Friday, December 22, 2006

Exploiting the Rules

I was reading the Sports Illustrated Year in Review edition (which thankfully did not name "you" as Sportsman of the Year), and in the college football section, they referred to this episode as "brilliant." It may be brilliant, but it's awful sportsmanship.

To recap, in an attempt to speed up the game, they put in a rule this year that on kick-offs, the clock starts when the ball is kicked rather than when the receiving team touches it. (I don't recall many complaints that college football games took too long, or that logging the time when a kick-off is in flight would have that great an impact, but whatever...)

Anyway, in a game against Penn State, Wisoncsin scores a touchdown with 30 seconds left in the half, then purposely jumps offside twice on kickoffs to burn that time off the clock.

And for this, the Wisconsin coaches are lauded as "brilliant."

But what does such a strategy have to do with determining who was the better football team that day?

I understand that strategy and gamesmanship are part of sports, and people exploit oddities in the rules all the time. The four corners offense, calling time-out when falling out of bounds (or throwing the ball off an opponents leg), or even fouling a player who an uncontested lay-up or giving an intentional walk to a great hitter are all ways of turning a contest from an athletic competition into a contest of who can use the rules to his greatest advantage. And, of course, the end of any close basketball game includes the trailing team commiting fouls when the opposing team has the ball to force them to make free throws.

But I wonder what impact the celebration of these "clever" strategies has on the culture.

For example, I am pro-life. Since Roe vs. Wade, the pro-life movement has had an almost single-minded obsession with overturning it. This entails electing presidents who would nominate judges inclined to overturn the decision, and get them confirmed by the Senate.

Since many Senators could not vote to confirm a justice they know would overturn the decision, this involves an odd dance where the nominees try to reveal as little as possible.

During the Harriet Miers debate, some conservative commentators thought she was a good "stealth" nominee. -- she didn't have a paper trail of opposition to Roe, so maybe she could be confirmed. (My thoughts at the time on that are here).

Then there was the "nuclear option" -- it turns out we could change the rules of the Senate so that fillibusters could be ended with a simple majority vote. Why not do that to get some of these justices confirmed?

No and No.

I do not dispute the necessity of overturning Roe. In addition to the abortions themselves, I feel it has coarsened our culture, and poisoned our politics. It cannot end soon enough.

But it must be defeated squarely and fairly, not by sneaking through "stealth" nominees, or exploting undiscovered loopholes in the Senate rules. A victory won that way would not be a victory at all. It would not prove that we had the superior arguments, any more than if Wisonsin winning by their little stunt would prove they were the superior football team.

We need to commit to not take short-cuts, to do the hard work of persuasion and cultural transformation to win public debates, rather than think we can be more clever at manipulating the intricacies of the political system.

Merry Christmas


Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
Til He appeared
And the sould felt its worth

A thrill of hope
A weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn

This Christmas for me is a reminder that things don't always have to be this way. We don't have to live in the rut of routine, doing the same things, getting the same results.

God has inserted Himself into human history, and broken the pattern. With his help, we can do the same -- for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Site News

I finally figured out how to get rid of that annoying indent that was in the title and paragraphs in my posts. I'm still futzing with the format a bit -- I'm not happy with the blog title format, for example, but things should be a little more stable.

With beta, we've got labels for posts. Applying labels is a bit of an arduous process, but I think I've figured out some ways to make it less so I'll try to catalog the posts with labels from time to time.

I'll probably also throw up a blog roll. It's interesting how that develops. The old standbys -- Sullivan, InstaPundit, Amy Welborn, etc. are no longer daily reads. But others have taken there place for me. I wonder if my experience is typical. It seems that after a while, you know what these folks think, and there's no point in seeing what their take is on the latest news, since you can probably guess it. But some, like Kaus, Mark Shea, and Bill Simmons remain interesting to me.

I also post some stuff over at WikiFray, which is a group blog. I'm still not entirely sure how I'll split what I post here, there, or in both places. Inside-baseball Catholic stuff will probably remain here, and general audience stuff will probably go over there.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Punchlines...

I think "you were named TIME magazine's Person of the Year!" will replace the commercially-driven punchlines, "I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance," and "... but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Christianist" nonsense

Andrew Sullivan has posted some defenses of his offensive and ridiculous "Christianist" term for those he doesn't like.

To pick of the low-hanging fruit, let's start with this reader's defense of the term:

"Christianist" is a strictly neutral term - it describes a specific political position about the relationship between Christian faith and the state. If I actually believed that Christianity is the one true religion, and that the US government should be based on my understanding of the dictates of Christianity, I'd think that Christianist would correctly describe me, and I wouldn't take offense. If you had said something like "evil Christianists," then I'd take offense.


Bullshit.

Sullivan meand the term to sting. And he means it to sting by bringing to mind "Islamist," which is a term that descibes people who, among other things, have killed large numbers of Americans and would like to kill more.

If "Christianist" is merely a neutral descriptive term without any perjorative connotation, like, say, "left-handed," then it should be easy to find a post on Sullivan's blog where he is complimentary of either the movement or someone he describes using the term.

You'llbe looking for a while, though, because no matter how much Sullivan tries to offer non-perjorative definitions of the term, he uses it as a smear, and to create in people's minds a moral equivalence between people who want to kill Americans, and people who don't see what the big deal is about a nativity scene in the town square.

Then there's this reader's defense, which I'm not sure I completely understand -- the gist seems to be that if Islamists don't mind being called Islamists, then Christianists shouldn't mind being called Christianists, and their objection to it proves they're no better (and in fact worse) than Islamists. I think I've already given this more time and attention than it deserves.

Finally, we've got Sullivan's own defense.

First he starts with the tired, it's-just-desriptive-not-a-smear stuff that is bullshit.

But here's the core:


realize, after reading countless emails on the matter, that the real source of offense is my equating Islam and Christianity as interchangeable religious beliefs, for the purposes of politics. I see them as potentially equally threatening to freedom. History suggests that both have been deployed in the service of terrifying dictatorships, mass murder and religious war. In some ways, Christianity's record in this is actually worse than Islam's. This is not a reflection on the utterly peaceful intent of Jesus of Nazareth, but, then, he was also adamant on separating religion from politics. It is a reflection on the profound danger of fusing faith and power. If I'm right, the offense is mainly taken by Christians who simply refuse to see their faith as equally valid as Islam. They are offended that a Christian could even be equated with a Muslim. Which means, I believe, that they have not begun to understand the meaning of toleration at the core of Christianity, let alone the central insight of liberal constitutionalism. Hence our political and religious crisis.

There is a kernel of truth here -- any religious follower obviously believes his is the true faith and, thus, others are incorrect and inferior.

But I don't see why this is no antithetical to Jesus's message. I don't remember Jesus ever saying anything like, "it really doesn't matter if you believe in me or not." He said some things that are pretty exclusionary -- "Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you shall not have life within you." So, I don't buy that Christian exceptionism is some malevolent innovation of the Religious Right.

Next, the offense isn't that Christians don't like being equated with Muslims -- it's that we don't like being conflated with a movement with which we are currently at war. And, it's baloney.

Go ahead, Andrew, pick your favorite "Christianist" bogeyman -- maybe some mix of John Ashcroft and Rick Santorum. As a gay man, would you rather live under his rule, or the rule of even the mildest Islamist regime. Would you rather be a Muslim living under Christianist rule or a Christian living under Islamist rule?

The answer is obvious, which is why your sloppiliy grouping them together is so offensive.


BTW, when he's not warning of the gathering Christianist storm resulting from people fusing religion and politics, Sullivan has been trying to drive a wedge between Christians and the Mormon Mitt Romney, and calling same sex marriage advocates who decline the opportunity to kick the pregnant Mary Cheney "closet tolerants."

The implication of the latter is that there can be no gap between what is condemned and what is socially normalized -- there is no grey area.

And there is no gap between private values and public policy. If you don't want to personally condemn Mary Cheney, then you must support same sex marriage.

But someone with a deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception should work for justice for them?

Hey - maybe conservatives aren't condemning Mary Cheney because they have a healthy sense of doubt about their views.

Truth and Beauty

Guest Volokh-Conspirator Fernando Tesón has a post titled "AGAINST POLITICAL ART."

Some excerpts...


Art is a type of concrete imagery, and as such it evokes a “fact” that may activate default theories in the audience. Those willing to challenge the political stances represented by the artifact have to overcome the suggestive power of beauty.


The implication here is that the beauty of a piece of art gives it unearned credibility. I disagree.

I think truth has a certain beauty, and that the ease in which an idea can be translated into something beautiful can serve as an indicator for its truth.


Political art’s appeal to emotion usurps reasoned political argument. If you think big oil is responsible for the evils in the world, make an argument. The movie Syriana[sic] will not do.


For small questions, like whether a specific modern political party is better, or whether Saddam had WMD, or if big oil is responsible for the evil in the world, a work of art should not convince anybody. JFK was an entertaining movie, but it shouldn't have convinced anyone there was a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.

For the purpose, I'm not considering things like documentaries. Obviously, it would not be out of line to be convinced an event ocurred by documentary film footage of that very event.


But for larger questions, like what kind of society we want to be, I think art servers a role. It can show us the perspective of people we might not otherwise encounter. It can filter out some of the complications and noise so we can see a question clearly.

But this can go wrong, too. I'm obviously biased, but in my opinon, the makers of The Cider House Rules abused their power as filmmakers by stacking the deck in favor of their point of view.


Political satire is an interesting case. One reason it is particularly effective is that it generates an additional cost for those willing to challenge its purported message, for in that case the challenger becomes the “party pooper” who spoils the fun by taking the satire seriously. So comedians like Jon Stewart not only ridicule political figures or views. Whether intentionally or not, they also preempt objections to the intended political message (“Give me a break! Where is your sense of humor?”).


This is interesting in terms of Volokh's long-running criticism of the Bushism feature. Satire can be a bit of a coward's game. If you have a point, you land a blow. If you don't, hey -- it's just a joke -- what are you getting so upset about?

Obviously, satire can be deployed substantially and effectively. But in the modern discourse, it does seem that cleverness serves as a substitute for rigor.

We expect David Letterman to throw some cheap shots. I don't think we should expect them from publications like Slate.


Thus, a novel may convince readers that their prior belief in the kindness of the police is wrong, and that in reality the police are henchmen of the ruling class. No doubt these readers may regard this novel as having transformed their beliefs on the matter, and in that sense political art may be seen as challenging their beliefs. At a deeper level, however, the novel may well have appealed to the reader’s default theories, for example by showing the role of the police in making some people rich at the poor’s expense – a zero-sum explanation that is inferior to explanations derived from reliable social science.


I'm not convinced this is a bad thing. Mostly because I think people are basically decent, but get worn down by life and some of the messages they receive. If a film can remind us of our nobler instincts, things like, "hey -- invading countries causes a lot of suffering, so we ought to be sure before we do it," and then we re-examine our positions in light of this reminder, I see that as a good thing.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Unfinished Overlong post on Mark McGwire's HOF Candidacy

Jeff Gordon takes a look at the question of whether Mark McGwire will reach the Hall of Fame, and receives some responses.

To lay my cards on the table, I was here in St. Louis during McGwire's time. I enjoyed watching him. I remember visiting my parents when the Cardinals were in Philadelphia, and arriving early at a game and watching the show in batting practice -- I was practically giddy watching him spray balls into the upper deck of left field at the Vet.

At the same time, I don't think I quite got caught up in it as much as other folks did. I have enjoyed the Cardinals' recent run of success much more than the home run chase. I won't pretend that I always suspected something was amiss -- I didn't, it's just that McGwire didn't impress me as possessing a singular talent -- he was just a bit bigger and stronger than those who came before him, which I figured was due to improved conditioning techniques. He was the next evolutionary step, rather than a virtuoso. Impressive, yes, but not fascinating as someone like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods is. So, I can't say I was devastated when he dissembled his way through his congressional hearing, as many around here seemed to be,

Also, I am one of those who think that steroids are a big deal. Not so much because I don't want sacred records to be tainted, or I think someone like McGwire can't make his own decisions, but because if steroids become tolerated, they will in essence become required, and I think that will have all sorts of bad effects. But that's a whole 'nother post

I can say with coincidence that there is almost no chance McGwire will be elected on the first ballot this time around. No-brainers, and fan and press favorites Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken debut on the ballot, and I'm quite certain the writers are loathe to mar their election with steroid controversy if they can help it.

McGwire has two things going for him:

  • Massive power numbers
  • Looking impressive racking them up.


He's got literally nothing else going for him. He won a Gold Glove at first base (as did Rafael Palmeiro in a year in which he was primarily a DH), but was at best an average defensive first baseman. He won one World Series, but that was for a team that probably should have won more than one championship, and (though this is not McGwire's or his teammates' fault) there was a damper on that World Seriese win because it came in the aftermath of the earthquake. Other than the record-setting HRs, he never really had a signature moment. He was never identified as a particularly good teammate or leader. His relationship with Sosa during the chase was endearing, but is counter-balanced by how he seemed to regard the attention he received that year as a terrible burden. One of Gordon's correspondents notes that McGwire had some other impressive non-power numbers, notably on base percentage, but that is somewhat a secondary effect of his power. He got a lot of walks in part because pitchers were afraid that if they put it over the plate, McGwire would put it in the cheap seats.

The power numbers, in a vacuum, would put him in the Hall of Fame, easily. Single-season HR record, 10th all time, easily over the 500 mark. But it wasn't just that. Hank Aaron and Roger Maris broke home run records, too, and they did so before I was born, but I don't think there was the buzz about their home runs that there was about McGwire's. There weren't thousands of people in the ballpark early to watch them take batting practice. His home runs, at least during his Cardinals days were events. They had, as my wife said, a "flow" to them.

Unfortunately for McGwire, these skills are the ones most easily associated with steroid use, because they are associated with brute strength, and there was a noticeable up tick in them during the period of heavily suspected steroid use. Which is why I don't buy Buster Olney's argument (quoted by Gordon) that it is unfair to penalize McGwire because he was given a subpeona and other stars weren't. He was subpoenaed because he, more than anyone else, rose to prominence using skills that are linked to steroid use.

This may be unfair, and is kind of junk science. You still have to recognize strikes and hit them in order to hit home runs. It's not like someone with absolutely no skill could shoot himself up to become a major league caliber hitter. Besides, we don't know exactly what steroids do. Maybe they don't really help a batter hit baseballs further. Maybe they're more helpful in allowing a pitcher to throw the ball 95 MPH or make a ball curve. Maybe they allow a fielder to cover more ground. Maybe they help a catcher make accurate throws to second base, or a base stealer to get a better jump. Maybe they help a batter to take an outside pitch the opposite way for a base hit.

But we know what we know, and that is hitters in the late 90's seemed to be a lot bigger than they were before, and that home run totals went way up. Mark McGwire was bigger and stronger than anyone else, and put up the biggest numbers. So it seems reasonable that he would be a representative for the era, and receive the subpoena.

Thus, it seems reasonable to discount McGwire’s accomplishments relative to those who played in different eras. This is not to judge that McGwire cheated; rather it is to not assume that other players benefited from the homer-friendly environment (which may or may not have included steroids), and McGwire didn’t. If all the offensive accomplishments of the last 10 years are under suspicion, McGwire’s are no exception. And since McGwire’s accomplishments were pretty much exclusively confined to those areas that were generally booming in that era, it seems especially prudent. In other words, to not apply a discount would be to in essence assume that everyone except McGwire was using steroids, which strains credulity.

Gordon recommends discounting McGwire’s home run total by 100, to 483, and then evaluating his career in those terms (I suspect this would include discounting McGwire’s individual history-making seasons, since peak performance is a part of almost any Hall of Famer’s case – there’s a reason Sandy Koufax is in the Hall of Fame in spite of unimpressive win and strikeout totals). That strikes me as a bit crude and arbitrary.

I propose that we look at McGwire’s performance relative to his peers, and compare that to other recent power hitters at corner positions who have or have not made (or are likely to or not likely to) make the Hall of Fame, and ignore the absolute numbers. In other words, Dale Murphy leading the league in home runs with 36 is equivalent to McGwire leding the league with 66. This isn’t entirely fair – 66 home runs have more impact on the team’s performance than 36, but I think this is offset by how McGwire’s high HR totals inflated his walk total, which in turn inflated his on base percentage.

Statistics come from Baseball Almanac

Mark McGwire led his league in home runs 4 times, and hit 58 dingers in 1997 split between the A’s and Cardinals, which would have led either league, so let’s call it 5. He led the league in RBI only once, in 1999. He also led the league in slugging percentage 4 times, and in on base percentage once.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Weekend Sports Roundup

BCS, NFL, NHL thoughts below...

BCS "Mess"
I'm convinced that the BCS exists to give sports columnists an easy target to fill column inches. Here's my local example -- I'm sure your local newspaper has a column about what a travesty it is that the national football championship is being decided based on style points and computer algorithms rather than the novel ideal of being settled on the field.

Baloney.

First of all -- it will be settled on the field -- Ohio St. will play Florida, and the winner will be the national champion. Michigan had their opportunity to make it to this game, and the lost it on the field!!!! I'll agree that it is hard to say that Michigan is not the No. 2 team in the country after they lost on the road to the No. 1 team by only 3 points, but they were aware of the stakes, and didn't get the job done.

Second, it's not like the BCS is spitting out a completely nonsencial championship match-up. Really, there were two reasonable outcomes -- Ohio St. - Michigan or Ohio St.- Florida (I suppose someone could make a case for Ohio St. - Boise St.), They're not deciding that, say, Louisville should be in the champioship game in spite of their loss to Rutgers because their average margin of victory was so large.

Finally, I don't know when we decided that the object of the college football season is to determine a national champion. College football used to be about rivalries and tradition, and now it's about positioning yourself for the national championship game. Michigan gets to go to the Rose Bowl and take on USC -- that used to be a dream, but not anymore. I think it says something about our society that we've made this shift -- maybe it's not anything bad, maybe just the nationalization of the media with ESPN. Before ESPN, a Big Ten fan wouldn't know much about the SEC or Big 8 (now 12), and probably wouldn't care to. But now we do.

Anyway, it's always good for a cheap column -- the BCS tries to fit a round peg in a square hole -- to determine the two teams that will play for the championship, when there aren't always 2 clear contenders. It makes for easy pickings.

UCLA defeats USC
If you're a senior at UCLA, you must have been getting damn tired of hearing about the Torjans across town, so that victory must indeed have been sweet.

And that tip and interception in the 4th quarter was one of the best plays I've seen.

Rutgers loses in triple OT
And so instead of the Orange Bowl, the Scarlet Knights head to the Texas Bowl. Can't like that.

I do hope this was not a fluke. It would be a great thing for the Northeast to have a college team to get behind, and going into Morgantown and taking the Mountaineers to 3 OT's proved they were not a fluke.

No. 16 to be retired
The Blues will retire Brett Hull's No. 16 tonight, it what may be their only sell-out of the season.

I went to what I think turned out to be Hull's final home game in the playoffs against the Red Wings. He left the ice to a chorus of boos, and that always bothered me. So he didn't get along with Mike Keenan -- who did? This guy was The Franchise, and he gets booed out of town.

In any instance, I hope the Golden Brett gets a warm reception tonight, and that this is the beginning of a renewed partnership between the Blues and their greatest player.

Cowboys defeat Giants
So, I guess putting Tony Romo in was the right move, huh?

Say what you want about Jeremy Shockey, the guy goes out there to play, and gets the crowd going. That's more than you can say for then hangdog Eli Manning.

Cards defeat Rams; Bulger rips team
It seems that since Orlando Pace went down, the Rams' offensive line has pretty much packed it in. And Marc Bulger is getting killed back there. I'm surprised he's made it this long. When he trotted out there with 2 minutes left and the Rams down by 21 and took a sack, I was screaming at the TV for Linehan to take Bulger out of the game before a stretcher does it for him. I don't see how he'll last through next Monday night's game against the Bears.

So, I can completely see where he's coming from.

I think the team misses Marshall Faulk in a lot of ways, which is why I was excited to hear that he wants to come back, and wants to come back as a Ram.

I'm not expecting him to put up 2500 all-purpose yards again, but I think he would help the culture of the offense. His rant on Sunday aside, Bulger isn't really a rah-rah guy. Torry Holt and Stephen Jackson don't strike me as leaders, either. But if a rookie offensive lineman sees a guy like Marshall Faulk, with his place in the Hall of Fame already secure, going out there every day and working his tail off, I think it would make a big difference.

Eagles defeat Panthers
Didn't see this one coming -- the Panthers are the hardest team in the league to predict, and have been for some time. And now the Eagles have playoff life.

Coming attractions
Brace yourselves for my upcoming series on Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame candidacy.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Patterns of Dissent

In seeing how people justify dissent from Church teachings, some patterns emerge:

  • ”Just as bad as...”
    Here, the bishops might make a statement claiming that one questionable act is in the same general class as another act which is more indisputably condemned. For example, they might say that contraception moves the marital act away from its ideal, and toward things like lying and encounters with prostitutes, those who which to defend the questionable act flop to the floor about how mean the bishops are to draw such a moral equivalence, and claim they lose credibility by doing so. Examples include editorials in Commonweal and NCR in response to the bishops’ statements on human sexuality. Andrew Sullivan is a master at this one. I’ll admit to doing this myself at times.

    I’m not sure what can be done to confront this. It strikes me as an attempt to evade a Cross. This is an understandable response to being confronted with a cross – why should I have to carry a cross? I’m not as bad as those other people over there! But it is still not correct.

  • ”Human Experience
    Both of these editorials cited above also cite “human experience” as a reason for the bishops to reconsider their positions. Another flavor of this is to say that the teachings are nice in the ideal, but out of touch with the reality on the ground, as was often done to oppose the Magisterium’s categorical condemnation of torture.

    Robert Araujo comments on this nicely. It’s not at all clear that the “human experience” that leads one to oppose these teachings in not human experience that should inform the positions the Church takes on these issues. It is a vague phrase – never specified, likely because it boils down to selfishness.

    Yes, I am aware there are heart-breaking circumstances that might lead one to favor positions contrary to the Church. There are good reasons a couple might not want to have more children. I deal with one myself. But I don’t believe that the dissent from the Church’s teaching is based on these hard cases anymore than support for abortion is driven by compassion for victims of rape and incest.

    I think the typical couple that dissents from this teaching could accept more children into their lives if they were willing to forego some non-essential material comforts our ancestors never dreamed of like cable television, cellular phone service, a second car, or some meals out. I’m not saying that giving these things up would be easy, but it strikes me as a poor reason to tell Mother Church she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

    I think those inclined to dissent from these teachings know it to, which is why they don’t say it in detail but hide behind the squishy “human experience” term. That way, the reader can see it as a couple that already has three children with CF that is just scraping by, when in reality the writer is thinking about a couple that doesn’t want to have to miss the next season of The Sopranos

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Unmentionables...

Though she almost ruins her piece by stretching things passed the point of credibilty at times (e.g. the "nuclear option" was not actually executed, and IMO would not have been the blow to democracy McWhorter makes it out to be), I think Diane McWhorter makes some good points about the dangers of our putting Nazism on its own unique evil pedestal.

During the Dick Durbin flap, it amazed me that the Administration and its defenders actually were trying to move Durban's words in the direction of a direct equivalence with Nazism. Then, they could invoke Godwin's law, discredit Durbin, game, set, match.

To me, this is stunning. And it seems to create a perverse incentive. If you're going to enact policies that have somewhat fascist overtones, you may as well go all the way and get as close to the line of absolute fascism as you can. That way, you'll probably attract a comparison to Nazi Germany, which you can use to discredit not only that critic but more measured criticisms as well. You make the story about that -- the press and blogosphere will eat it up, since it's more interesting than investigating the ins and outs of legitmate criticism.

Thus, "not as bad as Nazi Germany" becomes our new moral standard. And indeed, "not quite as bad as Nazi Germany" becomes a preferable position to "somewhat questionable."

It's time to take the Nazis off the pedestal.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Weekend Football Roundup

Michigan Loses to Ohio St.; Remains No. 2


That seems about right. Ohio St. won the game, so they deserve to be number one, and it's had to think there's another team in the three-pont difference between Michigan and Ohio St.

That being said, I do have a problem with that No. 2 ranking translating into a rematch in the BCS Championship Game. Michigan had their crack at the Buckeyes; they didn't take advantage of it. None of the other teams may be "as deserving," but Michigan definitely isn't.

To put my cards on the table, I've never thought that a college football season ending with some ambiguity over who was the "national champion" was a tragedy. The BCS has resulted in some great games -- last year's Rose Bowl, the Ohio St.-Miami game from a couple years ago -- so I like it as far as it goes. But I never thought it was a grave injustice if the two best teams didn't match up with each other in a bowl game. It's nice to know what your ceiling is, but if you need to be declared "national champion" in order to feel good about an undefeated seaon, there's something wrong. It's not enough to win all your games -- you must be declared better than everyone else.

So I've also never been in favor of a playoff system. It would remove the last semblance that these guys are supposed to be students, for one thing. Also, as last year's baseball season demonstrated, a playoff does not guarantee identifying the best team.

I also think the BCS has concentrated too much attention on the teams in contention for the No. 1 ranking. For example, last year's Heisman nominees were Reggie Bush, Matt Lienart, and Vince Young, all of whom were in the national championshop game. Lienart one the previous Hiesman. The year before, Leinart won it for #1 USC. The year before that, Jason White won it for #1 Oklahoma. Now, I know there's usually a correlation between outstanding individual performances and team success, but this seems beyon conincidental.

I propose one change to the BCS system -- you must win your conference in order to be in the champtionship game, and each conference must declare a champion. This would prevent re-matches, and things like Nebraska getting to the championshop game despite not even getting to its on conference title game. It would also return some focus to winning your own conference instead of positioning yoursel for a national title.

Panthers Shut Out Rams


Stick a fork in the Rams -- they're done. Without Orlando Pace, the Rams couldn't protect Bulger, which takes away their two Hall of Fame-caliber receivers. This will not end well. I don't see Bulger making it through to the end of the year.

McNabb out for year


The Eagles are done, too.

I had high hopes for this year. I thought that with the Owens thing in the rear view mirror, the Eagles could be poised for a good year. But things never quite came together, and you wonder if their window has close.

Miscellany



  • Not too worried about the Colts, despite their loss.
  • The Rutgers ride was fun while it lasted.
  • This was one of the oddest endings I've seen, with Denver seeming to want to blow the game, and San Diego not quite letting them.

    These odd endings seem to happen a lot in prime-time games, by the way.
  • If you don't have the NFL network, you will miss NFL games! I like how they worded these ads to make you think you'll miss games you would have seen in previous years, and try to make you think you'll miss playoff games.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Futile Suffering

Via MOJ, and NRO, we have a quote from Jim Holt that neatly encapsulates where we're going wrong in our culture:

the decision to kill ill or disabled babies should be governed by “a new moral duty,” namely, “the duty prevent suffering, especially futile suffering.” Holt writes: "To keep alive an infant whose short life expectancy will be dominated by pain — pain that it can neither bear nor comprehend — is, it might be argued, to do that infant a continuous injury."

I know I should ground my arguments in secular terms, but for people of a religion whose symbol is their God nailed to a cross, the idea that we can determine what is "futile suffering" is repugnant.

This, I think is the biggest disconnect between American culture and the Gospel of Life -- American culture makes no room for the Cross, not room for the sactifying power of suffering. If the path ahead leads to suffering, we buy our way out of it. If that means destroying some embryos that's fine, so long as they're not developed enough to suffer.

Out culture is built not around maximizing joy and happiness but around minimizing human suffering. We think we can get to Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

We haven't been effective in witnessing to it, maybe because we don't completely believe it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Of Drunks and Streetlamps

This post reminds me that as documents trickle out of the USCCB conference, we'll need to read them using my guide.

It's important to remember that the purpose of the bishops' teaching is not to instruct the faithful, but to affirm what you already know to be true (even if it's that the bishops are bunch of harsh bigots or spineless squishes). So, please do not allow anything that comes out of the conference to change your beliefs or attitudes. Rather, our task is to evaluate the documents based on how effective they are in affirming what we already believe.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Babies and bathwater

Via MOJ, a Commonweal post by Cathleen Kaveny listing framing methods used by conservative Catholics and other religious people that she hopes will go by the wayside.


1. A Manichean world view: it’s Good v. Evil, the forces of light v. the forces of darkness. And by the way, WE are GOOD.


Fair enough -- we could do with more self-examination.


2. A delight in demonizing the opposition: who could see anything good in the forces of darkness? How could the forces of darkness have any point worth considering whatsoever?


Also fair enough -- those who differ with us do so for what are good reasons that are typically rooted in compassion. We thing it's misguided compassion, but it will not be guided in the correct direction by us yelling about how evil they are, and by engaging them, we can make policies that work for all involved.


3. An inability to recognize hard questions, and to acknowledge good faith disagreement about difficult moral and political issues. To Catholic culture warriors, the question of stem-cell research, or the Terri Schiavo case, weren’t even hard questions. The very suggestion that they are hard questions proved your moral turpitude.


Eh, not so fast. Some questions aren't hard. It shouldn't be hard to know that theft is wrong. Or rape. Or, yes, wars of aggression and torture. For someone to suggest that these are hard questions suggests that some self-deception is going on.

And yes, it is hard for me to see how one can fail to recognize that destroyin one human life for another's benefit is wrong and something we shouldn't do. And that if all someone needs to continue to live is to be fed, we should continue to feed her. We were reminded in last week's Gospel how simple morality really is. Difficult, but simple. Pretending that it's complicated yes, is usually a sign of moral turpitude. Perhaps pointing this out isn't the best choice for an initial approach in engaging these people, but we shouldn't pretend it's not the case.


4. An ends-justifies-the-political-means mentality. If what it takes to rid the world of Saddam is prevarication on WMDs, so be it. If what it takes to save Terri Schiavo is to violate settled principles of federalism, so be it.


And now I'm officially off the bus.

End-means justification is perfectly fine so long as the means are not intrinsically immoral. I wouldn't normally rip off another person's sweater, but I might to administer life-saving CPR.

I can accept that lying or embellishing evidence of WMD's was and is immoral. Bearing false witness and all.

But "violat[ing] settled principles of federalism" is not intrinsically immoral. And it seems especially odd to see this implied in an article arguing for nuance. If adhering to settled principles of federalism means sitting on our hands while a woman is starving, screw federalism. If adhering to settled principles of federalism means botching a post-hurricane relief effort because things like that are really the states' responsibility, screw federalism!

Yes, I know -- federalism was more of a post-hoc excuse for the pathetic effort thatn a guiding principle for the governement's (non)-actions. But still, we all recognize that getting people out of a flooded city is a higher moral principle than federalism


5. An inability to see nuance, or to take into account anything but one moral principle at a time. Abortion is the taking of innocent human life. Nothing else needs to be said. Therefore it should always be illegal, even in cases of rape or incest. If you think the question of the woman’s consent to sex is at all relevant to the legal status of abortion, you’re the enemy.

In the paragraph above, Kaveny was suggesting that we sacrifice Terry Schiavo on the altar of federalism; now she's criticizing others for letting one moral principle wiegh to heavily?

Also, if I'm not mistaken, our own President Bush holds the position that Kaveny describes as that of the "enemy." And I thought he was the guy we were too attached to.

And what, exactly, is the moral principle that says that fetuses conceived by rape do not have a right to life?


6. A preference for the stick rather than the carrot – after all, you can’t fight a war with a carrot. Support marriage by banning gay marriage; don’t provide married couples with the social support and other resources they need to make their commitment stick. Be pro-life by banning abortion, not by voting for social services that will prevent unwanted pregnancies or help mothers and fathers make a long-term commitment to raise children.


Listen, I like things like the 95-10 initative. And banning abortion does not discharge our duty to babies conceived in difficult circumstances. But it is the necessary first step. Yes, first.

I know I'm displaying the characterisic lack of tolerance and recognition of nuance by even drawing this parallel, but if someone in the 1850's said that the best way to address the injustice of slavery is not to ban it, but to offer incentives and support to southern plantation owners so they could compete wihout access to slave labor, how seriously would you take his opposition to slavery. If you were a slave and had the ability to vote, would you vote for the candidate who proposed this solution (along with a commitment to never criminalize slavery), or the candidate who wanted to criminalize slavery?

Yes, there I go again, seeing things from only one side. But there is an injustice being done. And a prerequisite for effectively addressing it is legally recognizing it as an injustice.




I agree we could all do with a healthy dose of humility and compassion when we enter into debates. We should recognize that our adversaries are not neccesarily our enemies. But we shouldn't pretend not know what we know.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Midterm Reactions

Amendment 2 Approved


I was somewhat giddy(see 8:12 comment) at the thought this would fail, but it appears to have passed.

So, the pro-ESCR crowd managed to buy their amendment. I hope they're happy with themselves. I found this especially rich:

Donn Rubin, of the Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, said, “We've known for a long time that a large majority of Missourians support stem cell research. Unfortunately, the issue was clouded to a great extent in the last few weeks ... I think that's why the margin of victory was as narrow as it was.”

Ah, yes, pity the poort Amendment 2 advocates, with their 30 to 1 money advantage and array of star power, who nevertheless had the issue clouded. Perhaps if they had built their case honestly, instead of hyped promises, they wouldn't have been open to such "clouding." I mean really, how can a campaign that ran ads in pretty much every commercial break for the last month dare to complaing about their issue being "clouded?"

Oh, well..

McCaskill defeats Talent


I think Jim Talent is a decent guy who got caught up in the anti-GOP current, and lost because of it. And I am not expecting anything special from McCaskill in the Senate.

This may seem like sour grapes, but it looked to me over the past week that Talent's heart wasn't in it. I think he was tired of trying to bridge the tension between running for himself and running from the party's unpopularity. When I saw him give his concession speech last night, he seemed relieved, glad he doesn't have to play this game anymore.

He's still a young man, hopefully he'll do some more good things.

Dems take House


No skin off my nose. I think Washington needs a shake-up.

The big issue this would seem to have an impact on is immigration, which I'm not too firmly on one side or the other.

I saw Dan Murtha interviewed on NBC last night, and if he takes on a leadership position, I think his reputation is going to suffer. He looked to me like he has one gear -- angry. He couldn't take "yes" for an answer.

Yes, Dan, your anger about the Iraq war is understandable. But you just won the election, and now you have to govern. And blind rage isn't going to do it.

If he becomes House majority leader, I expect he'll become a punch line for a lot of Letterman and Stewart jokes.

Dems appear to take Senate


This is a bit more troublesome for me, because of the judiciary. Bush has already demonstrated that judicial nominations is one area where he'll give a little bit. If there is another vacancy on the Supreme Court, I don't know that Bush has either the capital or the will to back a conservative nominee against a Democratic Senate.

This will be especially true if, as expected, Christian conservatives emerge as the scapegoats for the rout. Especially with Santorum going down. (Even though he went down to a socially conservative Democrat, and his defeat probably has more to do with his stubborn defense of the Iraq policy than his social positions). I mean, do we even need to read Andrew Sullivan today to know that he's saying that today's election results should serve as a wakeup call to the GOP that to remain relevant they need to break the chains with the "Christianists?" Let me check... Here it is! I suspect more will follow.

It'll be an easy bone for Bush to throw to nominate a "moderate," and distance himself from the now discredited Christian Right.

Miscellany


  • MO Cigarrette tax defeates -- Somewhat surprising to me. It's interesting to me that we'll gamble on embryonic research, which may or may not cure diseases, but we won't take serious measures to curtail smoking, which has more certain health benefits.

    Probably demonstrates that any initiative that has the word "tax" in it faces an uphill battles.
  • Minimum wage increase approved by wide margin -- It will be interesting to see how regions with higher minumum wages fare compared to those who have the federal one.
  • Tom Brokaw's "perspective" -- I suspect a high correlation between Tom Brokaw's "perspective" on what "America was saying" and Tom Brokaw's personal beliefs.
  • The New Divide Kaus says the red-blue divide may go away, and that may be true. I don't think either party can count on taking whole sections of the map anymore, especially the GOP in the central plains. In order to have power, the GOP will need to find a way to appeal to what were "blue states." They can't just write them off and count on winning the South and West. That's a good thing.

    But I think the red-blue state divide may be replaced by a lower scale urban-rural divide. Every state may be up for grabs (or at least open to Democrats), but regions remain solidly in one camp or another, especially with gerrymandering.

    This was driven home watching the results in Missouri come in last night. Amendment 2 was and McCaskill were trailing by 5-6 points most of the night. Then the results from the St. Louis and Kansas City cam in, and McCaskill and Amendment 2 surged ahead.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pardon My Dust

I finally decided to ditch the ugly template this was on, and I'm still ironing out the kinks.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Taking them at their word

The backers of Amendment 2 are fond of saying that all Amendment 2 does (its 2000 words notwithstanding) is ensure that Missourains will have the same access to cures that other Americans have.

To do this, it removes from the Missouri legislature the power to restrict embryonic research. It essentially permanently punts these ethical questions to the federal government -- you know, the folks who brought us the Iraq War and the Katrina disaster relief.

Isn't this an odd thing for a state to do? To amend the constitution to explicitly strip itself of power?

Are the proponents of Amendment 2 so distrustful of the democratic process?

Speaking of amendments numbered 2, imagine if instead of stripping the state legislature of its power to regulate research, the amendment stripped the state government of its power to restrict firearms. If it essentially said, if a weapon is legal under federal law, it must be legal in Missouri, and there's not a darn thing the state legislature could do about it. (To make the parallel complete, imagine that it included a ban of "assault weapons," then defined assault weapons to only include, say, bazookas, and then the proponents went on and on about how the measure explicitly bans assault weapons.)

It seems to me that this will lead to even more political polarization. If amendments like this pass, then as an opposer of embryonic research, my only recourse is to attempt to influence the federal government. So if it's midterm election time, and I'm not thrilled with the Republicans, and my choice is between a Republican incumbent who opposes funding embryonic research and a Democrat who supports it. It seems that I have one more reason to not consider voting for the Democrat. Essentially, proponent of the Amendment want to limit debate of this issue to two high-stakes venues -- the debate over this amendment, and federal restrictions. Is it surprising that in this environment, people tend to dig in their heels on their own side?
OPPOSED TO SCIENCE?
One of the charges those opposing embryonic research often face is that they are opposed to "science." An example comes form Scott Adams's blog today:

Statistically speaking, any hacker who is skilled enough to rig the elections will also be smart enough to select politicians that believe in . . . oh, let’s say for example, science. Compare that to the current method where big money interests buy political ads that confuse snake-dancing simpletons until they vote for the guy who scares them the least. Then during the period between the election and the impending Rapture, that traditionally elected President will get busy protecting the lives of stem cells while finding creative ways to blow the living crap out of anything that has the audacity to grow up and turn brownish.

Now, I realize Scott Adams is a humorist, but similar assertions are a regular part of our discourse.

Since almost all of the opposition to embryonic research comes from religious groups, most prominently the Roman Catholic Church, which has made some serious missteps in its relationship with science, the debate can be framed as religious luddism vs. scientific progress, with an obvious conclusion.

But there's a significant difference in the motivations for opposing Galileo in the Middle Ages and opposing embryonic research today. Galileo was opposed because those in power saw his conclusions as dangerous -- a heliocentric solar system was a direct challenge to the Creation narrative, and thus to the authority of the Church. The same goes for evolution.

In fact, some who challenge the Church's position on embryonic research point back to Aquinas and other Church scholars putting personhood at "quickening," which is several weeks into pregnancy. But the Church's position has developed since then based on what science has taught us about the early stages of development.

The driving force behind opposition to embryonic research is not fear of its conclusions, but opposition to the methods involved. The Church was wrong to suppress Galileo. However, if Galileo's research involved launching condemned criminals into space,the Church would be correct to oppose this method.

This isn't another round of the same religion vs. science fight. The sides may have the same general names, but we're playing a different game.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

SAME OLD, SAME OLD
Shouldn't a newspaper run stories that are actually news?

One more note -- I'm wondering if it would be a good tactic for people who want all human beings protected to threaten to leave states that do not, or to move to states that do so. We hear a lot about how we have to accept things like stem cell research or same sex marriage because it sends a message about what a with-it state we are and attracts smart people. (I find this argument deeply insulting), but let's put that aside for now.

What would happen if those of us opposed to Amendment 2 committed to leaaving the state if it passed? Who would Missourians rather have -- the hotshot researchers, or the decent people who live here.

Now, I don't know if such a strategy is plausible, since there is probably a high correlation between wanting a society that protects all members and putting down roots. But it's something to think about.

Friday, October 27, 2006

WHY NOT?
Archibishop Burke highlights an important contradiction in this week's column:

Mr. Danforth and other proponents of Amendment 2 believe that human life begins with the implantation of the embryo in the womb of a woman, denying the identity of human life to the embryo before implantation. But what is the human embryo before implantation, if not a human being? Implantation adds nothing to the identity of the being, it only provides the natural place for the next stages of its development. The standard textbooks of embryology define the beginning of human life at fertilization or artificial generation by cloning.

Following the logic of Mr. Danforth, I suppose, Amendment 2, which claims to prohibit human cloning, actually prohibits the implantation of the embryo produced by somatic cell nuclear transfer or cloning in the womb of woman. Why? The obvious answer is: Because it is a human life which, once implanted in the womb, will simply continue its growth, in accord with the full identity which it already has.

I'll draw this out a bit. The pro-choice, pro-research position rests on these premises:

  • The embryo is not a human life until it is implanted in a uterus.
  • A woman has absolute dominon over her body, including the right to end a pregnancy.

Given those premises, why would implanting an embryo created via somatic cell nuclear transfer into a woman's uterus be at all morally problematic, indeed so very problematic that it's the one thing proponents say they explicitly ban.

This seems a strange place to draw the line. And indeed, it is an extremely bright line. If they have there way, everything on one side of the line would be constitutionally protected, so precious that it cannot be touched by the democratic process; on the other side everyhing is banned.

The only reason I can see for drawing the line there is political expediency -- the proponents know that people have a negative reaction to the word "cloning," so they have tailored te amendment so they can plausibly say they share this rejection of cloning.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

OH. MY. GOD.
I attended Washington University during William Danforth's last year as Chancellor, and I admired what he did in making Wash U. and elite university, so going attacking him feels a bit like I'm attacking my own grandfather.

Nevertheless...

The ad that ran tonight featuring Dr. Danforth saying something like, "we enjoy watching the Cardinals play baseball, but when it comes to important medical issues, I hope Missourians will listen to experts."

Arrrgh!!

First of all, which medical school did Sheryl Crow attend, again? How about Michael J. Fox? Or even your brother, former Senator John Danforth. Oh, that's right, they're not medical experts, are they? They're celebrities Amendment 2 supporters brought in and put in front of the cameras in the hopes that we'd be so star-struck that we'd go along with whatever they tell us. But those opposed run an ad with the Cardinals #3 starting pitcher, and now we shouldn't listen to anybody but experts? Right. I anxiously await Missouri cures pulling all the ads from endorsers who do not possess medical degrees, and removing the names of "Civic, Business, Government & Faith Organizations," "African American Leaders," and, for heaven's sake "Faith Leaders," because, as Dr. Danforth said, Missourians should only listen to medical experts. Anyone else's opinion is irrelevant.

Secondly, think about the attitude Dr. Danforth is inviting us to have. Chill out, Missourians, don't think about what those silly baseball players have to say, don't think at all. The experts say it's good; that ought to be good enough for us.

I seem to remember being invited to have this attitude about four years ago, and now our country is mired in a civil war half the world away.

UPDATE: I should mention that the context is an ad featuring Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan, among others, opposing Amendment 2.

While I'm here, I have to rant a bit about the lack of savviness on display here. On the other side, we have an ad by a well-liked actor best known for his roles in sitcoms and comedy movies. One theme of the debate is that it's a choice between scientific advancement and religious fundamentalism.

So, how do we begin our response? We start with an actor best (perhaps only) known for portraying Jesus in a film that many had derided as anti-Semitic (for now, it doesn't matter whether it was in fact anti-Semitic, what matters is the perception) directed by someone who recently was shown making an anti-Semitic tirade. In case any viewers didn't make the connection, this actor then mutters something in Aramaic, so it's ultra-clear that opposition to Amendment 2 is fueled by Mel-Gibson style religion.

The appeal to those who have not already committed to voting against Amendment 2 is not at all clear to me, but the turn-off is.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

HATEABLE UNDERDOGS
Reagarding the Sports Nut article on why the Cardinals are not receiving the affection that usually greets unsing teams making postseason runs, I first thought that it had to do with where they are on in the success cycle. The Cards aren't some sort of an upstart team surprising everybody. This is a team that has been successful for some time (but had not won a World Series) , was predicted to do well this year, underachieved a but but still managed to make the playoffs, then got hot in the postseason, and squeaked by the team that had dominated the league during the regular season.

This makes sense until I remember something else -- last year's Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had been winning for several years, but not won a Super Bowl during this particular run. The Steelers underachieved during the regular season but snuck into the playoffs as the 6th seed in the AFC. The Steelers got hot and marched through the playoffs, including a close victory over the team that had dominated the conference during the regular season (the Colts).

The similarities don't end there. Both championships are being contested in Detroit. Both franchises have a long heritage of championships and tradition. Both have fan bases considered by many to be the best in the sport and include colorful traditions (Sea of Red, Terrible Towels). Both were facing teams that had even longer droughts from the championship series.

But the Steelers were embraced as lovable underdogs, and the Cardinals are greeted with a shrug and a sneer. So what's the difference?

Maybe one difference is the statistical emphasis in baseball. A team that wins three consecutive NFL playoff games on the road is perceived as having accomplished something significant and survived the ultimate test of its toughness. A team that wins two consecutive baseball playoff series in which they were the underdog is perceived as the beneficiary of random luck and favorable pitching match-ups.

The 2005 AFC was considered the stronger of the two conferences. The 2006 National League was the subject of much analysis about how bad it was.

The Cardinals defeat of the Mets was aided by the Mets losing two of their top starting pitchers; the Colts were going at pretty much full strength. Beating Peyton Manning gets you more love than beating Oliver Perez.

The Steelers had Jerome Bettis, a likable veteran who hailed from the Super Bowl City. The Cardinals don't have such a story, or even many terribly likable players. The closes the Cardinals have to the "aging veteran getting his last shot at the title" is probably Jim Edmonds, who let's just say doesn't inspire the same sort of attention. Albert Pujols has exposed himself as a jerk. Tony La Russa thinks he's smarter than you. Nobody's heard of Adam Wainwright. David Eckstein's a fun story, but he hasn't been hitting. Chris Carpenter is excellent, but doesn't have much to hang on to.

The Cardinals aren’t loved because they’re not lovable.
BETTER DEAD THAN RED
The post below highlights what I think is a running subtext in the Amendment 2 debate.

In the last few elections cycles, Missouri has turned from a "swing" state to a "red" state. We're home to Branson, the entertainment capital of the RedState world. We've elected a thirthysomething year old Republican governor from Springfield who is the son of the House Majority Whip. Out most prominent Democratic politician, Dick Gephardt, retired. We went for Bush twice. We overwhelmingly approved a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. We elected a Democratic governor and senator back in 2000, but that probably had more to do with a halo effect from Mel Carnahan's untimely death than anything else.

A lot of people aren't happy about this, including some who supported one or more of the developments listed above. Instead of being a battleground in presidential races, we're a reliable source of electoral votes for the Republican candidates. Sure, we might have liked Bush better than Kerry, and we weren't excited about re-defining marriage, but that doesn't mean we wanted to become East (What's the Matter With) Kansas.

This anxiety is espcecially prevalent in the metropolitan areas around St. Louis and Kansas City. There's a sense that outstate politicians are leading us down a path to irrelevance. Hence, "Jefferson City politicians" which cues this distrust of outstate politicians.

This is probably best personified by Amendment 2's most prominent supporter, former Senator Jack Danforth. In addition to promoting Amendment 2, Mr. Danforth has written a lot about how religious people have gone too far, and need to rein themselves back. He supports this amendment while maintaining his stance as "pro-life." He reflects the mood of the state -- we've lurched too far in the socially conservative direction; let's back up.

Enter Amemdnment 2. Here, Missourians have an opportunity to amend their Constitution to protect controversial research from those representatives from tiny towns who get their voting orders from the church pastors. Nobody could say we're in lock-step with the Religious Right then, could they? We'll have shown our openness to technology, and proven we're not some sort of red-state backwater, indistinguishable from any number of other rectangular states. We'd matter, damnit!

This is part of why celebrity appeals are such a feature. The message seems to be -- This is an opportunity for Missouri to prove to us cool Hollywood people that you're not a bunch of slack-jawed cold-hearted religious fanatics, but technologically savvy compassionate cosomopoltian people we'd like to associate with.


And while I'm here, thank you, Rush, for turning an interesting conversation about what type of ads and manipulations are in bonunds into a conversation about what a jerk you (an by extension, all those who oppose embryonic research) are. Really, it's a big help. It's not like we're in the middle of a race in which the other side is claiming a monopoly on compassionm and are eager to demonstrate how only a cold-hearted ignoramus could oppose them. Thanks a heap.


I bring this up, but don't know how to effectively counter it, But I think it's something it's important to be aware of. It's bigger than this particular issue, bigger than whether or not the amendment itself is deceptive, bigger than whether it prohibits or protects "cloning," depending on who's defining the terms. For many Missourians, this is a referendum for their own independence from the socially conservative red state pigeonhole they find themselves in, and it's not going to be easy to get them to vote "no."
WHO DECIDES?
One of the themes of the Amendment 2 proponents is that medical decisions should be made by families and their doctors, not by politicians in Jefferson City.

This is an appealing argument, echoing the effective Who Decides? pro-choice argument. And it sounds good and makes intuitive sense.

But think about how this type of argument would be applied in other contexts:

  • Soldiers on the ground should decide what methods of warfare are acceptable, not Washington politicians.
  • Cops in the streets shoud decide what methods of search are reasonable, not self-important people in black robes in stuffy chambers based on what some guys in powdered wigs wrote over 200 years ago.


This isn't how we do things. We are proud of the men and women in the armed forces, but we still believe in civilian control of the military. There is some benefit to a bit of emotional distance in determining the best guidelines; those guidelines should not set exclusively by those committed to achieving goals that the guideline would interfere with. They should have a say, but not the final say.

To strain an analogy, it's best that these decisions be made by chickens rather than pigs.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

ON THE WHOLE "HAND SUBSTANCE" THING
I'd buy the explanation that Tony LaRussa didn't want all that "BS" if he were a "you put your best nine guys out there, I'll put my best nine guys out there, and we'll see who's better" type of manager.

But he's not.

LaRussa, more than any other manager, inserts himself into the competition. He'll use three pitchers to get the last three outs when his team is up by four runs. He'll bat the pitcher eighth. He'll order squeeze plays. He'll play a .200 hitter in left field because he likes the match-up with the starting pitcher.

This isn't all about between-the-lines strategy. La Russa gets in the opposition's head, and makes the other team do stupid things (like, making several throws over to first base when the runner on first is a hulking slugger with a bad hamstring, and one of those throws ends up in right field).

If pitchers looking for every edge is part of the game, then paying the price when caught is as well. If there's some sort of gentlemen's agreement that opposing managers don't press things like this, then part of that agreement should be that players be somewhat skillful in disguising it -- i.e. don't get caught on camera with a giant smudge on your hand. Kenny Rogers made Tony La Russa look like either a moron or a chump. There's nothing gentlemanly about that.

Monday, October 23, 2006

How To Confront
There's a good discussion going on at Mirror of Justice about how to effectively give witness the Church's teaching on the fundamental dignity of human life.

This is especially topical for me here in Missouri, as I have been struggling on how to most effectively oppose Amendment 2, which will enshrine in our constitution that nobody can get in the way of using embryos for research. (And by the way, where are all those people who were weeping over the purity of the Constitution when it was proposed that it define marriage as it has always been defined... And while I’m ranting parenthetically, the thing is being promoted as ensuring Missourians have “access to cures.” Is there any chance a law preventing Missourians’ access to cures would pass? But there were actual court rulings establishing same sex marriage, but we kept hearing about how “unnecessary” these amendments were).

Amendment 2 has been promoted by a series of treacly ads about the potential benefits of the research that don't even attempt to address why this research is controversial. The ads would be no less true if they were promoting the most brutally unethical type of research imaginable, such as forcibly seizing newborn babies, killing them and harvesting their organs. Just tell people it’s about cures and they’ll go along.

The main opposition to this has been to say that the Amendment is deceptive, and that “it’s cloning !!!” My concern is that if this tactic works in this election, it won’t work going forward.

I suppose the word cloning tests well, because people think of reproductive cloning, which gives them the creeps. But this is therapeutic cloning, which the Church considers even more problematic since the cloned embryo is necessarily destroyed. So the Church’s positions are nearly opposite those of the public. We might be able to get past this by conflating both using the word “cloning,” but I suspect only once, and it feels dirty (similar to how those on the other side conflate adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, which nobody opposes, with embryonic stem cell research under the term “stem cell research.”)

Maybe the best place to oppose this is on my knees.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

OLIVER PEREZ MUST NOT BAT
It's not the be-all and end-all, but in my opiniion, if Mets starter Oliver Perez steps to the plate with a bat in his hand in tonight's game, the Mets probably win. If not, the Cardinals probably win.

Given how ineffective Perez has been this year, the fact that he's pitching on short rest, the Mets probably only want to get through three or so innings anyway. So if he bats, it means:

  • It's the first or second inning, which means the Mets have had at least three base runners against Suppan in the first two innings, or
  • Perez is mowing down the Cardinals hitters in the first three innings such that Randolph doesn't feel moved to pinch-hit for him in the third.

Either way, it's bad news for the Cardinals, whose greatest advantage in this game is the starting pitching match-up.

If I see Perez in the batter's box, it will mean the Cardinals have failed to capitalize on that advantage.

And then things don't look so good...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

DRAWING LINES ON RESEARCH
Despite some advice to the contrary, I think it might be useful to draw some lines in discussing ethical research.

There are points of agreement in the research debate.

Most people agree that it would be unethical to kill an innocent child or adult or research purposes, regardless of the potential benefit.

Also, most would agree that it would be unethical to destroy en embryo even in the moment of conception if the benefit is non-existant or trivial (say, to make Coca-Cola taste sweeter).

So, in the graph below, I plotted these point on a graph, and drew a line between them separating destructive research that is definitely unethical based on the above two premises from research that is not ruled out by these premises alone.



But wait, it's hard to imagine a scenario where we would be willing to perfrom on adolescents, and not adults. In fact, most people wouldn't be willing to perfrom this research on infants, so let's move the sticks...



Ok, so now our range of area of debate is bounded by conception and birth on the development access, and no benefit and save the world on the benefit access.

My position, and that of the Catholic Church, is that there is no more lines to draw. Or rather, there is a vertical line on the y-axis -- it is unethical to destroy any human life for research puroposes, regardless of the potential benefit.

In my opinion, this is the most coherent position that has been articulated. In short, I have not seen a convincing argument for why that line (or whatever shape) should be anything other than a vertical line on the Y-axis.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

BARGAINING FOR DISINTEGRATION
In the TNR's online debate on Catholicism and politics, Damon Linker, author of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege, proposes that religious people's involvement in politics be conditioned on the following:

Like every other citizen, you must be willing to accept what I call "the liberal bargain." In my book, I describe this bargain as the act of believers giving up their "ambition to political rule in the name of their faith" in exchange for the freedom to worship God however they wish, without state interference. What does this mean, in practical terms? It means that your belief in what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches is irrelevant, politically speaking. It simply shouldn't matter whether or not you think that justice has a divine underpinning, anymore than it should matter whether you prefer Jane Austen to Dostoevsky. In a word, liberal politics presumes that it's possible and desirable for political life to be decoupled from theological questions and disputes.

In other words, if I want to participate in civil life, I need to leave my religious beliefs at the door -- they are irrelevant.

But do secularists also take this bargain? I suspect Andrew Sullivan would be on Linker's side in this debate, given his endless prattling on about "Christianists." But elsewhere on TNR's site, Sullivan writes the following about Republicans in the Foley scandal:

There is something deeply sick about a Republican elite that is comfortable around gay people, dependent on gay people, staffed by gay people--and yet also rests on brutal exploitation of homophobia to win elections at the base. These public homophobes, just like the ones in the Vatican, may even tolerate gay misbehavior more readily than adjusted gay people do. If you treat gay sex in any form as a shameful secret to keep concealed, the line between adult, consensual contact and the sexual exploitation of the young may not seem so stark. That's how someone like Speaker Dennis Hastert could have chosen not to know: He was already choosing not to know Foley was gay. In this way, Hastert is a milquetoast, secular version of Cardinal Bernard Law.

Many in the GOP have overcome this shame. The Log Cabin Republicans, for example, have shown how gay people can operate in conservative politics without having to be embarrassed, screwed up, or pathological. Some Republican senators--John McCain, Gordon Smith, Arlen Specter--seem able to deal with gay people and gay issues forthrightly, even if they do not support full gay equality.

But such honesty is scarce in this White House and this Congress. The miserable example of Mary Cheney, Stepford daughter, shows the full force of this syndrome. It isn't pretty. It depends upon knowing when to be silent, tip-toeing around bigotry, and shilling for people who may be personally accepting but publicly so in debt to the religious right that they cannot even formally speak the word "gay" in public.

It is this deeper, more nuanced hypocrisy that this episode exposes. The closet tolerants--and they include both the president and vice president--exist in a party that has built its electoral machine on systematic intolerance and the fueling of populist fear of homosexuals. This edifice cannot stand indefinitely, and the sudden collapse of Mark Foley's career may be a portent of what is to come. The old manners of GOP Washington are being buffeted by the countervailing currents of gay mainstreaming and political opportunism. At some point, Republicans are going to have to choose between the two.

Let's set aside for a moment that what Sullivan means by "equality" is redefining marriage to include same sex couples, and whether that logically flows from tolerance of gay people.

What Sullivan is saying is that there is a sickening hypocrisy for Republicans to privately tolerate gay people but publicly oppose gay issues. Sullivan says that this cannot stand, and will ruin Republicans from within unless they "choose between the two."

But isn't this dis-integration exactly what Linker is trying to sell religious people with the "liberal bargain?" Wouldn't there be a deep hypocrisy in privately believing that legal abortions kill a million unborn children a year, and not using one's political influence to try to stop it? And wouldn't it eventually ruin us from the inside? Is "closet religiousness" any less ruinous than "closet tolerance?"

In the debate, Russ Douthat responded with the following:

This isn't just blinkered, unfair, and contrary to the actual American tradition of how religion and politics interact; it's also dangerous to liberalism, because it vindicates those people--Christians and secularists alike--who have always said that faith and liberalism aren't compatible and that everyone need to choose between Christ and the republic, between God and Caesar. And, if you force Americans to make that choice, I'm not sure you'll be happy with the results.

Secularists like to say that they are proposing no such choice -- merely insisting that religious people compartmentalize their religious and political activities. But this is a ruinous disintegration, and as Sullivan's column exhibits, secularists know that, too.

UPDATE: As I suspected Sullivan has backed Linker's position. So I ask Mr. Sullivan -- why should I accept a bargain that will lead to my ruin?

Monday, October 02, 2006

CARE VS. CURES
I’m struggling with a notion I have that out culture has a disordered notion of how to express compassion for those with diseases.

There is a lot of work an effort expended on “curing” diseases, but not much about “caring.” We raise some money, take a nice walk in the park on a spring day, get a T-shirt, and tell ourselves we’re doing what we can for victims of disease. And things like Amendment 2 receive wide support, because we want to support cures for diseases after all.

But I think this is grace on the cheap. It’s a lot easier to take a walk through the park on a spring day than it is to clean up after someone who can’t control his bowels, or hold someone’s hand as they’re going through pain, or give your daughter daily chest therapy and medicine. But I think this type of care is what we’re called to first. I help Meagan more by caring for her every day than I would working for a cure.

The reason I’m struggling is that this all sounds good and makes sense until I look to how Jesus responded to those with diseases. He didn’t just love diseased people where they were – He cured them. He didn’t talk about the virtues of suffering blindness or leprosy or demons, he freed people from those things.
So, that stops me from getting to worked up about what I still think is our culture’s disordered response to diseases.
MY TORTURE GUIDE
In respones to the torture debates, a lot of people want those opposed to torture to provide a specific list of what techniques are allowable.

Here's my stab:

If the criminal law on torture plays any role whatsoever in your determination of whether to use a particular tactic, then you shouldn't use it.

So, if you're about to commit an act, and need to consult the torture law to see if it's covered, you shouldn't do it.

If you really think you're in a "ticking time bomb" situation, but would be deterred by the possibility of of criminal punishment for committing torture, then you're not really in a "ticking time bomb" situration, and shouldn't commit the act. If the torture were really necessary to save the worlds, the prospect of criminal prosecution would be the least concern.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

IT TAKES TALENT
Fascinating article in the New Yorker about how some Cystic Fibrosis centers are much more effective and why that is, not just because I have a personal stake in this issues.

The author doesn't come out and say this, but it seems to me the answer comes down to the talent of the people on that team. The best CF center has an extremely talented doctor who is the driving force behind the center. The Cincinnati center highlighted by the article could improve itself incrementally by doing things similar to how the best centers do things, but they will never be as good, because they don't have that doctor.

We're willing to acknowledge the importance and impact of talent in some contexts. Any serious baseball fan knows that Albert Pujols is several times more valuable to the Cardinals than a utility player like Aaron Miles. Nobody thinks that if the Pittsburgh Pirates could significantly improve themselves by following the same daily routine as the New York Yankees. Teamwork and chemistry are important, but you have to have the horses.

But in the businesses where most of use work, we pretend this isn't the case. I'm a software engineer. Employers do "pay for performance" which usually means that the best engineers get a 5% raise while the average ones get 3% raises, resulting in the best engineers making maybe 10% more than average engineers. This in spite of reasearch showing that the best developers are 10 times more productive than average engineers. Yet, if an organization is looking to improve its software quality, it won't try to hire better engineers, it will refine its processes.

Other industries are worse. The compensation system for public school teachers works on the assumption that the only measure of a teacher's effectiveness is years of service. But if the best baseball players are much more valuable than average baseball players, and the best software engineers are 10 times more effective than average engineers, is there any reason to believe that the best teachers are many times more valuable than average teachers? And shouldn't their compensation refelect that? And if not, won't great teachers become average teachers?

We don't want to believe this, though, because it means that we have to do the work of identifying the best. Something in me wold like to believe that all CF centers are about equal. The idea that changing centers could extend Meagan's life by many years is a bit scary. It would mean that I would need to find out what the best center is, and maybe move our family there. Can't we just assume they're all abot equal and worry about something else? Isn't that why chains are so popular? Walk into a McDonald's and you know what you're going to get. If you're OK with that, then you don't need to research each town you visit to find a restaurant.

Except McDonald's food is mediocre, not excellent. For a quick meal on the road, mediocre might be good enough. But is mediocre good enough for educating our children, caring for a degenerative fatal disease, or producing a new software products. We need excellence, but we're using tools and techniques designed to achieve a baseline of mediocrity rather than excellence.

There's also a rationing problem. By definition, there are few people on the right side of the curve. How can they meet the large demand for their services? For commercial software engineers, the market can determine it -- whoever's willing to pay the most gets the elite engineer's services. But is this how we want to determine who gets access to the best CF centers? the best high shool algebra teacher?

So I guess I have more questions than answers....

Saturday, September 23, 2006

RYDER STYLES
OK -- whose idea was it for the US and European teams to both play their matches in the same color blue shirt an black pants? In a rainy day? With a lot of American rookies and European players we're not familiar with? Unless it was someone like Tiger Woods, you could hardly tell whether each player was American or European.

Would it be too much to ask for the American team to dress in colors from the American flag? Like red shirts with flag blue pants? Forget these stupid pale blue shirts, or the beige/grey stuff from yesterday. Could they actually look like they're proud to represent the country they're representing?

Friday, September 15, 2006

REVISIONS
The Post-Dispatch has a revised version of the article I criticized and parodied yesterday with a more appropriate headline, which I suspect is what was printed in today's paper. Good for them. I'm sure they would say the web version yesterday was so imbalanced because they didn't have time to get both sides before publishing. But this begs the question of why there was such a rush to get this out. Was there anything time-sensitive about that information? Would it make a difference if voters received that information 12 hours later? No and no. And it's difficult to imagine the Post-Dispatch treating a press release from the other side in such a manner. The Post-Dispatch's job is to accurately report the news, not the ensure that the Coalition for Lifesaving Cures gets their propaganda out as fast as possible.

The revised version still has some things worth pointing out.

One of the criticisms those opposing embryonic research often hear is that we're "against science." In this very article, those supporting amendment say that striking it down would create an "anti-science environment" in Missouri. Science is about testing hypotheses with experiments and data, and using that data to draw conclusions. But check this out...


The study also says that banning embryonic stem cell work, as has been attempted by state lawmakers in recent years, would put a chill on biotech research of all kinds, stifling a promising industry.



Winship contends the state's biotech industry won't suffer if embryonic stem cell research is banned, especially because a lot of Missouri's biotech work is based in agriculture. Michigan banned certain types of stem cell work, but it has a vibrant biomedical sector, she said.

Donn Rubin, chairman of the coalition and a leader in building St. Louis' biotech sector, said Michigan business leaders have called seeking advice on how to reverse that state's ban. Their biotech cluster is beginning to lag, "their research infrastructure is going to continue to decline, and their potential for generating a 21st Century economy is going to decline if they can't undo it," he said.


Here we have:

  • One side make an assertion, with no data to back it up.
  • The other side responds with relevant data.
  • The other side dismisses this data with anecdotes and more conjecture

Which side is making unsupported assertions and using anecdotes to trump hard data? That would be the side that accuses the other side of being against science.
Daniel Shipley captured things well: "They say, 'If every person was adequately cured by a totally unproven medical procedure, then the following would occur.' I could make a lot of business cases based on such assumptions and go to a bank, and they would laugh me out of there." But Missourians are supposed to rewrite their Constitution based on this.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

BREAKING NEWS!
AGGRESSIVE INTERROGATION DEFEAT COULD COST TRILLIONS, PROPONENTS SAY
Proponents of a ballot measure that would protect controversial interrogation techniques in the United States today launched an economic salvo: A report claiming trillions of dollars in lost economic opportunity for the nation if the measure should fail.

The report was commissioned by the US Coalition for Lifesaving Questioning, a group of more than 100 miltiary, law enforecement, faith and civic organizations.

A copy obtained by Man Bites Blog reveals the Coalition’s dollars-and-cents case for passage of Amendment X, which would ensure that any aggressive interrogation techniques and the information obtained from them in the United States.

The study considers the costs of limiting questiones' access to interrogation techniques and information that could result from aggressive interrogation techniques. It also says banning such work, as has been attempted by federal lawmakers in recent years, would put a chill on mitlitary efforts of all kinds, stifling a promising industry.

Opponents of aggressive interrogation techniques , which uses Palestinian hanging and waterboarding, liken it to torture. They say promising information can be developed from conventional interrogation techniques.

Most military experts experts say, however,coercive interrogation techniques have the potential to deliver into any type of information show unmatched potential – though after eight years of using these techniques, they have not been used to thwart any terrorist attacks.

The Coalition’s study makes broad economic and scientific assumptions, which critics are sure to challenge. It promises information that today are germs of basic data, years away from reaching decision-m,akers even if they should pan out. It also projects levels of interrogation that could shift under changing national and global economic conditions.

For example, the study assumes aggressive interrogation will lead to the complete neutralization of al Qaeda

If so, the state could save billions of dollars a year currently spent on national defense, the study said. What’s more, these military personnel could return to work or be more productive, contributing to the nation's economy.

A more direct impact comes in Guntanamo, where the Rubber Hose Institute of Interrogation is considering a $300 million expansion – but only if the ballot measure passes, ensuring unfettered questioning opportunities for the world-class interrogators it hopes to employ.

Those 500 interrogators would be expected to receive the same average $72,500 in annual salary and benefits received by the 350 already working at the institute, adding to the nation’s tax base, the study said.

If voters should reject Amendment X, the US’s work to become a hub for intelligence research and industry would be severely hindered, said thechairman of the Coalition and a leader in building the Northeast's intelligencesector.

Interrogators "don’t have to be doing aggressive techniques to be impacted by an anti-intelligence environment," he said. And workers in all types of industries might hesitate to come to the US if they fear a lack of protection provided by these techniques.

Regulatory uncertainty also could keep the best and brightest interrogators away fromthe US's military academites and intelligence-based businesses, the report said.

If Amendment 2 should fail, and lawmakers subsequently aggressive interrogation technques, that "could lead to a general and widespread exodus of defense from the country," it said. "Essentially, l could take the view that the United States laws are unpredictable and antagonistic to the defense environment."