27 March 2012

Update on Martin v Zimmerman

The Sanford police department has leaked a witness story, with apparently some claim to corroboration, that Martin did indeed attack Zimmerman (and it has been long known that Zimmerman suffered some minor injuries for which he did not go to the hospital). This is basically because they have been under siege from public and media circles for weeks now, and police departments across the country are unaccustomed to having their public releases and interpretations of events questioned (hence their continued war on cameras in some jurisdictions to remove contradictory evidence or interpretation from ever seeing the light of day), as media tends to report such things uncritically.

From what I can tell, this does little to reduce the demand that Zimmerman should have been charged or arrested, at some point. It is possible that their conclusions at the scene were that he acted properly, and that this may even be a sensible and appropriate conclusion. But that additional evidence would have led them to question this (Martin's girlfriend's story, other potential witnesses, the 911 dispatch call) and that they could leave it up to a prosecutor or judge or grand jury or jury trial to adjudicate whether his actions were in fact appropriate. Some police discretion is appropriate of course. It's questionable whether discretion is usually appropriate when someone has died. I already see considerable parallels to the often deliberately shoddy handling of police violence and use of force against citizens and the manner these are investigated or handled and this is not an encouraging trend to see as it regards non-police action by ordinary citizens where the most serious forms of violence are involved.

Further, whether or not his actions in the ultimate and unfortunate conclusion were appropriate responses in defence of his person against an aggressive attack, his actions leading up to that attack could be construed as aggressive (wherein the "attacker" could be believably acting in defense of his person as well). 
Instigating a fight through suspicious and intrusive behavior, even unintentionally, and then using lethal force when in a position of defending one's self against that fight does not seem like something we should be in the habit of encouraging through the law by interpreting self-defense laws to automatically and without question protect such actions as legally and morally sensible (consider for example that there are many levels of criminal code for causing the death of another human beings, wherein even unintentional, or at least unpremeditated, death is sometimes a punishable event).

Nor is having neighbourhood watches that involve armed and aggressive patrols. As in this case, what are considered "suspicious" actions by untrained and apparently paranoid civilians (and indeed, often by trained police officers) are often as not, mundane tasks which should not deserve suspicion. Placing paranoid and overly suspicious people in the position of determining rapidly which actions deserve the neighbourhood's closer attention is hardly the best means of reducing criminal behavior to begin with, but then arming them and allowing them to act as vigilantes strikes me as a further step too far in a very questionable direction.

Etch sketches and court appointed lawyers

First, I don't plan on voting for Romney. I still expect, as I've always suspected, that he will ultimately be the GOP nominee. But the idea that somehow the campaign made a major gaffe by using an etch-a-sketch analogy to describe the typical campaign's pivot from primary to general elections is a serious error in logic. It is at best a minor hiccup on the pathway to the nomination. There's a couple reasons

1) Romney already has a reputation as a flip-flopper. Some of this is just that he's not a very skilled politician. Newt Gingrich has reversed course on numerous policy positions within days or weeks of each other repeatedly. He does not have Romney's reputation. The reason is that Romney's principle position that has shifted, or is perceived to have shifted over the course of a decade (not weeks or months) is more significant among Republican/conservative primary voters: abortion, and that this shift was very public and prominent. Santorum for instance, despite being known now as the most uber-ridiculous social conservative, was perfectly fine with abortion as recently as the late Reagan years. Yet he loses no ground on it because most people aren't aware he shifted his positions once he began running for office (eg, out of the most transparent basis to say things in order get elected, just as Romney is accused of doing). What this means in an electoral sense is that people who already thought of Romney as a flip flopper, and who thought of this character as a serious flaw, likely already weren't voting for him in the primaries or perhaps the general elections. His base of support is elsewhere and thus something like this does not matter. Coverage of this as an issue is amusing, and clearly good for the Etch-a-sketch people. But it's not something that will be looked back on as significant. Were Gingrich or Santorum skilled or promising candidates as alternatives, they would already be consolidating power. Not trying to dig into Romney's through bizarre campaign strategies. 

2) EVERY campaign always does this in national elections especially, it pivots to the center of the voting population to appeal to a broader constituency. The transgression of Romney's strategist was to admit that they were doing so. Very, very few political figures have firmly held opinions and principles that guide their public policy positions that they must take other than that which is politically necessary to keep them in office or in contention for office. Consider all the Republicans who were for TARP or health care mandates before they were against them. Or in the case of people like Santorum, were fine with medicare part D (a massive expansion of government) and NCLB when these things were popular with his base voters, and are now having to backtrack on them because they are less popular. Politicians change their minds, or appear to do so, all the time, and they indicate focus issues that they think will interest more voters than they will annoy or put off. The extreme social conservative vision shared by agitated conservative voters, or the misguided belief that government will do anything about deficits and deficit spending under conservative leadership, and so on, are generally not popular views outside of the conservative voters who already have some incentive to vote for putatively conservative political figures. So such figures need to present views which are more suitable to voters who might vote for such figures but don't care about these issues. Or find them less pressing than other concerns and may be willing to overlook disagreement on them. I think these voters are misguided, in that it seems pretty clear what happens to legislatures when things like this determine elections (it provides power to pre-existing blocs of incumbents that have little interest in serving these goals but rather furthering their own limited goals), and that voting on things that aren't likely to actually change, or are likely to change in real terms in a very different way from voter preconceptions of what will change and how, is a bad and even irresponsible way to decide how to vote. But politicians are aware that voters do this. That's why they pivot. And, outside of the most extreme activists who only care about their issues, most people want them to do so on the theory that they will hear something they like when they start paying attention (and again, most people utterly ignore politics except during for elections, so politicians can say more or less whatever they want and few people will call them on it).

Second, the ACA is finally up for debate in the Supreme Court. There's a lot of potential outcomes, only some of which are interesting. 
1) The government wins, the law is upheld as constitutional, remains law, Obama wins re-election, law goes into effect, world doesn't really end as the law isn't a huge shift in status quo. Health care costs continue to grow
2) The government wins, Romney wins election, law goes into effect. Health care costs continue to grow.
3) The government wins, Romney wins election, law is somehow repealed or not enforced. Health care costs continue to grow.
4) Government loses, portion of law is repealed by court (most likely the mandate if any part is to be turned back), Obama wins re-election, portions go into effect. Health care costs continue to grow, possibly somewhat faster.
5) Same as 4 except Romney wins. The more popular portions are less likely to be repealed by either the court or Romney/Republicans. Health care costs continue to grow.
It goes on like that for a while.

These are my thoughts.
1) I think the ACA was a fairly weak shift in health care coverage for Americans. Whether or not it is overturned, very little will change in the landscape moving forward for Americans and their rising demand for more health care spending both in the private market and through government programmes (especially the latter). This is also true regardless of which major party is in office. I view a significant legislative repeal as extremely unlikely (the Senate makes it difficult to remove pre-existing laws as passed and a shift toward one-party control is not likely) and a significant executive repeal as a remote possibility in the near term. Running an election with this repeal or support of the bill as a central issue is basically bullshit as far as I'm concerned. Not only is it not likely to happen, I don't think it is likely to matter very much to the underlying problems of our system one way or another.
2) I think individual mandates of some kind are appropriate economically speaking. I favor models like that of Singapore which relies in part on such mandates. I am not certain whether this is constitutionally legal or not, though I lean toward the interpretation that says it likely is legal based on case law (but probably shouldn't be except under the more Hamiltonian vision of federal powers that we presently operate under). One way around this would be to do as we did with the 16th or 18th amendments and pass a new amendment providing this power explicitly to the government, and only this power (or a directly related power, mandating private retirement accumulation or taxes levied for educational provisions, all of which have some expensive economic free rider problems associated with them that mandates help alleviate)

3) Government mandates using employer benefits rather than individual coverage of choice, or government mandates more broadly over what shall and shall not be a covered insurance event are ridiculous. In that they mandate what type of insurance you may buy and what you cannot. If that's the case, you might as well make the government the provider rather than bother with the 3rd and 4th party version we use now. A large part of the appeal of the Singapore model to me is that it places a somewhat larger burden of cost and transparency on the consumer, rather than on a third party, by mostly providing catastrophic coverage and mandating that the public save a portion of money for health care expenses (and providing care to the poor through subsidies and public hospitals). There are some unappealing elements (like using price controls), but given the state of patents and medicines in this country, and given the emphasis on specific treatment models instead of general preventive care, I'm not sure what process is to be used to get people toward different ways of dealing with providing themselves "health".

4) Studies have shown that the top 1% of all health care spenders account for 30% of all health care spending, and the top 5% account for 50% (the bottom 50% of spenders account for less than 1% of spending). What's interesting about the 5% group is that over 50% of that group indicates they feel "good" or better about their health. Not their health care, their health. What reason, pray tell, are they spending 50k a year on it then? Largely this is possible because they are not spending their own money, and that they have expended this amount is not obvious (even the true cost of their insurance is hidden, as employers don't have to fully disclose it until the provisions in the ACA kick in on that one and most people still won't add in lost wages to the cost of providing this as a benefit instead). Presumably they received expensive but successful intervention care for some ailment or injury, and presumably they recovered. But to me the fact that one had to have a significant health care intervention would be an indication that one's health was, in that year, not as good as someone in "good" health. I think this, combined with the general lack of using living wills and consultations on end of life care, is a clear indication that a) the public thinks that spending more money on health care ought to make them healthier or extend life for an ailing family member and b) they're probably wrong about that assumption but that this means that they will continue to spend a lot of money on health care, especially in the absence of having to draw on their own funds (ie, having someone else pay for it) or in the absence of price transparencies and competitive markets. Or both as we have now.

 5) Very few reforms as proposed address any of this. The ACA does at least deal with some transparency and electronic record keeping as problems, but ultimately preserves and even entrenches the employer-benefit model and 3rd party payment structure with a heavy government footprint that is disguised from the public (or which the public has disguised from itself, as in the case of the "keep your hands off my medicare" type screeds). This will do little to resolve the problem, since those are, in the view of many informed observers of all ideological stripes, the source of the problems. To use a medical analogy, we are treating some secondary infections but not the disease itself. The massive attention both in media coverage (despite the public's lack of informed status of reforms, alternatives, the condition of the status quo, and the provisions of the bill itself, coverage itself was and is fair to decent on this issue) and court battles with court-appointed lawyers making arcane side arguments over tax incidence and when issues concerning tax may come before a court, it all seems like further indications that people don't seem aware of how sick the patient (the country and ourselves) really is. And that they probably don't want to know. But that they will still complain when they get the bill.

Thought for food, part deux

It occurs to me that there's a list of unconvincing arguments that people of faith need to stop making. And I should probably be helpful and put them down.

1) Pascal's Wager. It doesn't follow automatically that the existence of a deity involves the existence of a permanent afterlife, nor that that afterlife is one of torment and agony. Further, it doesn't follow that the existence of a deity involves a series of ritualistic practices and beliefs only of the sort that you proscribe for people to do. South Park has a great episode on this with the point being that what you're arguing is something like "if you don't do things exactly in this way, you're going to hell", but why "exactly in this way" matters at all is left unexplained. South Park answered this fallacious logical claim with the bulk of humanity going straight to hell after an apocalyptic event and promptly being told "I'm sorry, the correct answer was Mormon". (hypothetically, suppose some other being other than your preferred manner of god governs the universe, your rejection of that god, and the implied jealous rage you have imposed on deities generally for said rejection, it would follow that you should probably believe in a lot of rejected deities to cover your bases. Most people don't bother to do this, suggesting some other basis for religious belief is involved than mere prudence indicated in the PW logical claim). Really there are a lot of logical problems with it; that non-theists are treated in the way you describe, that there is affirmatively a deity involved, etc.

Further, it can very well harm you to believe any of the premises involved in Pascal, so it is not a costless wager. For instance, I think of afterlife beliefs as among the most dangerous aspects of religious dogma for the impact they have on inducing terrorism and strife among the hopeless in societies all around the world.

2) The most common arguments in favor are social signals, community benefits/charitable works, financial rewards, or other related inferences. Things like if "everyone you know is doing it", it must be okay. These premises are not always accurate assessments when divorced from religion, but more over, they are not evidence in and of themselves of deistic existence so much as the impact on culture and society by religious institutions and organisations. They are also not always accurate assessments of the populations in question belief and faith level, which damages the credibility of the messenger.

3) Anything related to hell. Sorry. I'm not scared of things you (humans) made up and which changed throughout the centuries.

4) Anything related to heaven. Nor am I impressed by things you made up either, and which changed even more dramatically over time. I could begin offering people unicorn sandwiches and dragon pelts when people who follow me die. I don't think people should be taking this as evidence of anything.

5) "You cannot prove he doesn't exist". No. I can't. That's not the same as presenting evidence that you know something I don't. There are a lot of things I can't prove necessarily or to certainty, but there are at least suggestive empirical grounds for believing those things to be true. There are no empirical grounds for the basis of your beliefs in this case.

6) I really find it annoying that people have a omniscient, omnipotent deity, with amorphous qualities that avoid having to provide evidentiary claims, but then define this deity, and other related qualities to it by thoroughly human qualities like jealousy and spite. While this might make claims like "made in his image" accurate, to my amusement, they are not evidence of an objectively existing deity in order to make such a thing sensible. They are perhaps evidence that you can conceive of very little and are bereft of imagination. Mostly they are suggestive to an argument that man created god. And not the other way around.

7) Any personal benefits from meditation/prayer. Good for you. What makes you think that benefit comes from something other than your own material sensations and mental states? Much less certain about it to the point of belief and faith.

8) Inferring that I cannot be a good person, or be morally grounded without that I should have belief in X. If that's your belief, fine. I don't have to be friends with you if you don't think I can be a good person. That doesn't a) hurt my feelings or b) more importantly, suggest much about ethical practices. Again, there's a great deal of leaping going on to decide both what ethical practices are deemed good/bad, and what beliefs are necessary to practice them. That sounds ultimately more arbitrary than what I try to do to decide what is right or wrong. (and deciding right and wrong is generally pretty simple anyway, especially for a social animal like a human being. The troublesome part of ethics are found in dilemmas where right answers are harder to come by and for which you, like me, have little to no guidance).

9) 2LOT. Yeah. This one is bizarre. It mostly happens for the same reason intelligent design happens: people don't understand science. But they know enough about it to make extravagant claims based on much more limited scientific claims. (Also, the implication that evolution or the creation of life at all is about "order" and thus a violation of even the common folk misinterpretation of the second law of thermodynamics is just plain silly).

26 March 2012

A point which need be made

Actually a couple.

First, I haven't quite figured out what Hunger Games is supposed to be about in the first place. Lord of the Rings had a clearer "rite of passage" sort of tinge to it, along with everything else in there. What's the thematic significance of tromping around in the woods for other people's amusement at risk of death? What's the agenda? Is there a message? Or is this just like a Twilight/Harry Potter type phenomenon and I should just give up thinking about whilst not having any interest in actually reading said objects (given that all points indicate poor writing styles, and the best summary of Harry Potter was something like "young ladies should fall in love with the first appealing young man who comes along". Maybe, maybe not, but I think we could make that point without several thousand pages of agonizingly bad phrases. Or rather, we shouldn't need words to make that point. Hormones kind of do that for us at that age).

As a broader related point, I'm not sure who or what decided there shall be a young adult fiction category, and that it shall be read by teenagers, but whoever decided that should also have foretold that no one shall be permitted to write for it lest they shall be a horrible and untalented author. I'm trying to remember if, as a teenager, I read anything of the kind, where I was the intended 12-15 year old audience member, and I'd have to say no. Sherlock Holmes maybe? I might have skipped this category of book. Or been reading it much earlier. When bad writing is less punishing on the mind. This might explain my indifference to it now.

Thought for food

Two atheists talking about life and the world without god.

Some good points and bad

Good first.

1) I'm not sure that every church or mosque out there creates a diverse community of people from all walks of life put together under one roof, but I would agree that it is possible that a shared faith brings a lot of different people together in some functional way. It's not clear that religious organisations have harnessed this diversity in a meaningful way, much less in a helpful to humanity way, as one flaw. It could be argued that colleges and universities are intended to do this. But usually fail. It's still ultimately a good idea in practice to have some random encounters with people who have a different life built in as a framework to one's life. Among other reasons, to understand causes and conditions of suffering that are distinct from our own, or to understand why people might think in a distinct way on a variety of subjects from ourselves.

2) Getting across the sort of quasi-mystical experiences some people have with mathematics, science, exploration, or even art or literature, is something that our educational structure and associated cultural institutions have often failed to do. Wonder is powerful and where people do not wonder and have feelings of awe or inspiration, they're not likely to take much interest as a field or as a private pursuit. Forms of wisdom are also poorly received as a result; forcing people to read certain books or look at certain paintings does little to advance these traditions of expression in their own words and depictions. I would also agree that many liberal arts are poorly studied as a result. As examples, philosophy and literature at the highest levels of study are increasingly involved in these isolated arguments that few, if any, people care much about, rather than more grand aspects of the fields which most, if not all, people can find interesting to contemplate at times. Likewise, "history" is functionally a study of memorizing dates and names, and consequently risks itself readily to a revision of those dates and names that should be of importance, rather than being a study of different people at different circumstances and times and their similarity to ourselves were we to find ourselves in equally challenging times and places. I rather like the idea of changing these to be more applicable, or at least interesting and engaging, fields at this point.

3) The behavior of "new atheists" can be abrasive and annoying. I think we should accept that belittling some of the more ridiculous religious dogmas is useful. Sometimes even cathartic. I'm not sure we, in the form of atheists as a group (we're not much of a community, see #4), have much use in antagonizing people for developing a social custom and building sanctified institutions around it per se however. The useful social function of atheist skeptics like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al, is to point out places where that institution (of religion) falls short, is misused currently and historically, or has difficulties in dealing with people in a society (or another society) who aren't a part of that institution. It is not to replace it with their own firebrand versions with dogmatic insistence on religion's practices as inherently judged to be false or flawed. Skepticism is the tool. And while it certainly leads to a great deal of well-founded incredulity as it can be applied to the language, interpretation, and practice of religious faith and dogma, it shouldn't be abandoned in the haste to obliterate these practices and the ideas behind them. However ridiculous they appear to be. At least not where those practices have few elements of moral repugnance associated with them. The strident focus on the most absurd versions of religion tends to move the muddier middle ground into a camp closer to the religious absurdists by insinuating their guilt by association. If they are, as we are ourselves often called, to be condemned already as morally improbable persons, why not double down on their belief? Or why not find rational sounding arguments (Pascal's wager, amorphous definitions of deity figures, the importance of a community, etc), to exclude one's self from personal revision on the assessment of likely existence for god(s) by removing the most insane and implausible motives to our character that are most easily associated with a more radical counterpart.

Generally speaking, Botton's point that religious organising serves some useful, even moral, purposes is likely essential to getting people to discard the necessity of deities in order to do it. Or the still common perception that the absence of deities means some horribly dystopian worldview must replace it. I still hear far too often the "argument" that the absence of belief in god or even the mere concept of an afterlife infers a meaninglessness to my existence. When I find that both of those conceptions functionally can diminish or even eliminate the importance and meaning of one's physical experiences in favor of an imagined and non-specific purpose of spiritual experience. I have no trouble finding and assigning meaning to things I do, see, and experience. Thanks for asking.

4) Atheists have no social means of core organising in the manner of religious institutions. I think this is both a strength and weakness. It allows atheists, relieved of the burden of church meetings and forms of pointless ritual, to focus their attention on more secular concerns like other people (family/friends), intellectual pursuits, political issues, or simply following sports teams. What it lacks is the sort of cultural awareness and unity available to religious communities. There's little feeling of commonality with one another. Sometimes that's useful. Still, one of the hallmarks of human beings is the ability to form broader, perhaps even inclusive communities. That religious groups have the distinct character of sometimes being exclusive (and sometimes intolerant) clubs means something in an institutional sense, and provides some organisation in an evolutionary way that is otherwise filled in. Potentially in a less useful or even more harmful way than that of religion (nationalism and xenophobia for instance, arbitrary hatred and exclusion of people who aren't of our tribe by place of birth?)

5) I suspect the insight that religions tend to exist to teach people how to live and how to organise their lives, and that this insight is perceived to be a character flaw in modern times, has some general applications. Generally speaking a lot of things in life are much harder than are expressed, or can be for various times and people. Finding and training for a suitable occupation, making a long and vibrant relationship work with a desirable companion, methods of raising children, are each the subject of numerous radio ads, talk shows, and whole sections of book stores or libraries. In many cases complete with numerous hucksters profiting by the misfortune of some among us. These are basic questions to the human condition. They're not very easily answered in a universal way (if at all). A flaw of religion is to presume sometimes that they can or should be. But it doesn't mean that they shouldn't be addressed, to be asked openly, and their answers to be sorted out in a meaningful and productive way where possible.

The bad.

1) I disagree with Botton's characterisation of libertarianism. I think it is important to avoid "compulsory" action in the form of legal requirements as opposed to moral, cultural, or social requirements. Certainly individuals can react with revulsion to pleas of advice and support for changes in their habits and sensibilities, and this can be frustrating and unpleasant. What makes less sense is the requirement that people offer these pleas and provide these supports to each other in a legally binding way. Libertarianism as "individualism" has this sort of trick to it where one must balance the acknowledgement of the influence and assistance of others to our potential for success against the achievement and duties of the individual within that society and whatever just rewards are to be meted out. I concede there are libertarians (Randians especially) who have failed to run that balance out in any meaningful way, both as individuals and in their philosophical structures. That doesn't amount to an answer to the libertarian critique of legal structure and compulsion. I don't think constructing legally required institutions is an appropriate answer to deconstructing socially or culturally mandated religious institutions that have significant problems with them. Jim Crow was a legally required institution, protected by powerful social forces of racism and intolerance no doubt, but foremost was a set of legal codes. There are significant flaws with the argument that legal compulsion is always an acceptable route, and these are pointed out, frequently and vigorously, by libertarians.

Moral and social compulsion, left relatively unfettered to markets (threats or uses of force to be averted where possible for instance), allows people to find institutions and communities more suitable to their lives and to experience meaning, wonder, wisdom, in a manner more of their own making while still providing some institutional frameworks. An alternative way to look at this, as Botton himself acknowledges in part, is the idea of requiring the tyrannical way that more religious societies are governed (namely by requiring people to be of a particular religious affiliation in order to participate in that society freely). This is not exactly an appealing sentiment. I am not always comfortable living in a society of mostly practicing Christians, but they're also not always forcing me to live like they do, have the same prejudices in my behavior as they do, eat, drink, or work on the schedules that they do, dress as they do, and so on. I complain vigorously when they do do these things, or when they intend this to be the case through legal actions. I don't view law to be used as a weapon, something for the punishment of the wicked and decadent (or at least those who are so viewed or interpreted as such). I view it as a shield, for the protection of the oppressed and innocent, however bizarre or even repugnant they may sometimes be to others. So legal compulsion is thus genuinely troubling where moral and social compulsion, or praise, or even impersonal market forces like price signals, are less clearly so. I'm told this is because I have a very strange brain. But I still have a hard time seeing where "libertarianism" was justifiably attacked there in the philosophical sense. Perhaps "individualism" was, but there's little in "libertarianism" that advances the notion that there will be no voluntary institutions possible in any society for the provision of time-tested means of transmitting wisdom or wonder to impressionable and eager new minds searching for meaningful experiences.

2) While certainly some religious rituals serve psychological benefits, it's unclear to me that we need to replace them in all ways. Marriage ceremonies for instance do not necessarily isolate communities into people who will have successful, lasting, and otherwise prosperous relationships from those who do not. Often times instead they isolate people into people who will have expensive ceremonies from those who do not. Whether or not there is a religious sentiment involved or not seems to make no difference to the social need to have a large and expressive gathering of people at great personal expense. Economists will say things like "incentives matter" and behavourial economists will look for hidden forms of signaling where the incentives don't seem to be adding up. I suspect, with the absence in modern life of a clear aristocracy by class, wasteful signaling of wealth and prosperity has simply taken on other forms (expensive cars and weddings for instance as opulence). Thus the question must be what actual purpose these rituals and ceremonies serve. Cleansing the body before or after prayer or confessions of "sins" are psychological tricks of the mind that serve a useful end purpose (as well as, in more primitive times, basic hygienic needs), by alleviating our burden of guilt through the washing process. Standing and reciting some sanctified words I imagine has somewhat less utility to the actual goal of a successful marriage. (That said, because religious institutions have formed interesting communities, there are useful ways of sussing out potentially useful information on whether or not a pairing might be successful that are less available in a more fully secular community. There's also more institutional support structures, like counseling and marriage courses of a sort). It's also not clear that this should be a requirement for a successful society (that people stay in monogamous long-lasting relationships because of private agreements made into law by custom and tradition). It might be possible to achieve that as a goal through other means, or to ask if it is, indeed, always an appropriate goal. The downside of embracing ritual like this is that one creates an attitude of "we do this because", with no necessity of "why", no necessity of purpose or function behind it that people can recognize and it risks the ritual becoming significant on its own rather than for an essential function it should represent (as I think marriage has done in the US over a period of several decades).

3) Life is hard. I don't think this requires that people be part of a community to recognize. It requires merely that people observe other human beings. In fact, it would almost be best to observe and interact with people who are not a part of one's own community for most of us to see it plainly and to observe its causes and conditions more acutely in order to best act upon them in a useful way. I also am not convinced that forming institutional communities is necessarily a means of alleviating or eliminating suffering as a part of the human condition. It is perhaps more efficient and effective. It's not the only way to show that people can care about each other. Helping people outside of those communities, cooperating in a less selfish way is sometimes a hallmark of religious duties. It's not clear that religious institutions have done so consistently, or that most humans will do so once formed into larger communal units. Getting them outside of the box seems like a more direct way to involve their ability and desire to help others.

Man you people are touchy

Especially the liberals?

Unfriending has a lot of sources, but I find it perpetually strange that any people are surprised by the politics of others. Generally speaking, my engagement with politics has shown that... most people don't have any politics. They just sort of spout off without a coherent thought to why if they do bother to think about politics. This is especially true with younger people who often haven't settled on a political ideology leaning yet. So being "surprised" by a friend's sudden endorsement of the flavor of the month political figure or a random post that indicates some pro-life or pro-choice leanings shouldn't really be so surprising. It's basically random behavior that one should expect if they have enough social network "friends". Consider the finding in that polling data that only 37% of people say they post something political at all and you get the idea that most people don't care, think their political views if any should remain private, or don't have enough information to get into the debates that usually follow and so abstain from participating.

Usually this should be filed under "I think other people I know and like and respect are just like me, or should be as much like me as possible". And as is usually the case, most people are different. That's apparently where the surprise comes in. I find it baffling that people don't conceive of this beforehand. I suspect it is related to another social commentary I've noted of late: that most people wait to speak rather than listen. It makes for some very strange "conversations". But essentially the problem is that people, being human beings, have this ineffable interest in themselves and their own egotistical lives, and thereby expect others to be thoroughly interested as well. I find it very strange when they are interested in my life events and thoughts and therefore don't find it very strange that they should be much different and thus hold very different opinions and levels of knowledgeable support for said opinions than I should. Then again, I also hold some very odd opinions I'm sure.

The most interesting feature is the high frequency of liberals blocking and unfriending.

What I suspect explains the liberal tendency to unfriend (or block) over conservatives is one of two things however. I don't think it is explained by conservatives being apparently more tolerant (I suspect neither group ideology would fare very well at the extremes for tolerance, and neither has much of a claim to tolerance as a result).
1) Conservatives don't friend people who don't already share overt signals of cultural agreement as readily. They don't have much outreach to people of different and distinct religious or racial backgrounds in their immediate friends, so why should their digital friends be much different? If you don't have these disagreements as often, one would expect they wouldn't have much cause to unfriend. Liberals are more likely to have higher openness to experience and thus experiment with cross-ideological associations like these, and to give up on them with some frequency as well. They're also more likely to express things in cogent formats, with somewhat less obstinacy, or provide context when something potentially offensive goes up. That is a reflection on the relative dearth of modern conservative intelligentsia, but also a reflection of the more common folk nature available by sheer numbers. I've certainly encountered some very dogged and utterly stupid liberals in my time online too. But they're less frequent than the popular version I encounter of conservatives who think of me as a "socialist" for demanding more market-friendly schools or health care and calling for large reforms to entitlement spending. I find that line of argument much more offensive in its shear stupidity than the progressives who don't understand the impact of minimum wage or licensing laws on unemployment or prices or otherwise find these to be necessary interventions in the market for other suspect reasons.
2) "Conservatives" are more common than "liberals". (or at least, people who identify as strongly conservative are more common than strongly liberal, which would be the populations most likely to make significant numbers of politically charged postings, consider also that adding liberal, moderate, and conservative ideologies together gets you a figure of 204% of the internet population and 170% of the general. Lots of people are using more than one label, and traditionally speaking this is liberals). This means that liberals might come across the issue more often. Liberals are somewhat more common among the plugged in youth generation using social networks than among the general population, so this too may skew the sample.
As further possibilities, "moderate" is likely code for "doesn't care about politics", or at best, is likely able to grasp sometimes radically distinct politics by dint of having radically different (and sometimes conflicting) views themselves and thus doesn't care when other people have them either. 

I find that most people will wish to use social networks the same way they use real friendships, with the idea of reinforcing and validating those ideas and concepts they already hold to, if any, and generally avoiding contact with hostile ideas, or ideas that they don't care about. Hence the similar percentage of people who they "friended" for agreement or whose posts they "liked" or expressed approval in comments for to the percentage of people who were unfriended or blocked, and the high percentage of people on the extreme ends who have friends of shared ideological views (or who think they have friends of shared ideological views).

They also, somewhat rightly in my view, use these networks to shun and deliberately exclude people who say more offensive and discriminatory things.

More than likely, many, many people have blocked me for the volume of political material I post. Possibly a couple have unfriended over it (at least one I should think, more likely I'm just tolerated and ignored). I will admit to having done so only once. A former classmate now living in California expressed a strongly religious backing while opposing a gay marriage law in California (Prop 8, being contested in federal and state courts now), and did so in a modestly prejudicial way causing some offence I'm sure. The religious views were not a surprise, so that didn't bother me. But after some reflection, I decided that I wasn't likely getting much out of other mundane posts being made by this person and wasn't all that interested in their comings and goings anyway and so removed them for the minor transgression of being offensive and the more significant transgression of being boring. I have other friends and some extended family members with modestly distinct religious views of their own, and plenty of mundane postings that I prefer to ignore most of the time. But none of them are likely to use the platform or their private religious views as a basis for a public post saying something prejudicial toward homosexuals. On occasion people post things with a view toward expressing some hostility to Republicans, though often this is for views and policies, or people expressing them, that I find reprehensible myself. I see the transparent "team" aspect of it, and sometimes I find that rather offensive in itself, but since conservatives aren't my team and is a team largely of affiliation by choice rather than affiliation through more deterministic means (biology), I'm a little less concerned. Presumably more conservative people concerned with politics post similar things on the opposite end of the spectrum. In fact, I'm quite certain they do.

That said, for my part, I also filter heavily my networking associations ahead of time and my networks remain smaller as a result (and presumably less interesting to google or facebook as a consequence). Most of the people I've removed have been more out of lack of interest or a lack of use (and in a couple cases, people dropped off the network entirely, removing themselves), rather than a lack of political agreement. I suspect this is the case for most of those 500 million unfriends. Politics certainly occupies a distinct portion of disagreement and disunion among friends and co-workers and families. I don't think it occupies the central core of those frictions.

Game change

I finally saw this. I didn't gain much by it. Most of the salacious details have already been widely available so it played more like a "Sarah Palin's greatest hits, SNL version". I will note instead that a lot of media coverage focused on whether it was a sympathetic portrayal (or not) of Palin. And I would say "yes" to both.

For about the first 20 minutes or so, we who have so generally despised this woman and her politics and dearth of grasp for policy, were treated to a relatively humanizing depiction. What I described it as was taking a regular person and telling them that they were to perform an Olympic class figure skating routine with maybe a few weeks to train. The fact that they would be able to skate and only fall down a few times when trying to jump or twirl might be viewed as a major success. What we saw was a small town mayor, small state governor shoved into the national spotlight. And her subsequent inability to grasp, at first, how big of a stage she was now required to be on (hence a bizarre fixation on her reputation in Alaska). And despite my thorough misgivings, I have to admit she had a handful of political successes (her convention speech was complete with offensive but effective red meat for example, rallying the tepid conservative base behind McCain), as even the most novice poker player can win a hand or two. For that part of the story, it seemed like a Mr Smith goes to Washington element. Armed with only the most tenuous grasp of what role was to be played the role goes about as well as you would expect, and while I don't have much sympathy for that, the fact that I'm aware of how little voters themselves know (and she expresses this herself), does much to alleviate my disdain. Indeed, some of the attacks she received should be rightly viewed as ridiculous in retrospect (the Trig story in particular, but also the clothes shopping bill, etc, some like the newspaper reading story, the Russia from my house, and a few others are perfectly legit)

After the Biden/O'Biden gaffe however, it stops with the humanizing and becomes only the story of the now terrible public figure "we" are already more familiar with, who doesn't prepare, uses a shotgun method of speaking to "reason", and demands attention rather than earns it. It ceases being a story about her and becomes a character story where she is now the villain for all involved. And to some extent, deservedly so. There can be no sympathy for the sudden transformation into the campaign diva achieved when the campaign sort of figures out how to aim her inability to make cogent points to reporters by using her as attack dog for stump speaking. But it's also a very messy transition that doesn't really show the tragic flaw in the downfall story well. Bush and Cheney both expressed serious reservations about her political acumen and experience, and say what you will about the terrible political positions of those two as public figures, they were at least successful politicians with a grasp of politics. It's not made expressly clear that it is, in fact, almost her inability to grasp politics and policy especially that allows her rise, and largely explains her fall. Someone who wanted to fight in a state that McCain lost by 17 points is a child politically and has clearly no idea what she's doing. But she was elevated to a position of importance and a spoiled child, naturally, has temper tantrums. That seems to be about what the story should have been, but wasn't.

What they didn't really explain is how her selection cost McCain a few votes among independents and swing voters, and hence a few points in the national elections and perhaps a couple states (plus some congressional seats that they were able to recover in the off year election). It was, probably, a foregone conclusion that Republicans were going to lose that '08 election, but the margin (of 7), and the popular vote being over/under 50% was something they could have used politically and wouldn't have required obstinate refusals to govern at the national level as a result. Palin revealed a great sea of ugliness that liberals and Democrats already suspected was there because of the Bush-Cheney years and that independents were able to see plainly with their eyes removed from the scare mongering of Iraq-terrorism links that dominated the '04 campaign.

The move to the right and the rhetorical nonsense and missing grasp with even the most inescapable facts and figures that Palin represents is also likely an ongoing story and problem for conservatives/Republicans. I suppose they hinted at this through the ugliness of that campaign and the vigor with which people embraced her, and by extension, hated her opponents and critics. Fortunately, Palin herself has largely become irrelevant to that story. I don't think we can say that she started that chapter of history and thus the trendline in hindsight, but she may have magnified its importance. I also don't think this was a very sympathetic portrayal of her place in that history, it largely Tina Fey'd her. But I'm not as likely as some to care.

File under sad but true

Health care reform coverage, pretty good. Other reform coverage, not so good.

As pointed out immediately in the comments, given that there were a huge percentage of the population that did not know what was in the bill(s) and felt it was a sudden and actual shift in health care, the fact that Ezra Klein et al were able to interview alternative version proponents like Ron Wyden or Paul Ryan with a good degree of clarity and information does not seem to have mattered. Nevertheless, the number of mainstream journalists and bloggers employed by mainstream journalism who are able to give cogent point by point breakdowns of more esoteric topics than even health care policies, eg environmental/energy policy, tax policy (which has only partisan coverage), financial reform, and so on, is depressingly low.

If we assume the purpose of journalism is to inform the public, usually the public receives the information that it wants to hear just fine but doesn't really look too hard at the rest. The amount of in the weeds coverage available at that point seems like a point for the people who actually study these issues and the impact of public policy options and implementation in order for that very select group of insiders to have less to complain about. As a further problem, despite there being a very large amount of insider-wonky coverage of health care reforms, the general public still didn't get behind the actual bill (despite liking many to most portions of that bill). Or perhaps we could say in spite of that coverage, the bills that we actually passed still had some amount of support. When a good portion of that coverage pushed more radical shifts in any direction other than the steady as she goes path we took and looked at the actual policy as failure.

22 March 2012

Who, what, where. Things are a happening

1) Trayvon Martin case. I've been following this through the internets, rather than major media coverage, so doubtless this has skewed my impressions.

In general, it seemed to me that
a) the confessed killer at least should have been detained and a grand jury convened to assess what evidence was available. There appear to be contrary and conflicting stories being told (even within the Zimmerman camp) that make a claim of self-defence something that would need to be arbitrated in a court of law. Largely because someone is dead and their story can no longer be heard in full. This is, in effect, what happens every time someone dies. A story is destroyed. (note, I think it is possible, if unlikely, that perhaps Zimmerman's story is convincing enough that his claims of self-defence would be sufficient. I'm not convinced that this means no trial should be held, mostly because his own story seems to contradict a claim of self-defence as necessary, particularly lethal self-defence).

b) media coverage has apparently focused on the racial elements (Martin was black, Zimmerman was hispanic-white). Which is stupid. None of this need be racially focused. It is indeed possible to focus on a racial history where rights of self-defence were restricted to a white male franchise in the US (women, blacks, immigrants need not apply), and there are certainly cases or places where this is still a problem (Maricopa county?, drug law enforcement and raids?), but in general the problem is a human one first.

c) Was Zimmerman's fear a justifiable basis for the use of force? Similar claims accompany non-lethal weapons (fists, tasers, pistol-whippings, etc). "Feared for your safety" is a common police trope to justify use of force. Sometimes it is legit. Sometimes, as captured by the officer's dash cams or cell phone footage, it is not. If we shouldn't be accepting these claims at face value by appointed officers of the law, people who are supposed to have training and uphold higher moral standards of behavior in this regard, how are we to accept these claims when made by ordinary citizens?

d) The problem with a case like this is that if Zimmerman is not even charged or accused of a non-self-defensive action that he need justify to the general public, then (other) people can act in what appears to be a vigilante style way to chase down and confront people they find merely suspicious. Rather than say, someone who accosts them or breaks into their home or property (the purpose of "castle"/"stand your ground" style laws). And then, when the inevitable violence ends in the case of likely deaths where people are armed and engaged in aggressive violence, they can claim self-defence and no qualms will be had with their stories?

It would seem like this encourages the instigating of violence and the necessity of  a permanently armed citizenry rather than providing and upholding a general moral right of self-defence. I was under the apparently mistaken impression that a mark of civilisation was that men did not have a pressing need to carry arms upon them at all times to protect themselves and their property, and that this has been a noted element for centuries (ancient Rome/Athens/Istanbul, etc). Either that was wrong, or apparently the Dark Ages were a grand old time and rampant banditry is upon us. (to be sure, I make no remark regarding whether people can choose to arm themselves voluntarily. It is the feeling of necessity that rankles me here. Much as where some people propose to have compulsory purchases of firearms by all citizens).

2) The Ravi cyberbullying hate crime case.

a) As far as I can tell, Ravi was a world class asshole of the sort typical of 18 year old males. As much as I detest this variety of the human species, I know of no way to use legal power to reduce their frequency and effect. Moral repugnance is not always something we should use the law for (hence my stances on all sorts of things from adultery to drug use to civil rights for homosexuals). Some harms, of a sort inflicted like this, are difficult to properly assess. It's also possible to avoid some of them (Clementi for instance applied to change his roommate).
b) I don't see substantive evidence that it was his actions that led to the suicide attempt and death of Clementi. It can be inferred and apparently the jury did so.
c) Following that inference does not lead automatically to a conclusion that his actions were motivated by substantive animus toward Clementi for his sexual orientation, or indeed toward anyone of that orientation, the basis of a hate crimes claim. 
d) He should be guilty of something as a legal case, essentially a wiretapping violation, which is its own serious charge (and he was found guilty of such charges). But then again, there's this old case. Which I would say is a little more egregious than a college student turning on a webcam on his own laptop in his own room. Which could be viewed as illegal if its purposes are to surreptitiously spy on a roommate, particularly as it regards their more private behavior.

3) Recent discussions have highlighted the impression that "social issues" are a distraction. And that the economy should be the basis of the election. I take exception to this line of thinking, at least as it regards Presidential elections, for a variety of reasons.
a) Presidents have little impact on the economy in any fundamental sense. The last significant effects coming from Presidents were Nixon's price controls in the early 70s helping to cause stagflation or FDR's stalwart and bizarre insistence on dealing with budget and inflation fears mucking up a recovery from the Great Depression in his second term (causing a second Depression in 1937). The idea that somehow, someway installing an alternative to President Obama will magically fix the economy smells like bullshit for the most part. Few Presidential candidates offer economic platforms that either could be enacted by Congress or would substantially alter the economic landscape in such a way that it would recover faster (or, alternatively, would get much worse). Ron Paul's insane goldbug fascination aside, no Presidential candidate out there matters to the economy, much less to gas prices as insisted by Romney/Gingrich/Faux news. (I suppose one could look at actual socialist candidacies as opposed to the conservative caricature of "socialists", but they won't offer a candidate who can get even a noticeable fraction of attention and voter support, so why bother?). In general, the best that Presidents do economically is not fuck it up. "First do no harm" is about what you can offer.

b) Generally speaking, the one area of substantive difference between the two corporatist parties is on their views on various moral/social matters. This implies that shifts on these issues are possible by changing administrations where shifts in fundamental economics tend not to be. Fighting over marginal tax rates is apparently fun, but it has little to do with anything in the form of fights we are currently having (no one running from the two parties is proposing dramatic rises or falls in tax policy that stand a chance of gathering bipartisan support, nor are they proposing dramatic reforms to the way we tax, such as by removing subsidies or tax credits to useless things). There are however distinct differences in the perception of contraception or birth control and religious freedoms, and subtle differences on things like intelligence gathering (especially regarding the viability and legality of torture) or drug interdiction policies or the means and necessity of immigration enforcement. Consider that the Obamacare law, however dumb and mismanaged economically I think it is personally, is little more than a re-hashing of right-wing proposals from the 90s (or Gov Romney's law as enacted), and is to the right of proposals offered by say, Richard Nixon. What possible differences do people imagine will occur and how likely are these imaginations to be formed into a reality is the basis for these elections, and in general, people (from both sides) imagine a lot of things into existence that aren't so.

c) Generally speaking the areas where Presidential power is substantive are on foreign policy (where conservative politicians, other than Ron/Rand Paul, offer mostly stronger versions of what Obama is already doing, rather than actual alternatives, mostly they doth protest too much) and civil liberties (eg how laws are enforced and carried out, and in some cases, whether or not they are). The implication by many, from both sides, is that these social issues are "all about civil liberties". If we accept this relatively weak premise as given, and given that there ARE distinctions on these issues, however slight, between parties, it seems plausible that the only actual effects of a change in administration will be the direction of the country as it concerns these narrow moral and social issues under a nomenclature of "civil liberties and social issues", along with foreign policy as the only real matters which should concern voters when deciding Presidential votes. (Actual protection of actual enumerated civil liberties, to say nothing of basic human liberty, does not appear to be substantively different for most candidates. That is to say, it exists only in limited forms and changes will be slight, if at all).

It thus seems that the only real basis for such elections is to deal with the differences in philosophy, rhetoric, and policy regarding these issues. It should not be surprising that they have become central in media attention, because explaining highly technical distinctions on how a proposed 1.2 trillion dollar deficit is somehow significantly better than a proposed 1.3 trillion dollar deficit, as but one example, is tedious and difficult for both journalists and the general public to grasp (not to mention a waste of time, as neither budget strikes me as serious tackling of the deficit, long-term spending, and generally speaking entitlements, however stupid they are economically, are politically untouchable for their popularity. It isn't surprising that no serious budget tackling occurs as a result since entitlements account for the bulk of the problem, along with military spending). It is, by contrast, quite easy to seize upon rhetoric concerning the use and availability of birth control (or abortion), or the insistence of the death penalty for drug smugglers, or the denial of Muslims or Buddhists their right to free exercise of conscience, or the legal rights of immigrants and the desirability of their relocation to our shores, and so on, and to note that there are easy distinctions between parties and candidates contained in these issues. (note: I am still not supporting Obama. I'm voting Johnson. But mostly because I find the mainstream economic corporatism of the two parties repellent, and their views on foreign policy to be an unrealistic use of national defence resources. Obama is too Wilsonian for my tastes. I also don't find Democratic/liberal/progressive support on these social and civil liberties issues to be far enough or strong enough for me to buy into it as the appropriate alternative to the repugnant views of prominent Republican/conservative figures).

19 March 2012

The next 48 hours

A little more to form
1) Kansas played and won in the best game of the weekend, and was losing for 38 minutes of it.
2) I still have an intact final four. Which is beneficial. Missouri and Duke presumably killed a lot of people. Especially Missouri. 
3) Predictably, neither 15 seed had a shot in their second game. The 50-50 split of having Florida upset Missouri worked out for me somewhat. Florida was a much (MUCH) better defensive team than Missouri, especially size wise, and it showed (also Norfolk still had the game of its life in order to win, and barely managed it). Xavier managed to observe that Duke's big guys were unstoppable against Lehigh and went inside a lot more than they ever do as a result. Generally speaking people say that the tournament is about guard play. It's really about big guys doing dirty work and controlling and patrolling the paint. Especially as it progresses. It's difficult to rely on jump shots and dribble penetration for several games in a row, unless you have elite NBA level shooting like Curry or lightning quickness like Kemba. It's also why the little to mid-major schools tend to do worse as they usually lack for solid inside players.
4) Kansas St managed to suspend one of its best players for the weird rules of the NCAA. Its unclear how much that would have helped, but it did not help against Syracuse. I have Wisconsin winning in the next round anyway, so it may work out yet.
5) Louisville-New Mexico was a predictable toss up. Pot odds said to take New Mexico as the public's underdog, so I did. Meh. Florida State and Cincinnati fell in a similar category. And played another fun game. Wisconsin also had a rough toss up with Vandy. Pot odds helped in those two cases. 
6) Creighton had no defense (rated around 180 in the nation). It showed. It remains to be seen how Marshall's wrist affects things though. I tend to think it helps my Kansas final four slotting, for now.
7) NC State helped me out by handling Georgetown anyway to advance. This was basically the only true upset. Ohio was ahead of South Florida on my ratings.
8) Big 10 did very well. Indiana played in the second best game of the weekend.
9) Most of everything else was formula. OSU, MSU, Kentucky, Baylor, Marquette. Pretty basic.

10) General performance. I fill out about 20-25 different brackets. So that means I have some variability on the scales. First round I had a minimum of 20 and a max of 23, and averaged at 22. I did fairly poorly at noting potential upsets in the first round. Duke, Missouri obviously, Wichita, Memphis, UNLV, I missed every time all of these games. I also tended to pick Belmont and Temple, and went with a less than all out gusto for Florida, Cincinnati, NC State, Ohio, and Purdue. Some of these cost me in later rounds (Temple, Duke, UNLV, Wichita and to a lesser extent Missouri, plus the tossup of New Mexico that I missed). This was not helpful. Second round therefore I had a max of 12 and a minimum of 7 (I had a very aggressive pot odds sheet with things like Texas, UNLV, Kansas St, etc). The average though was 10. Which won't win most pools, but remains respectable. I also still maintain all four final four teams in my brackets. I managed to avoid the pitfall of Missouri and had little interest in Duke, Georgetown or Florida State too, and so on. Part of this was by having a fairly chalky elite 8/final 4, I've been in pretty decent shape coming out. Coming forward, I still have some sheets with all 8 available as a result.

What I don't have is any real bragging rights calls. I can recall being the only guy in a pool picking Princeton over UCLA, and Providence or Kent St or Missouri into the elite 8 as double digit seeds, and so on. Being boring tends to mean you won't have these things to talk about.

Update post-tourney:
I finished about 95 percentile on average, with two scoring at 98.2-98.3.  Louisville did not help but I otherwise nailed the final four and did well into the elite eight after a rough second round. I forgot to note that Michigan State wasn't ranked pre-season, which usually matters for #1 seeds. Kentucky was pretty obvious, and picking Kansas instead of UNC or Ohio St helped. I didn't win any local pools either however. Which is the price of a popular champion actually winning.

17 March 2012

Well that was that...

So the first two days.
1) Biggest surprise:
No question is Norfolk St. I had them rated around #195. I did have Missouri (and Duke) pegged as among the most vulnerable top tier seeds because they had such mediocre defence, but I don't think I would have expected a 30% 3-point shooting team to shoot the lights out. It's not like they stopped or slowed down Missouri either. Because the other 2-15 game involved Duke, people will say it was a bigger upset. I don't think it's even close. Lehigh was a top 75 team, and thus at least a plausible underdog (the same way UNC-Asheville was fairly solid for a 16 seed). If I were to assign a probability to Missouri losing it would have been less than 1%. Duke was at least around 10% in my mind.

For the record, I picked neither upset (and neither did any of you, more than likely). What I did do however was not have either team advancing very far. I (usually) had Florida upsetting Missouri and I (occasionally) had Xavier beating Duke and definitely had UNLV or Baylor winning after that. Both predictions look to be useful for scoring purposes (other than the UNLV option, which was poorly thought out). More pressing, I lost none of my final four teams in the first two days. Which is comforting. Mostly because the President did.

2) Belmont is really annoying. They should be able to beat slow plodding teams with efficient offences like Georgetown. Oh well. I would think it very possible NC State can still take care of business and advance, but it's a harder path than I would have expected.

3) Of the other upsets. Ohio beating Michigan was no big surprise, Ohio was pretty solid and Michigan was dramatically overrated (and I tended to pick it). South Florida beating Temple was much more so (I had Temple coming out of that pod, now it looks like USF). NC State was rated higher than San Diego State AND the game involved a west coast team traveling (called that one no problem). VCU had the annoying quality of being VCU (though admittedly a better VCU ranking than last year coming in and so a tougher out). Really the only surprises for me were USF and Colorado. I was impressed by Colorado after that but I don't think they're going anywhere.

4) 7-10/8-9 games do not involve upsets in my view. The margins by Gonzaga and Florida were impressive though. Based on public perception, Iowa State was an upset, but it really wasn't. Connecticut was living on a name. Of the 8-9, 7-10 games I missed only Memphis-St Louis, though I hedged a bit on St Marys-Purdue. And the Memphis game. They really got screwed with the seeding. I view that as a success. 7-1 on what are supposed to be tossups implies that the committee might have missed something (overrating Notre Dame and Southern Miss in particular, along with underrating Creighton, and both Memphis and St Louis), but mostly I got lucky (with Creighton especially).

5) Close calls. St Bonaventure was totally unsurprising that that was a close one, Florida St was way overrated and St Bonaventure was a tough 14 seed. Same with Texas-Cincinnati, though Texas made it very odd by getting blown out first then going with playing in the second half. (I managed to go 8-0 in that region). Long Beach was also another closer matchup on paper than a 5-12 should have been and it played out that way. Baylor also had a tougher matchup (South Dakota St rated higher than Colorado does).

15 March 2012

Comments on the ME3

So the endings. (here be major spoilers).
There appear to be basically 3 endings. There's really 4, but if you get the fourth, you didn't really play the game.
1) Shepard merges with the Reapers and controls them, war ends, relays are destroyed. (Shepard dies)
2) Shepard destroys the Reapers (and other synthetics), war ends, relays are destroyed (Shepard can live)
3) Shepard merges life forms, both organic and synthetic, war ends, relays are destroyed. (Shepard dies)

So far as I'm concerned, the third ending is actually pretty good and in line with the rest of the series/game. It plays on the value of self-sacrifices. Mordin and Legion and Thane all provide examples for this, using their lives, and deaths, to help and advantage others, sometimes even others who they have fought or struggled with during their lives. There are other examples throughout the game (Anderson, Samara, Quarian pilgrimages, the Primarch's son, etc). Along with lesser examples of cooperation and altruistic motivations (Wrex, Miranda, Jacob, Liara). And all of this is opposed by the examples of the Reapers and Cerberus working solely for domination or destruction. So it's not like it should have been a surprise. The trick with that ending is that you have to have really worked for it (its not the most challenging ending to get, but it's up there). So people feel disappointed that all their work ends up in a dead guy, or at least a transcendental and legendary character whose place in the story has ended. I guess I can understand that feeling hollow, but it's much better than the other alternatives.

In ending two, for example, if you've saved and advanced the Geth and freed them from Reaper control, they die. And this is especially sour if you saved the Geth at the expense of the Quarians. Most biotics are essentially cybernetic, and it's not explained well how they could survive (that includes yourself). Other advanced artificial intelligences are likely gone (EDI), and so on. That really feels like a cheap out and its the only one where Sheperd can live. Yes, he lives (or can if you really worked for it that is), but trillions of beings are destroyed or diminished by this choice. It's better than trillions more being dead too, but it's not the optimal choice in any utilitarian sense. 

As far as I'm concerned, really the worst part of the ending(s) is that all the relays are destroyed. It would seem like ships could still travel through space with available FTL technology, but it would take decades rather than seconds to go all the way across the galaxy, along with absorbing a tremendously larger amount of energy to do it. I cannot imagine that has good implications for the galactic economy, the opportunities of colonies and settlements dependent on trade and resources from far flung empires and alliances, etc. I suppose they could always rebuild them, possibly over many thousands of years. That would be item one on my agenda after rebuilding from Reaper devastation/war on any given planet. Indeed, rebuilding would be substantially easier with access to the global economy than by relying on each planet's easily accessible technology and resources and engineering skills. If the trade-off is that otherwise most everyone is dead, that's fine. But it's still not a fun ending.

I suppose what I would say there is that this is a very strong environmentalist/locavore message underpinning it all. And I find those messages annoying on some level (eg, that trade of resources and commodities somehow destroys the environment or risks global annihilation? A highly dubious contention. Consumption of certain resources does, but that's a different prospect than outright techno-aversions). It also has an explicit technology and humanity cannot co-exist message, a Luddite perspective that runs throughout science fiction as it regards artificial intelligences (other than in Star Trek). I find playing a game in a Terminator+zombies+space epic fun of course, but Terminator I think is technically wrong about the behavior of most prospective AIs and thus overplays the actual probability of fear and warfare and conflict between AIs and organic life, or at least that conflict between varieties of sentient organic life has a high enough probability of destructive and apocalyptic end points that worrying about robot overlords making war on us is not a significantly increased risk to that. Indeed, it was largely the point of the Matrix series too, that machines and humanity have a useful coexistence for creativity and life, even if humans have a propensity to use machinery to empower their destructive potential. Maybe this point isn't very attractive to people.

That kind of over-analysis makes playing games less fun and tends to not happen as a result. I don't think that's why people are pissed about the endings. I think it has more to do with "Shepard dies". Which to me is missing the point of the game and its arc of the story.

Update: There are elements of the ending that make no sense. The fate of the Normandy and your squad is troubling (mostly because that makes absolutely no sense that the Normandy is, well, going anywhere). And, naturally given the fate of the mass relays, the impact that this decision has on the galaxy that you've just fought to preserve is left as a blank slate. We have no idea what happens with the Krogan and their cured status, any love interests that we left behind, or the Geth-Quarian peace, or, to put a fine point on it... Earth. As a comparison, in Dragon Age, the game gives a text summary of what happens to the Elves and Dwarves and Mages that you just united to fight a terrible enemy. We don't get sort of summary or closure to these elements of the story. This is frustrating. The actual endings are fine, it's more that we don't get to see the outcome of those endings.

14 March 2012

Brackets final thoughts.

Value picking.

1) Find someone other than Kentucky to win it all (Ohio St, Kansas, North Carolina, Syracuse, in that order probably. Michigan State can get there, but plays too slow to be reliable). Over a third of all brackets have them winning it (and if I had to pick, they would be my pick too). Ohio State or Kansas are much higher value than UNC or Cuse for that matter. In a more local bracket (eg, Ohio), Kentucky or Ohio State probably account for a huge percentage of probable champs. They are not as dominating as an overrated Kentucky team a few years back (when Okafor/Gordon won with Connecticut) or the Kansas team that was potentially repeating a couple years ago, but they do look like the best team to a lot of people.
2) Avoid Florida State. Not much value in anyone in their bracket until OSU shows up, maybe Texas but they're terrible on the road.
3) Avoid Louisville. Lots of value in New Mexico.
4) Belmont is relatively high as a popular #3 upset, but still promising. As is BYU. 
5) Avoid Vanderbilt. Lots of value in Wisconsin.
6) Avoid Notre Dame.
7) People hate Duke for some reason. Exploiting their hatred is usually profitable. Not very much this year though.
8) UNLV looks interesting. So does Memphis (or St Louis).

Not much else. The fact that the top teams have a pretty big gap between them and the rest of the field hasn't been lost on the many, many people filling out brackets. Or rather, the fact that the top teams were clearly identified as seeded as top teams tends to cut against the prospect of people not identifying top teams in brackets because they are disguised as 3 or 4 seeds (Kentucky and UConn last year, Syracuse or Michigan when they won titles, etc). 

Prelimary thoughts on ME3

I haven't finished the game yet. Presumably the endings annoyed people, so perhaps I too will share in that frustration (based on what I know of it, I can think of several problems with it logically at the very least). Or perhaps not. I usually don't care that much about the endings of games.

Some spoilers below, though when playing the game, one is obvious enough that it occurs to a Krogan to do. Meaning: it ought to have occurred to anyone.

This is where I am, so your mileage may vary. Killed the reaper on Rannoch (which was more of a repetitive puzzle than a shooter). About to try multiplayer, but haven't yet. I'm playing on hardcore, not insanity, at least as a first run-through. The second reaper has been, so far, the hardest part and even that became very easy once I figured out what I was doing, if tedious. (The first on Tuchanka was more straightforward).

1) Seems more or less like ME2 as far as game play but with a few less characters to entangle yourself with. Which is fine. Other than the final mission in ME2, most of those guys were useless. Thane/Garrus/Miranda/Grunt... and everybody else? not so much except for initial and loyalty missions. Legion and Goto were fun, but that's about it. I completely ignored Zaeed and Jacob and Jack. Samara and Mordin were just there to perform one or two essential tasks to the plot but not as combat allies (Mordin was at least thought-provoking to talk to). And Tali was pretty mission specific (not fighting Geth, not important).

2) I do like the cameos by the old crew from 2 (especially Legion or Thane's so far), but it's mostly a ME1 crew. Which is fine I suppose. I might have more use for Kaiden/Ashley if I didn't have a Sentinel character, but it seems best to ship them off as a new Spectre and be used as a "war asset" rather than be bothered with an extraneous crew member that you don't bother taking on missions. The Prothean Javik is more fun to have around. Vega is a tank in the Grunt sense, so useful. But not nearly as interesting as Grunt or Wrex was. And thus boring and I usually ignored him. The main premise of the RPG element of a space epic like this is to see the use, and occasionally the interaction, of the different characters. So aliens and the integration of their distinct cultures are more interesting than that of humans. It is doubtful this wouldn't be true in real life too, as I'm far more intrigued by humanity's vast set of distinctiveness. Essentially a team of Garrus and either Javik or Liara is sufficient for my purposes on most missions (Tali/EDI are mostly useless, but have situational advantages, like EDI's decoy or Tali's drones).

3) There's a huge amount of cutscenes. Long ones that is (ME2 had plenty of shorter ones). With fewer of the interrupts that appeared in 2. Hard to say what this was for but it gives too much of a cinematic feel with not enough of the snazzy CGI and snappy writing of an actual movie. Some of them are plot impressive, but not much else really. The thresher maw killing a reaper was fun, I admit that much. The reapers themselves are quite impressive too (if essentially rip-offs of the War of the Worlds tripods made many times bigger). This to me seems like the one legit complaint people have had, but ME2 had a lot of cutscenes too. Perhaps they were just better.

4) The interaction of the first two games is nice on how it impacts things (especially with the Geth-Quarian issue). Though, so far things one thinks to have been a decent move, turn out... not so well all the time. The genophage played out well and in a satisfying way, as did Wrex, and saving the council has a war asset advantage (fleets can be repaired, but that big-ass ship from ME1 cannot be). But the Geth and Rachni solutions, less so (the Geth one required a lot of work to sort out, and I'm not sure what the percentages in the Rachni were). I now expect the collector base decision from ME2 to be annoying too.

5)  Multiplayer. Much appreciated as an option. Haven't tried it yet, but soon. Not sure how the graphics will interact (if I have to tone it down or not) and I'd assume I have to get used to playing ME as a shooter with special attacks and tactics instead of as a tactical combat game with squadmates and special attacks.

6) Game is still buggy. I've had my level reset to 1 a couple of times and had to restart missions or reload old saves a lot. Also crashed a couple times and I got some flaky gameplay when there are many enemies to fight at once (most notably on the Geth ship). ME2 was very much more polished in this respect. Very.

7) No mining. And no standing around elevators disguised as loading screens. And no easy but tedious puzzles on doors and so on. I suppose that last one means that the game has broader appeal to morons who cannot play a simple memory game. But it also means I just have to wait at a disguised loading screen once in a while, whilst a door is opened for me, instead of solving the puzzle myself. As a result, the space exploring feature now is fun. Though I'd like to find a trick to quick launch at a relay when reaper fleets are chasing me. Clicking doesn't always work out so well for me.

8) I like the combat system now. Being able to roll and dive from place to place, and grenades and swarms of enemies means you need to do so, helps. Statically sitting behind cover, recharging powers and occasionally sniping at a hulking enemy is less satisfying in a tactical sense than running and gunning more on the fly. The greater interaction of biotics is also good. Possibly I only partially understood this before, but warp+throw+the warp detonating is fairly sweet. Liara's singularity and Javik's dark channel are also huge against large groups (less useful against powerful opponents, especially with armor or barriers involved). Those two in combo basically pick apart Cerberus assault teams and Husks.

Generally speaking, combat is much improved over ME1. In fact, I found ME1 almost unplayable from the stupid elevators to the heat system versus reloading guns, even as it was a very rich environment for a quasi-sandbox type game in space. ME2 was more intuitive as a combat RPG and that system seems to have been mostly preserved in ME3, along with the not-quite linear method of advancement through the game. Still seems mostly fun.

So far as I can tell, most of the furor surrounding this game at the non-critic level has come from the day-one DLC. First: that DLC adds Javik to the entire game, and adds one mission with some payoff in war assets. So it's sort of fun and has very minor use to the game (entertainment value mostly). I did it right away. Previous ME DLC's have usually been somewhat lame. Adding Goto was nice, but it happened months after I'd already beaten the game two or three times so that didn't add much for me. Adding Liara's quest with the Shadow Broker was much better, similar to Witch Hunt in Dragon Age. Overlord was too vehicle oriented for me to care, and I didn't even bother with Arrival. This one doesn't have a difficult mission associated with it, but it is still fun to have. Having said that: Blizzard didn't just release a DLC/expansion. They're releasing Starcraft 2 as 3 separate full priced games. Paying an extra 10 bucks may seem like a rip-off, but it's pretty cheap in the long-run compared to that, and you're allowed to ignore it as non-essential (whereas Starcraft more or less requires each game to complete the entire game). It enriches rather than requires. In other words, I don't understand the fury. It signifies nothing to me. Maybe the fury is that people don't like paying for things but if that were the case, one would avoid the concept of buying a 50-60 dollar game. Perhaps the problem is the day-one aspect, but it's de rigour in gaming to have a day one patch anymore. As a result I don't get it.

Told you so?

Count me unsurprised. Also, in Anthony's camp here.

Looking back on the playoffs last year when New York got a lot of buzz and were promptly annihilated by an aging Boston team, I'd say Carmelo was the only guy playing (very) well, Fields was okay, and Billups was hurt. That's more or less the story this year except they have a good center (who cannot score) instead of a good point guard (who could). Not much changed.

This was their schedule during the 8-1 stretch
New Jersey (won by 7)
Utah (11)
@Washington (14)
LA (7)
@Minnesota (2)
@Toronto (3)
Sacramento (15)
New Orleans (lost by 4)
Dallas (won by 7)
(6 home games, and two road games against the dredges of the NBA, basically only played two games)
Since then
New Jersey (lost by 8)
Atlanta (won by 17)
@Miami (lost by 14)
Cleveland (win by 17)
@Boston (lost by 4 in OT)
@Dallas (lost by 10)
@San Antonio (13)
@Milwaukee (4)
 Philadelphia (12)
@Chicago (5)

I see only two cupcakes in that list, NJ and Cleveland, which they split those two games, and one win over a decent team (Atlanta, who is down one of its best players in Horford). There's also 6 road games out of 10 instead of a bunch at home.

Basically speaking, their schedule got MUCH harder, and it should surprise no one that they began immediately losing games. The reason? Lin? Melo? Coach? Not really.

Comes down to:
1) Amare has played very poorly all year, especially useless as always on D. It's possible that he's done physically, or more likely has some major personal emotional drains (I believe he suffered a close personal loss before the season started AND has had to deal with both the acquisition of Carmelo last year and the rise of Lin as overshadowing himself as the star).
2) This is not a very good team, particularly as assembled. It has essentially 2 all-star caliber players (Melo and Chandler), an overpaid has-been in Amare, at least the way he's playing, another has-been in Baron Davis, and two potentially solid but young NBA players in Lin and Fields (meaning: inconsistent). The best on the rest of the roster is Steve Novak, a 3 point shooting big man, and the mercurial JR Smith, who's been in China until recently. They don't have a solid 8 man rotation that you can go to war with and win. That means, most of the time in the NBA, you lose games unless you have a top-tier superstar like LeBron/Kobe/Wade/Duncan/KG types. Carmelo is a gifted offensive player, but he's not a top-tier guy. Mostly because he's never cared about defense.

What it really comes down to though is that this was a huge GM failure or a breakdown in coach-GM communication. If a team has Amare and Melo, it needs a defined and skilled point guard capable of helping them make plays and score efficiently. It does not have one. In fact they cut Billups for contract reasons and that left an injured Davis, Shumpert and a long-since washed up Mike Bibby (ie, not even an active point guard on the roster). Lin was a nice pickup, but he didn't start out as the plan for the go-to as a point and I still don't think he's a true point guard (that wasn't his position at Harvard either and he still turns the ball over a ton to prove it). For a system like D'Antoni's style of offense, it is an even worse offense to ignore the point guard position in the off-season the way the Knicks did. This is also a team that, because of either GM indifference of injury, has given plenty of minutes to Bill Walker, Shumpert, Jared Jefferies, and Toney Douglas. These are, at best, mediocre NBA players rather than skilled role players on which a team should build itself around and which a coach should have to use or play. Perhaps D'Antoni has overused them, and one can certainly critique his coaching at length. But more likely he's just been forced to give minutes to somebody at those positions. 

If you want my opinion, D'Antoni resigned out of frustration for the team that he ended up with more than anything. What possible basis was there for thinking they would be successful this year as a result? That they signed Tyson Chandler? That they won a bunch of games over meaningless teams?

Updated: Predictably, since their schedule got marginally easier, the Knicks have begun playing "better" (9-3 with 7 home games, losses to Atlanta and Indiana on the road, plus getting blown out by Toronto on the road, and wins over Philly and Indiana on the road, and also Indiana and Orlando at home. Not bad certainly, but nothing terribly unexpected). They've also since lost Stoudemire (not a huge loss) and Lin (apparently not a huge loss either) while Carmelo has gone on a scoring tear. In other words, the problem wasn't Melo. Thanks for playing. 

12 March 2012

Brackets, first thoughts

ESPN has made it easier to do pot odds moves by putting a computer projection up against the national bracket (at least in the first round).
Belmont looks good as an upset pick against Georgetown. In fact, all of the 3 seeds look a lot weaker than would be expected, but this one still stands out.
Marquette will have an interesting game as well, given that they drew one of the play-in games with two 30-40 range teams in it.
Cincinnati is being overrated against Texas.
Florida State is being way overrated, St Bonaventure looks like a tougher out, and then they would play two teams who are about as good as they are.
Connecticut is extremely overrated, Iowa State under.
Temple is being overrated, or Cal is being underrated.
Michigan stands some chance of losing to Ohio.

Generally speaking, the 1 and 2 seeds are roughly a cut above everyone else. (Wichita State got underseeded and Duke is a touch higher, but otherwise solid). After that, the field starts to drop off really fast in quality from an average year. It might be safer to take these teams further in the tournament, but it also means the first couple rounds may be messier than usual, especially in between the 3-12 range.Which is troublesome for picking up many points (most people will take 1 and 2 seeds far).

East is very weak. It has three top 10 teams, yes, but other than Vanderbilt, there isn't another top 20, just a bunch of 5-8 seeds. There's also a huge dropoff after Harvard to St Bonaventure or Southern Miss.
As of right now, I would suppose Syracuse or Ohio State would be the likely winner, but wouldn't feel all that good about either choice (I'd lean toward Syracuse). It would be mostly a "default" choice from the weakness of the rest of the bracket.
I'm not sure what to make of Wisconsin. I expect they will be fine until Syracuse at least.
Florida State AND Vanderbilt are more or less vulnerably seeded teams because of their conference tournament performances. As is Cincinnati. If they had put Louisville out here, I'd really be confused.
Gonzaga has some edge over West Virginia, but has to come east to play them, in Pittsburgh. Practically a home game.
I'm ambivalent about the 8-9 here. I don't see either having much play against Cuse.

This is a strangely seeded bracket. The 14 seed is the 4th best team. One of the 12s is the 6th best. The 5 seed is the 11th best, 6 seed is 13th best.
I would definitely take California over South Florida. Except for the travel factor which makes me nervous. 
Georgetown looks somewhat weak and they could have trouble with NC State or Belmont (SDSU is less of a problem). 
Michigan also looks vulnerable.
I'd like the NC State upset, the Belmont upset, or the Ohio upset here. I don't like Cal over Temple that much. I really like the Belmont-Georgetown one.
Purdue-St Marys is basically a tossup. Neither team has a good defense.
I like Kansas to advance out of here. The regional is in St Louis to boot. 
Creighton-Carolina would be a fun second round matchup. I am not sure about Alabama being able to score enough to win early, but that too is a tossup. This is one of several very good defensive/bad offensive teams matching up against very good offensive/very bad defensive teams early.

Kentucky. Period. They do seem vulnerable to streaky three shooting teams though as that's both of their losses. I'm not sure that's a good vulnerability to have in the tournament, but they can make up for it with a very, very good offense (only Missouri is better, and Missouri has a weak D). And otherwise, their D is ridiculous too.
Top heavy, the top 5 seeds are all in the top 15, but then there's a huge gap to UNLV.
I don't like Notre Dame at all. Or Connecticut. Or VCU.
South Dakota State has a shot against Baylor.
Duke is clearly the weakest 2 seed (both Wichita and Indiana are rated ahead of them). Both them and Mizzou cannot guard people very well, but Mizzou can score.

Is stacked. 8 teams are in the top 20 (and that doesn't include the 6 seed). 12 teams are in the top 40.
Marquette versus either BYU or Iona will be at the very least a fun game to watch and, along with Belmont, would put one of the highest rated teams as a 14 seed, and thus a tough first round game for any 3 seed. I'd want no part of picking BYU vs Iona by the way either.
I don't put Colorado State's chances as very high. They have to come east and basically play a home game for Murray State.
That Memphis-St Louis game is a brutal 8-9. They rate as a 3-5 game. I lean Memphis, but it's tough.
Florida should have some edge over Virginia, Virginia cannot score (they can defend really well), Florida cannot defend. 
I would want no part of picking Louisville very far. New Mexico practically gets a home game. And for the umpteenth consecutive year, Louisville can defend, but cannot score.
Right now I'm leaning toward Missouri, but Michigan State wouldn't surprise me. Just about anybody else would.

11 March 2012

Final ncaa rankings

1) Kentucky 13-2
2) Ohio State 14-7

3) Michigan State 14-7
4) Kansas 13-6
5) North Carolina 15-5

6) Syracuse 19-2
7) Missouri 14-3-1

8) Wichita State 9-3-2
9) Wisconsin 11-7-2
10) Indiana 11-6-2
11) Memphis 10-6-2

12) Duke 15-6
12) Georgetown 10-8
14) New Mexico 9-3-3
15) Baylor 13-7

16) Marquette 10-6-1
17) Vanderbilt 11-8-2
18) St Louis 9-5-2 (0 wins against top 50)

19) Florida 6-8-2
20) Belmont 4-4-3
21) Louisville 15-8-1
22) Florida State 13-8-1

23) Kansas State 7-8-2

24) Creighton 7-4-1
25) California 11-8-1 (0 wins against top 50)
26) UNLV 8-6-2
27) Gonzaga 7-5-1
28) Texas 6-12
29) Alabama 5-8-3
29) Virginia 8-8-1
31) Michigan 14-7-2
32) Purdue 9-10-2
33) Long Beach 5-7-1
34) Iowa State 6-8-2
35) Saint Marys 6-4-1

36) Cincinnati 11-7-3
37) Temple 10-5-2
38) Murray State 4-0-1
39) Connecticut 11-10-3
40) West Virginia 9-10-3
41) BYU 4-6-2
42) Harvard 3-2-2
43) Miami  5-10-2 (first out)
44) Notre Dame 11-7-4
45) North Carolina State 8-11-1
46) Iona 2-2-5
47) Arizona 9-9-2 (out)
48) VCU 7-5-1
49) Drexel 5-4-2 (out)
50) South Dakota State 3-2-5
50) Seton Hall 8-10-2 (out)
52) Middle Tennessee State 3-3-3 (out)
53) Stanford 7-8-3 (out)
54) San Diego State 8-5-2
55) New Mexico State 1-4-5 
56) Davidson 1-4-3
62) Xavier 8-11-1
64) St Bonaventure 5-9-2
67) Southern Mississippi 6-5-3
69) South Florida 9-10-3
70) Ohio 6-2-5
75) Lehigh 3-3-4
81) Colorado 8-9-2
82) Colorado State 7-9-2 (lowest at-large)
83) Montana

Remainder of the field is outside of the top 100 and is thus likely irrelevant (Morehead State was the lowest team to win last year at #92 and even they had a matchup issue in their favor against Louisville. Ohio was the lowest team the year before at #95, and Western Kentucky was #100 the prior year and had a 12 seed in their favor).

Really I would say the only team that didn't get in that has a decent case is Drexel, with South Florida being the weakest case for inclusion with a terrible top 50 record (2-7). Not too bad really.

Actual bracket thoughts will come by tomorrow.