material for information, but rather for team sorting mechanisms. For which it has obvious intentions that can be easily sussed out. 

Suggesting "bias" as a result looks to be serving some other function, like tribal signaling, rather than serving some actual political purpose, be that nefarious or benign. A story or podcast about tribal signaling generally would have been far more interesting and factually based than the one they did. That is, they did the podcast on tribal signaling months ago, and that was a good one. This was bogus.

Dilemmas of dilemmas

Metaphysical version?

Frequent and recent debates on the ongoing political football that is abortion politics in this country are clearly the most obvious portion of how to tackle a dilemma. If there are others, they have much fewer muddled moral components (global warming to me is the closest national policy issue with the same lack of clarity in its debated terms). Most people generally accept a premise that abortions should be legal, but rare. That is, that they personally feel uncomfortable or wrong about them, probably wouldn't want one, but don't see a reason or way to make that discomfort into a preventive measure against anyone else wanting abortions. They don't articulate why they should be acceptable, or why they shouldn't. Even defenders of abortion rights do not tend to do so with a full-throated power that presents abortion, or even the option thereof, as a moral good in and of itself. What they do instead is present the portrait of people who oppose abortions as Luddites who hate women. This is likely true, given the ancillary features of the pro-life movement and its positions on issues like birth control or health care or economic gender balance, and so on. But it fails to present any moral ground on its own for women, other than to denigrate opposition. Better defenses argue the importance of existing, living, breathing, women and their rights as superior to the supposed or inferred rights of primitive embryonic beings that women would be otherwise gestating, or question the validity of these being counted as "beings" worthy of rights in the first place. Similar problems exist where pro-life/anti-choice proponents expend large amounts of effort portraying abortions as overwhelmingly late-term decisions of irresponsibility rather than the normally early term difficult dilemmas that they are in fact.

Let us suppose first the examination of certainty in claims. I think there are two basic claims of certainty: that a fetus/fertilised collection of cells, is affirmatively a human being, or that this is not. Science would seem to cut toward a notion that mere fertilisation and early development of a fetus is not necessarily viable human life given the extreme frequency of natural failures for such things to result in sustained human life (miscarriages, failure to implant in uterus, ectopic pregnancies, etc). Biblical logic, such as it is, also discounts these "lives" as invalid or at least uncertain. It is unclear on what basis the alternative determinations of certainty are made other than that they are a shared opinion or a deference to the creation of life as paramount for existence. A clear case can be made that claims of certainty for this being being a human with conferred legal benefits are horribly invalid assertions as a result. There is not however a clear case to state affirmatively its opposite, that personhood, or whatever value we assign to human beings, does not or should not be applied to its potential. Or at least, there is not a strong case, the case being that we should assign value to existing human lives, that of women, than their potential for producing progeny, not that their progeny should attain no moral significance.

This cuts against the legal and political value we assign to this issue being very useful, but it does present the necessity of individuals wrestling with these as options, and for social policy, if it is concerned at all with this issue, being aligned with the goal in mind of making it increasingly less likely that very many people do feel such questions as a necessity.

Here is the problem with debates over the certainty of life and personhood, the boring metaphysical premises that always raise their heads in any debate over abortion. It distracts from the actual decisions that must be made by real human beings. I find the debate over global warming or climate change and the required levels of certainty of knowledge and risk to be similarly useless. The real world problem is much simpler: generating energy for homes, cars, and industry, has actual real world costs that are not always being properly captured (pollution, health care, deaths of miners or floods or from lung problems, damage to ecosystem) and focusing massive attention on these would assert powerful political reactions as necessary. In other words, these are real world risks that we have greater certainty over than the potential for massive scale global climate distortions and the hazards these would present as necessary to avert (this is to say nothing of whether this risk is significant, I think it is, or what costs should be paid to avert said risk, which is much less clear). Similarly, in the case of abortion, there are real people who are wrestling with the difficult dilemma of what to do about their pregnant status.

The difficulty of abortion politics obscures that the penultimate question is "why". Why are people having them, what causes a demand? There is little value in asking things like "what value is there to human life or potential human life or their relative balance" so long as people have a desire to terminate pregnancy for some reason. At the ultimate answer we could arrive at is something like "because they don't want to be pregnant", usually for very circumstantial reasons (age of potential mother, health of fetal development, health of pregnant woman, financial constraints, already have other children/family planning efforts, etc). Any attempt to reduce this demand must provide methods of reducing the supply of unwanted pregnancies. This makes it, ultimately, an empirical question of which methods are most effective at this task. Although it is hardly a very simple and easy empirical question of things like "what improves women's educational or occupational opportunities such that their being pregnant does not impede career or life goals" or "what means can we use at a social level to decrease unwanted pregnancy". One of the most obvious responses is to increase access and availability and use of birth control by both men and women. I don't think the administration made a good enough push to do this by making birth control a non-prescription medical procedure and drug and went out about instead in the hamhanded way that most of our health care is delivered instead. That said, there's less of an actual link between access to birth control and demand for abortion than is presumed. It is very strong, but asking women why they are seeking an abortion generally produces a much smaller number of people who lacked birth control. Many women lacked proper use of birth control, which is an entirely different problem than accessibility (training). As a result, less obvious responses are things like using broader sexual education, supporting adoption, providing access to good neonatal care and information on how to wade through the difficulty that is a pregnancy, a relative tolerance for the native sexuality of teenagers, an understanding that there is no casual link between birth control access and the formation of desire and action of our basic sexual natures, and so on.

We see as a consequence why this becomes a massive political football. It has tendrils in various pies, and is a culture war nightmare for conservatives (watching their kids get instruction on condoms, be able to acquire pills or emergency contraception through a pharmacy without parental supervision, no longer can they pretend to have ultimate control over their child's morals, etc). It is far from clear to me why these methods must become political, or that their preferences on how to manage the situation should be enshrined as policy, but I think we should at least acknowledge that they share a concern over a similar dilemma. Even if their methods are basically outdated and useless or based upon deliberate misinterpretations of shared facts surrounding that dilemma.

20 February 2012

NCAA week four

Parenthesis has top 100 record, with additional non top 100 losses. Other games are effectively meaningless other than margins and pace effects.
1) Kentucky (10-1)
2) Ohio State. (9-5) Bigger gap now between these two. Though OSU is still pretty solidly 2nd.

3) Kansas (11-5)

4) Michigan St (11-5)

5) Syracuse (15-1)
6) North Carolina (10-4)

7) Missouri (11-1-1)
8) Wisconsin (7-6-1).

9) Wichita State. (9-3-1)Still not sure how they aren't ranked yet in one of the polls, were barely in the other. They're finally 19th this week, which is decent. I wouldn't even put Mississippi State in the tournament right now and they were still ranked last week.

10) Duke (12-4)

11) New Mexico (7-3-1)
12) Georgetown (7-5)
13) Florida (6-5-1)
14) Indiana (8-5-2)

15) St Louis (7-4-1)

16) Marquette (10-5)
17) Baylor (10-5)

18) California (9-5-1)
19) Florida State (9-5-2)

20) Memphis (7-7-1)
21) Belmont (3-4-3). Mostly up this high because they lost by 1 to Duke, split with MTSU and Marshall (both solid teams), with both games on the road, and obliterated most everybody else.
22) Louisville (10-5-1)
23) Texas (5-9-1)
24) Vanderbilt (10-6-2)
25) UNLV (6-5-1)
25) Virginia (8-5-1)

Michigan is right outside of this group along with several other recognizable names (Gonzaga, Creighton, BYU, Kansas St). Then there's a bigger drop outside of the top 30.

NCAA did rather well with most of the bracketbuster schedule. Murray St versus St Marys was a good setup (both teams are roughly in the 30-40 range), Creighton-Long Beach was, predictably, a very good game. Akron and Oral Roberts, while neither is likely a deep run team, was at least a solid matchup between likely NCAA teams. I was glad to see Iona in the mix also (beating Nevada). Drexel and Cleveland St was supposed to be an even matchup. Wasn't. Missouri St also finally played its way off my list by losing at home to Old Dominion, along with Wyoming losing to Colorado State (who was already off my list). Illinois is also in extreme danger after getting blown out by Nebraska and a 6-9-2 record.

To put into perspective how weak the bubble is.
Texas has zero top 25 wins and a 5-9 record against the top 100. They'd be in.
Purdue has zero top 25 wins and 8-8 against the top 100. They'd be in.
NC State has zero top 25 wins and is 3-8 against the top 100. They'd probably make one of the play-in games.
Miami has one top 25 win, and is 4-8. They'd be in.
Northwestern has one top 25 win and is 6-10. They'd probably make a play-in game.
San Diego State I have ranked around 60, they'd be in by virtue of some good wins.

There are two possible arguments here. One is that more teams like South Dakota State, St Joes, or Drexel, even George Mason, that are likely on the outside looking in as at large teams still deserve to get in. Another is that they should probably shrink the field and that including several more mediocre bubble teams from these power conferences is of little value in terms of probable basketball performance. The basic problem is that a lot of teams like Miami or Northwestern probably aren't actually that great, but they get lots of opportunities to play home games against better teams. You can see Northwestern has 16 games out of 26 that are of consequence, compared to say, Iona, which has played only about 5 tough games out of 28. Iona would probably beat Northwestern.

16 February 2012

Calm down people

It's New York, therefore people go crazy when someone is perceived as successful.

I shall throw some buckets for now and await more data. Some will be lukewarm. Others icy.
1) Lin's Turnover rate is absurdly high. One can assume that perhaps this will come down as Carmelo gets more usage and thus more turnovers instead, but it's not right now looking like point guard material. And Melo turns it over a lot less anyway. It's possible the style encourages more risky passing play as Nash's TO rate numbers are also generally high.

2) He does have the statistical advantage of playing in D'Antonio's system. Which inflates a lot of these numbers. To his credit, his assist rates are very high. But we should be looking at Knicks stats because of pace effects as something like "Colorado Rockies hitters during the 1990s", with a significant downward curve.

3) They have not played a good defensive team, or at least a good defensive team with a point guard since this tear began. Fisher's been washed up defensively for almost a decade and survives on those stupid charging calls that he gets for flopping, and the Lakers, predictably, force almost no turnovers (except when Lin showed up with 6). You could argue Rubio or Williams should have been able to handle him, but Deron's never been much good on defense and in any case Lin came off the bench against the Nets. Rubio's a rookie on an otherwise bad team, and Lin still had 8 turnovers against the Wolves. The rest was done against Washington (one of the worst defensive teams in the league), Toronto (probably the worst man to man), Sacramento (again...), Utah (a pattern developing here?).

The biggest issue with the NBA, especially this year, is who you're doing this against. As the 76ers gaudy record can attest, the Knicks are right there with them on ease of schedule. People, by which we mean the media, made a big deal out of it because the Lakers were involved in this streak, but more or less ignored that a) the Lakers aren't particularly great this year and b) have Derek Fisher or Steve Blake sucking up valuable minutes where they would have to guard someone at Lin's position. So this theory of craziness really won't be tested until they play at Miami (Chalmers is pretty solid defensively), though it's possible Dallas can come up with some scheme or use non-Jason Kidd players on him. And then they play at Boston, at Dallas, at San Antonio, etc.

I admit that I'd have liked to have picked him up on a fantasy team during this run. But that's about the extent of the impressing so far. I picked up Ray Felton last year for the same reason. Starting PG for the Knicks with D'Antoni coaching is likely to rack up some numbers. 
Like with Tebow mania, please wake me when this is accomplished on the road and against substantial opposition (ie, people who can guard a chair) and when the turnovers come down somewhat.

Updated point: This is not to say that Lin doesn't deserve to start or is not a good NBA player. I think both are probably true, though difficult to conclude decisively from available evidence so far (he could just be putting up stats on a relatively bad team for instance, as they play bad teams). It suggests that there is a disturbing lack of context to his present achievements and that he's thus probably not as good as "we" have cast him as, and almost certainly that whatever skills he clearly possesses (ability to make his own shot, to make open shots, to play aggressively, etc), as yet "great NBA point guard" is not among them. 

14 February 2012

Hitting some of the right notes

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Vagina Ideologues
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

I still think there are strong arguments involved that were not touched on here (provision of health care coverage by employers is an insane way to setup health care coverage, first dollar coverage of a predictable health expenditure doesn't make much sense, we require prescriptions for birth control and thus vastly increase their potential costs to women but don't require prescriptions for condoms, etc), but the "war on religion" invention as a convincing argument was necessary to beat down heavily.

Speaking of which, this was also amusing.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Vagina Ideologues - Sean Hannity's Holy Sausage Fest
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


13 February 2012

Other bits and pieces

I don't have much to say on Whitney Houston.

I suppose kind of like MJ, it's difficult to assess as a tragedy the end of life for a person whose achievements were largely limited to a short span of cultural brilliance or popularity. In the case of Whitney, it's likely true that drug problems did cause a tragic element (in the classical "tragic flaw" hero sense), and that these are, unlike MJ's bizarre life story post-fame, more tolerable for inclusion. Particularly given music's unfortunate correlation as a creative art with drug use and abuse already. But unlike say, Cobain, Hendrix, or even Amy Winehouse for those that found her interesting culturally, Whitney wasn't cut down in the prime of a musical career by problems with drug abuse. We, as a society, were not preempted from her achievements in an obvious sense. Still, it's possible to concede that these drug problems maintained an issue as to any putative post-breakout performances in concerts or other venues or impeded her ability to produce new and significant works to add to her achievements. So as I say, I'm not sure how to assess this.

Also, like with MJ, I'm probably less of a fan of her work than most. I stopped finding MJ very impressive after 1983 and would put him in a pantheon of overrated musical superstars with Elvis or Sinatra, or his contemporary Madonna (this is not to say that none of these were superstars, just that they shouldn't be so highly regarded as they are relative to Lennon/McCartney, Zeppelin, Louis Armstrong, etc, in my view). Unlike MJ, Whitney was overshadowed by others in her specific field of performance very quickly (ie, Mariah Carey). I don't much like the Star-Spangled Banner in its traditional performance. My favorite renditions were, by far, Marvin Gaye and Hendrix over her Iraq War Super Bowl one. So your mileage may vary on how significant this was as a cultural note.

I'm kind of tired of the Komen v Planned Parenthood debate. Mostly because Komen has little to contribute to society in my view anyway and makes for an unsympathetic opponent. Which made the strange HHS rule on birth control and the "lack" of religious exemption a refreshing change of pace in the culture war's endless debate. It's one that I have much more mixed reactions to and more to ponder as a result.

As an atheist and skeptic, I am personally opposed to the antiquated views of the religious toward the use and adoption of birth control more broadly, and to the language they often use that proposes emergency contraception as some sort of abortion device when scientifically speaking it is hardly anything close to such a thing. But I'm also deeply aware that supporting the interests of individuals and organisations to express their religious beliefs or to have those beliefs respected and protected by laws is a very sure way to have my own views on similar issues to be also respected and legally protected. Weakening this wall between church and state, and permitting the state to run over such ideas, even though they be bad ideas, is not generally a very effective way to get such institutions to amend their views. Some points though are necessary

1) Actual religious institutions, like churches and explicitly religious charities, are still excluded and thereby protected in the new regulations. What is not excluded are things like Catholic hospitals and schools, particularly colleges, which serve the broader public and generally employ people without explicit religious litmus testing. I'm not sure that these institutions should follow explicitly religious ideas in their financial decisions for things like health care coverage for their employees, or the provision of services to their employees, students, or the public at large, as opposed to organisations with a more explicit religious function like churches or some charities. But I'm also not confident the state should necessarily require it either. This is, in my case, largely because I'm not sure the state should be requiring very much of private institutions in the first place, to say nothing of religious ones. The religious freedom, a compelling first amendment issue, is also in mind, but it carries less weight for me than the question of what exactly the state should be able to mandate in the form of public behavior.

2) The state gets to require it because most of these institutions accept and have substantial public funding from all levels of government. Were these more private institutions in the tradition of religious mandates, this would likely not be at issue. Whether the state should be funding these organisations and institutions or not is a very different question, but one that should be at least open to discussion. It is at least arguable that they are providing public benefits worth augmenting and encouraging through provisions of education and health care, as well as other charitable works. Though it is possible the state could just as easily fund less explicitly religious institutions to achieve the same ends and avoid the entanglements of religion and state. Alternatively the state could allow individual choice to reveal any consumer preferences for religiously motivated entities providing said public goods, ie whether the public at large actually cares if religious institutions are involved in health care or education, which I doubt is a majority concern, particularly in higher education. And also stop protecting parochial hospitals, or hospitals generally, with local monopolies to allow for more local competition in health care services. This would allow said institutions to establish their own rules on what services they would or would not provide and still allow the local community to establish access to services they demand where one institution refuses to provide it. This cuts both ways as access to birth control or abortion is on one side of the divide, and prayer in school or religious instruction is on another. Deeply religious people would be free to send their kids to go pray in schools without imposing on people who don't care as an example.

3) Returning to the question of mandates, I'm not entirely sure why health care insurers should be requiring first dollar coverage of birth control per se. I think it should be optional. I think of the myriad of things that we do require first dollar coverage, which vary of course in different state laws, this is at least arguably useful in terms of improving health and social outcomes. My own questioning of whether it should be a first dollar coverage issue is largely that I'm skeptical that health care coverage should operate in such a manner anyway. Once that logic is proposed and accepted, which I personally haven't accepted, there's at least an argument that this is the sort of thing that should go in that pot of things that insurers would provide in that way. It's cheaper for them than funding lots of pregnancies, miscarriages, and even abortions. It's then a further leap of logic as to whether the state should be requiring insurers to do this or whether they would have some self-interested basis for doing so (in the same way that they, or large employers, often offer small cash bounties for their customers or employees to quit smoking or seek treatment and advice for alcohol or weight problems).

4) I'm confused as to why it's largely evangelicals who oppose this ruling and not Catholics per se, who at least have consistent and historical religious decrees inveighing them against the use of birth control. I get the impression that this is an overly politicized issue whereby the varieties of evangelical protestants are opposing something largely because it is coming from their less favored liberal opponents. One will note that these are the same people who oppose funding for Planned Parenthood, but are perfectly fine with public funding for faith-based initiatives, so it's hardly a big government concern originating out of a big government meddling problem. It's more of a "not our big government" problem. Alternatively, these are the sorts of people precisely likely to confuse emergency contraception with so called abortofacients, but they're also making it sound like a "religious freedom" issue as opposed to a specific litmus test relating to abortion policies.

5) As far as the intersection of church and state, I think there are far more arenas where church does get the state to form laws that are inappropriate than in access to birth control as mandated by the state through health insurance laws. Gay marriage is a prominent example in modern times, along with related adoption issues, as is restriction to access to birth control (and to a lesser extent, abortion), for the general population. Indeed, the Bishops are busy trying to prevent access to birth control for any employer's insurance, not just their own related institutions. There are less prominent examples in the form of dry counties, blue laws, Sunday business hours being controlled, alcohol licensing, anti-drug campaigns, wedding planning enjoying often state or local protectionism for traditional churches and so on. Overlooked in the church and state debate and religious freedom protection is the amount of involvement "church" already possesses in the "state". It is not necessary for the state to protect religious freedom by accepting the dictates of religious institutions as valid for all.

NCAA week three

New number one, not by much.
1) Kentucky
2) Ohio St

3) Kansas
4) Michigan State
4) Syracuse

6) North Carolina
6) Missouri
6) Wisconsin
(very tight in this section, personally I think Carolina is the best of these three but is a cut below the Kansas-Syracuse section).

9) Wichita St(that Creighton win cemented their status as deserving attention, finally).
10) Indiana
11) Duke

12) Georgetown
13) St Louis
14) New Mexico
15) Baylor (finally exposed)
16) Florida (also)
17) Marquette

18) California
19) UNLV
20) Memphis

21) Belmont
22) Texas
23) Louisville
24) Florida St
25) Virginia

Other notes: Alabama was sitting just outside this grouping. They are likely to drop after suspending several players. Depending on how badly they do, they might not make the tournament now. Creighton has played very poorly of late. I added Northwestern to my list, but they're hardly in a safe range. This is more an example of how badly the bubble normally is.

Also. A note on coverage. ESPN asked the inane question of comparing a legitimate bubble team with Murray State. While I think Murray St has a very thin resume, I do not think that the NCAA committee would consider teams like Murray St as bubble teams should they fail to win their conference tournament. I think it more likely that the comparison is, as it usually is, between two very weak power 6 conference teams than it is between two teams from the various branches of the NCAA power structure, one a dominant team in a very weak conference, and the other a mediocre team from a much stronger conference. That is, that most of the time the committee will take dominant minor conference teams over mediocre major conference teams anyway and that talk of who doesn't get in only rarely involves teams that have any case for inclusion and more involves teams that got in who had very weak cases for inclusion (ala, VCU last year) being compared against teams that had similarly weak cases. 

As a further note, the Pac-12 is very weak again and the SEC is looking weaker now that Alabama will likely fade and Mississippi State is beginning to also and Florida is playing poorly of late. It's difficult to consider either of these "power 6" conferences in basketball at this point relative to the Big 10, Big 12, ACC, and Big East, and mid-major conferences like the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West which have historically sent multiple teams (though admittedly have very top heavy rankings of their own). If the trends continue as they have over the last two seasons, this looks very bad for the future of these conferences in basketball (as opposed to football).

06 February 2012

What was that all about?

I have no idea what the deal was with the Komen v Planned Parenthood smackdown.

One could have made a case that Komen was trying to take a more pro-life stance in order to attract donors who were squeamish about Planned Parenthood's abortion related functions. Though the likelihood that there were a lot of well-informed (or wealthy) abortion activists who were holding out on breast cancer related funding because of a relatively small grant for breast cancer screenings is pretty scant logic. Maybe there was enough money there, but I doubt it. And they tried to glide under the radar this motivation, as though there were some other likely basis for such a decision. Rather than trumpet to the hills the break, when it was plainly obvious why the break was occurring (at least to the likely liberal donors they would be risking).

And then they caved anyway (sort of, sort of not). And Planned Parenthood pulled in just a few days the amount of money they were losing from the proposed grant to be removed. So nothing of substance actually happened. No real arguments over abortion even were attempted. It was all about the money.

Maybe that means that maybe Planned Parenthood has more pull than is believed (at least among "well-meaning liberals")? Maybe. More than likely Komen is coming out of all this scarred somewhat in reputation among liberals and pro-choice activists especially. But then again, Komen was already fairly sketchy as far as funding actual research as opposed to "awareness". I personally care a lot more about helping women with breast cancer or scientists working on treatment for said women than on getting football players to wear pink shoes and jerseys for a Sunday afternoon.

I guess it means that culture war issues are still alive and well, but that's been evident throughout the last two years as the Tea Party types, who we're told again and again only care about fiscal issues like the deficit, busied themselves investigating Planned Parenthood over a pittance of federal funds, trying to pass personhood amendments, stomping on gay marriage or homosexual human rights whenever possible (demanding vetoes in New Jersey for instance), and drug testing welfare recipients. To say nothing of much more bizarre nonsense like whitewashing slavery or deism out of history books and the ongoing battle to put creationism in science books. I didn't need a reminder on the most pressing, most divided, culture war issue out there that these things still matter, a lot, to some very strange people.

So...  in conclusion, I think Netflix's flummoxed attempt at a PR campaign last year when they wished to raise their prices or increase revenue stream by proposing to divide its operations was handled better and more smoothly than this was. And it probably mattered more in the long run. I don't think people will look back at this moment, however flustered the online communities appeared to be for a few days, and see some tremendous important moment.

Online communities get flustered over silly things is the only new lesson I take away from all this.

NCAA weak two

Yes. Weak.

1) Ohio St.
2) Kentucky

3) Kansas (even after losing to Missouri)
4) Syracuse

5) Michigan St
6) Wisconsin
7) North Carolina
8) Missouri

9) Indiana
10) Baylor
11) Florida
12) Wichita St
13) Duke
14) New Mexico (biggest jump up, not much happened except three blowout wins in a row against mediocre teams, including Colorado St)
15) Georgetown

16) St. Louis
17) UNLV
18) Marquette
19) Florida St
20) Creighton

21) St Marys
22) Texas
23) Kansas St
24) Virginia
25) Memphis

California dropped out of the top tiers and losing to Arizona (at home) moved Arizona upward into the very large "probable" bracket bubble. 

The most interesting top range team to me is Texas. All of their losses except for North Carolina have been in close games and except for Oregon St on a neutral court, they've all been to very good teams. Two problems for them in RPI. They have only 3 decent wins (Temple, Iowa St, at UCLA), and no "good" wins. So it comes down to whether people think losing by less than 10 to Missouri (twice), Baylor, Kansas, Kansas St, NC St, and Iowa St matters. Given that there are plenty of teams with no schedule like this in other "power" conferences (anyone in the Pac-12), Texas is probably in good shape.

03 February 2012

NBA all stars and notes

I can't quibble much with the starters. Chris Paul hasn't quite played up to starter level but the guard slot out West is pretty weak (and part of the reason is that he was hurt for a bit). Marc Gasol should be at center instead of Bynum, but Bynum isn't a slouch either.

This would be the West.
Guards: Kobe, Paul, Westbrook, Parker
Forwards: Durant, Love, Griffin, Aldridge, Millsap, P. Gasol
Centers: M. Gasol, Bynum
Duncan will probably make the team instead of Millsap or one of the Gasols. Dirk might too but he's been hurt and actually hasn't played all that well. Since the Mavs did just win the title, one expects he'll get a nod though. Terry's been better personally.

And this would be the East
Guards: Rose, Wade (I guess. He's been hurt a lot and hasn't played as well as LeBron or Bosh). Jennings or Deron Williams or Rondo, Joe Johnson.
Forwards: LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Josh Smith, Pierce, Iguodala
Centers: Howard, Hibbert

Leftovers include, Lawson or Gallanari on Denver, Lowry on Houston. Monroe as a backup center (Hibbert is on a better team). Granger or West on Indiana. Caron Butler on the Clippers, Rubio on the Wolves, Nash, and Gerald Wallace on the Blazers.

Other notes:

Irving is pretty much running away with the Rookie of the Year. Part of this is the field is terrible, Rubio is about his only competition. Part of it is that he's been pretty good (better than I expected at least), and part is that the Cavs need him to play.

The Sixers don't really have a standout player and have been very good this year. Their defence has been very, very good. They have 8 guys who can score and the best two scorers come off the bench (Williams and Young). But they also have a tougher schedule coming up. They only have maybe two easy wins (Cleveland and Charlotte) of their next 12 games, with OKC, Boston, and Chicago in the next twenty also. They have some good wins (Chicago in particular), but they've dominated a lot of crappy Eastern conference teams, somehow haven't played Boston despite being in the same division, and most of their West coast opponents have been on the medium end, and most of which they've lost (Portland, Utah, Denver). I think they can win their division, but that's mostly because people really overestimated New York and Boston has been seriously hampered by injuries to Rondo, Pierce, and Allen.

The league as a whole has a few "haves", a ton of medium level teams, and several "how are these NBA teams?" running out there. There are 7 terrible teams (Cleveland, New Jersey, Toronto, Sacramento, Washington, Detroit, and Charlotte) and 6 good teams (Philly, Miami, Denver, Chicago, Oklahoma, San Antonio). The rest is muddled right now. I'd be surprised if Utah stays in playoff contention out West. I wouldn't be surprised if Minnesota stays there. At least one team in the East will have a terrible record and make the playoffs. Two if Orlando trades Howard (they look terrible aside from him). New Orleans has been predictably terrible but they also have a tougher conference and one of the toughest divisions. They should be at least somewhat better than 4-19. Most predictably, their offense is terrible.

There has been a drop-off in skilled play because of the lockout. Shooting percentages are down. I'm not sure if it is as bad as the last time however. First glance it doesn't appear to be as severe a drop as in 98-99. One expects that it is possible teams will improve as the season progresses and scoring will pick back up too.