One reason for disappointment...

with President Obama has been his terrible record with civil liberties. If you listened at all to what he said while campaigning, it was quite obvious that he knew the right answers, but if you've watched what he's done as President, it's quite obvious that he doesn't care. Today, we find out that he has committed the ultimate breach of civil liberties. He has assassinated a US citizen.

Was Awlaki someone I'd want to ever talk with, or even meet? No. But he did have rights as a US citizen (and, one would hope, just as a person), and the most important of those rights is the right to live.

Did he commit any crimes? Not that we're aware of. But even if he did, he still has the right to a fair trial to establish that he did, in fact, commit those crimes. And then to be sentenced by a jury of his peers.

Did he say some terrible things? Well, I haven't heard any of his speeches, but from what I've heard second- or third-hand, he probably did. Is that illegal? It is not. Free speech is not just about protecting things that most people want to hear. In fact, it is not about protecting those things at all; they don't need to be protected. It's about protecting those on the fringe. And the courts have established, over the years, that pretty much anything short of incitement to imminent violence is protected. So he certainly cannot (legally) be killed over what he was saying.

So we have a very clear case of abrogation of justice (at the very least), and a President getting the ultimate in tyrannical power: the power to kill your political enemies. Let's hear it for justice.

Update: I forgot to make note that the US official reporting this is granted anonymity; this is also very disturbing. And the official apparently claimed that al-Awlaki is
suspected of inspiring or helping plan numerous attacks on the United States

I'm skeptical of this, if for no other reason than we didn't hear anything about this before his killing. But even if we grant it as true, suspicion does not justify killing. You need to be 100% certain that he did, in fact, do those things, before issuing a death sentence. And you need to demonstrate it clearly enough that a jury feels the same way, and gives that sentence. None of that ever happened.


I am probably too optimistic

I wrote this about Obama's statements for progressive policy a couple of weeks ago. It was making me feel a bit encouraged, but I was reminded a couple of days ago that I probably shouldn't.

I can't find the article now (I'm pretty sure it was from Greenwald), but it was pointing out that this is almost certainly all campaign posturing, with nothing of substance to follow. Unfortunately, it does make complete sense, and wouldn't surprise me. As a Senator, Obama was a moderate Democrat. As a President, he's a moderate Republican. I guess that's better than a radical Republican, which is the only kind I can see emerging from the Republican primary, but it's certainly tough to get excited about.

I'll still get out and vote, but it won't be something to which I'm looking forward.


I took it one day at a time, and it didn't cost me a dime...

My apologies to Johnny Cash for the title. Last week, (coincidentally) on the tenth anniversary of our first date, my wife and I were able to make it out for dinner and a movie. Dinner was pretty good, at a very nice (not top-of-the-line, but very nice) Italian restaurant in DC.

And for a movie, we went to One Day. This one hasn't gotten good reviews (in fact, we almost didn't see it, because the reviews were so bad, but the alternatives were worse. Sad), but we enjoyed it.

It tells the story of two people who met right around their university graduation. She liked him; he warmed to her. In any event, the title comes from subsequent coverage of their lives, looking only at July fifteenth of each year. Some years see them together, some don't. I'll warn you, though, the date is not defined by that "first meeting" (they actually alluded to casually meeting previously, although only she remembered).

I must admit to largely disliking the guy from the beginning; he was funny, but completely dissolute. The only thing he did of any worth for quite a bit of the movie was helping her move to London.

Eventually, they fall in love, but it requires a long time and him growing up. The strongest part of the movie, to me, was in how it showed him maturing. It didn't go so far as to show him going to a substance abuse program, but he definitely did become much more of an adult. The relationships between him and his parents were also fairly interesting, despite not showing a lot of depth there. Actually, maybe I'm phrasing that wrong. They didn't get a lot of screen time, but there was some depth in that time.

I did find myself wondering how things got where they were between the two of them. I can see her initial attraction; he was young, smart, rich, and good looking. But I rapidly wondered why that didn't quickly die off; she certainly saw all his flaws. Things came to a head when they met for dinner, and ended up leaving, saying, "I love you, but I don't like you". But I did wonder how things could keep going that long; it was over ten years already at that point.

In the end, it was a slow movie, but one with some payoff towards the end. As I said, we enjoyed it (well, outside of one absolutely brutal scene), and I thought it ended up being a pretty good movie.


Reporting the Sandman

I've mentioned The Post's Tom Boswell a few times, generally not very nicely, and his effort today does nothing to convince me that I was misguided.

His in-print title on that is "The greatest Yankee since Babe Ruth" (on a side note, why do these columns frequently seem to have different titles on-line versus in-print?). To look at that in some detail, why don't start with an obscure award called the MVP (for which Boswell has a vote, I'd imagine).

Awards won by Yankees players since Ruth (working backwards):
Alex Rodriguez: 2005, 2007
Don Mattingly: 1985
Thurman Munson: 1976
Elston Howard: 1963
Mickey Mantle: 1956, 1957, 1962
Roger Maris: 1960, 1961
Yogi Berra: 1951, 1954, 1955
Phil Rizzuto: 1950
Joe DiMaggio: 1939, 1941, 1947
Spud Chandler: 1943
Joe Gordon: 1942
Lou Gehrig: 1936

Notice a name missing? Yeah, that would be Rivera. In fact, if you search more closely, you'll find that he's never even gotten a single first-place vote for MVP.

I'm not trying to detract from what Rivera's done; he's probably the best relief pitcher of all time (and certainly the greatest closer).

But I find it a difficult proposition that he's a greater Yankee that someone who was never considered the best player in their league (or even best pitcher, as he's never won a Cy Young award either; though he has been close, there) is a greater Yankee than any of that dozen MVP winners. Even if you throw out the one-time winners, that's still five amazing ball-players. So, obviously, his peak was not as high as any of those guys.

How about we compare them on WAR (as tabulated at baseball-reference) as Yankees:
Rivera: 56.1
A-Rod: 44.0 (in eight seasons)
Donnie Baseball: 39.8
Thurman Munson: 43.4
Elston Howard: 28.7
Mickey Mantle: 120.2
Roger Maris: 27.9
Yogi Berra: 62.1
Phil Rizzuto: 41.8
Joe DiMaggio: 83.6
Spud Chandler: 26
Joe Gordon: 36.3
Lou Gehrig: 118.4 (though only 23.6 after the Babe left)

And a couple of others, just for comparison
Babe Ruth: 149.6
Derek Jeter: 70.5

Rivera actually compares better, there, than I expected, to many of those players. You could easily rate him ahead of most of those guys. But it still seems awfully difficult to rate him ahead of ALL of those guys. DiMaggio, Gehrig, and Mantle seem especially difficult, and Berra also a stretch.

Also, the article had a comparison of top ERAs with 1000IP. Unsurprisingly, Rivera is at the top of the list. But let me add another column to his chart, innings pitched.

Rivera: 2.22, 1209
Wilhelm: 2.52, 2254
Ford: 2.75, 3170
Quisenberry: 2.76, 1043
Sandy Koufax: 2.76, 2324

So three of the other four pitched FAR more innings than Rivera. Though they did pitch in more favorable eras for pitchers, so there's that. But the point is that the chart was, at best, unconvincing. Another part it misses is that being used in a relief role (especially one almost entirely of the one-inning variety) significantly (and consistently) reduces your ERA. A 2.22 ERA as a reliever is not as good as a 3.0 ERA as a starter (I forget the exact amount, and can't find it now, but that much is true). But it certainly begs the question of why the Yankees never moved him back to starting. Plus, it significantly reduces the persuasiveness of the second chart, on postseason ERA. His postseason record is still damned impressive, but not quite as much as that chart appears. it is demonstrably easier to do that when you never face a batter more than once in a game.

Again, I'm not trying to say he's not a great pitcher. He is. He's almost certainly the greatest reliever ever (I haven't done any specific research to be completely confident in that analysis but I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't even close). And he probably would have been much greater as a starter. His rate stats wouldn't be as impressive, but his overall value would be much higher.

But the main point is that it is absurd to call him the greatest Yankee since Ruth. Absolutely absurd. Being a reliever just didn't give him the opportunities to even get into that conversation. Did he do everything possible to get into that conversation, given his role? Absolutely. But it's still ridiculous.


To the rich go the spoils

Got a bit lucky this weekend. I remembered the Man U-Chelsea collision this weekend Saturday evening, and thought I'd missed it already. A bit of checking, and I saw that it was going to be today. To quote a book my daughter likes, "'Hooray,' they yelled twice". (And you thought this was another tax policy rant. Hah! :)

And on the plus side, in checking, I got to see most of the US/Canada women's friendly. Although, as my wife pointed out, there was nothing really friendly about it. The Canadian defense, in particular, didn't seem to believe in playing the ball; they were just brutal (their captain did manage to pick up a card for jersey grabbing. Not only was it right in front of the ref, but holding on the side where the ref was, but she didn't even let go until well after the whistle blew). And it's a good thing (for them), because that was the only thing that kept the US from winning by a large margin.

The US just completely dominated possession, despite a disturbing number of passes behind their targets. Most of those were still completed, but it really disrupted their flow. And with the defense the Canadians were showing, they didn't have anyone who could penetrate (at least not in the first half; Heath, I think, was doing a very nice job in the second half). Damn, and now I'm showing the time between the game and now, as I remember feeling that Rapinoe wasn't doing well, but can't remember why. In any event, the game ended in a one-all draw, but it really shouldn't have.

To get back to the main point, Man U came out firing on all cylinders. They were strongly dominating the play through most of the first half, although they did allow Chelsea a couple of close calls with two or three atrocious passes around their back line. Chelsea also generated one really nice chance without help with a pass over U's back line to the side, followed by a full-volley pass across the goal-mouth to a striker on the other side who shot it on a full volley, but the goaltender got it.

In the eighth minute, though, just after I had made a comment to my wife about how close the defensive marking was on both sides, Manchester got a free kick and two players were uncovered off the kick. Unsurprisingly, the nearer (Smalling) buried the ball in the back of the net.

Nani made it two-nil half an hour or so later with a rocket into the upper corner from just outside the box. And Man U's scoring was closed out shortly before the half when a scrum developed in front of the right side of Chelsea's goal. The ball popped out on a deflection to Rooney, who was loitering right at the middle of the goal and buried it.

It looked like things would be a lot closer in the second half, when Anelka (who had just come on as a sub at the half) hit Torres behind the defense for a very nice goal thirty seconds in. But that would close out the scoring, amazingly.

I say amazlingly, because there were a number of phenomenal opportunities remaining, but they would all be flubbed one way or another. Rooney slipped and fell on a penalty shot, kicking the ball into his plant foot and deflecting it way high and off to the side. Torres managed to sneak behind the defense one more time, make a great fake on the goaltender, and then shoot the ball a few feet to the side of the completely open net. Rooney got behind the defense quite a long ways from the goal, and passed when the keeper came out to challenge him. The pass went to Berbatov, who weakly put it towards the (mostly open) net, but Ashley Cole caught up to the shot and pushed it outside. Yes, with a bit of luck, Rooney could have had a hat trick of hat tricks. That would have been something.

I will say this from watching the game: both of those clubs are phenomenal on the counter-attack. And it seemed like ManU was relying more on the long ball than when I've seen from them in the past (and Chicharito was not an effective target for those balls, today).

With this, Manchester City drawing (to Newcastle, maybe? I wasn't paying too much attention when the highlights were playing) and the Gunners losing, Man U is alone atop the table with an awe-inspiring goal differential. They really do seem to be in a league of their own, at the moment.

Finally a Democratic President?

Well, it remains to be seen, but this is promising.

The only point of skepticism I see is this paragraph:
Obama will pledge to veto any cut in entitlements that does not also include increases in tax revenues.

I would really like to see a much stronger statement than that, because it makes it sound too easy to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Incidentally, I was talking to a friend of mine about kids the other day, and he talked about having an idea of grandparents raising kids instead of the parents. The main goal of that was so that people would have seen more about how to be a parent by watching their own parents raise their grandkids before they had to raise their own grandkids. It's an interesting idea, but the reason I bring it up was that he lamented how that would be almost impossible to work because of the disintegration of the nuclear family.

I mentioned that if current Republican plans are allowed to come to fruition, most people would be unable to afford to retire (around half of all retirees live on Social Security alone), and would have to be supported by their kids. That would force the parents to move to be close to their kids once they were unable to (or close to unable to) take care of themselves. The other factor in that is the ongoing destruction of the middle class by shifting all money upwards.

That will also help to ensure that people will need to take care of their parents when they get old.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out whether that's a good thing or not.

Kudos to WaPo

I was kind of mocking last week about WaPo's finally noticing, and prominently mentioning, just how counterproductive current tax rates are. And I still have mixed feelings about that, but I'm glad to see that they're continuing to mention the problem.

This time they're looking more at write-offs and corporate taxes. The teaser in the paper promised to look at the whole problem, but I know it didn't do that, because that would require the entire paper to go into even a cursory look.

And it opens by talking about how
the debate has revolved around “loopholes” for corporate jets and ending “carve-outs” for well-heeled special interests. But if the goal is debt reduction, that’s not where the money is.

The problem with that is that the goal isn't debt reduction. Republicans don't care about it at all; they just use it as a cudgel to attack democrats in power. If they really meant it, they'd do it all the time, not just when there's a democratic President. And the Democrats in Congress, and the President, don't really care about it either, they're just trying to look "bipartisan" (as if that's something that's always useful).

Not to say that I think bipartisanship is terrible, I think it's great when both sides are negotiating in good faith. But when one side is insane, and willing to take hostages, it's just not productive. In fact, it's actually counter-productive.

But to get back to the main point, it isn't an accident that the crap that they're making a big deal about is small-ticket items (not that they aren't hugely egregious, but the dollars compared to the size of the budget is basically pocket change).

I guess the article does get to one important point, though.
All told, federal taxpayers last year received $1.08 trillion in credits, deductions and other perks while paying $1.09 trillion in income taxes, according to government estimates.

Which means that the entire government operating budget is being borrowed. Think about that for a moment, and what it means for what is possible in supply-side economics. You would have to cut more than 99.9% of the total budget in order to stop borrowing. The IRS' operating budget, alone, is more than the $10B left in that difference above. To say nothing of the debt service costs. I'm quite sure those are more than $10B also. You think you could survive without any federal services at all? Well, Social Security has its own funding, so that would still be around. And maybe Medicare/Medicaid would as well (they have their own funding, but I don't know if its enough to pay their bills). But nothing else. Not even salaries for the President and Congress. Ok, maybe that part would be good.

Does the Republican position that tax increases are always evil still make sense?



When the iPad was about to be released I wrote some of my expectations. I can't find them now, but largely they centered on the iPad being a media consumption device, leaving the computer for media creation.

Obviously, I was largely wrong about that. The iPad, with a keyboard, would, I think, be a perfectly acceptable main computer. I wouldn't do it, but I think it would be livable.

But what I wanted to talk a bit more about is Plex. Plex, once you install the iOS app, is a fantastic media center application. You run the main server on your computer, and it can serve out your content (music, movies, photos) to your iPad. Sweet.

It even takes care of transcoding, where needed.

Even better, it builds a nice, browsing interface, which is especially nice for your movies and TV shows. It doesn't recognize everything, but does get an amazing amount of stuff right.

I've been playing with it for a couple of weeks, now, and the only problems I've run into are some foreign stuff where it can't find the subtitles. That's definitely annoying, but it's a small subset of my foreign stuff (and I've got a LOT of that).

The other cool thing you can do with it and an iPad (and I haven't done this because I don't have a computer in my theater yet), is that you can use the iPad as a remote control for content playing on the computer.

As I said, it rocks. And if you want to watch your content anywhere, it's a cool way to go about it.


A thought on the debate yesterday

I didn't watch the Republican candidate debate last night; it would have been bad for my blood pressure. But I'm a bit surprised that everyone seems focused on Perry's comments on Social Security being a Ponzi scheme, and nobody bothered to bring up his suggesting that Texas might want to secede from the US at some point.

Yes, the Social Security thing is a big deal (and he certainly does deserve criticism for it, given how fact-free it is, and how stupid of an idea devolving it into the states is), but is it really bigger than the US fragmenting?

Blast from the past

I was reading techdirt, today, as I frequently do, and ran across this article on execution. While the whole article is interesting, I was especially caught by the comic used as an example. Aside from being very funny, it's a web-comic I used to read a number of years ago. And for some reason, I apparently stopped reading it, and had long since forgotten it. So now I have several years (I think it might be as many as five) to catch up on. Nifty.


Just figured that out for yourself, huh?

The Washington Post opened itself up for some more mockery, today, boldly declaring (in a small headline on the front page) "Tax Policy Feeds Gap Between rich, poor".

To be honest, I really shouldn't mock. This is a very important topic, and I do hope the front page placement gets it a bit more notice than has yet been the case.

But it's really hard not to mock when it takes the paper at least eight years to notice this. I can't see any way in which this is news. Really, when the debate over continuing the Bush tax cuts was happening would have been a more appropriate time to make this case.

Still, maybe this will get some notice, particularly among the political class. And maybe, next, they[Post and politicians, both]'ll notice that the inheritance tax is even more slanted than the capital gains cuts. And even more pernicious, as it creates a permanent aristocracy that doesn't care how those tax policies hurt people less fortunate than themselves.


Football all the time

It didn't feel like it as the weekend was passing, but I realized that I ended up watching quite a bit of football this weekend. I caught Manchester City 3-0 over Wigan and Arsenal 1-0 over Swansea City in the Premiership. I also caught a large piece of the Palermo 4-3 over Inter barnburner in Serie A. In addition, I caught small chunks of several NCAA football matches and of a couple of NFL games as well. I guess it just didn't feel like a lot until after the fact because the only one I was close to seeing all of was City and Wigan.

That game might have been even more strongly dominated than the score would indicate. Wigan had a few good chances, but not very many. City had several close misses, including a post and a crossbar, as well as the missed PK and another deflected shot that only missed by a foot or two. I was kind of hoping Wigan would find a way to win, since I usually cheer for the underdog, but this dog allowed way too many chances behind their defenders. Aguero will get most of the ink for his hat trick, but only one of the three was really a good finish. The other two were him against the goalie, and his midfielders deserve as much credit for those (and for the chances others got) as he does. Still, it was an impressive display across the board. I hadn't realized how good City is; they're for real.

Gunners over Swansea was much less interesting. The Gunners did dominate, but not with lots of pretty chances. They just didn't allow Swansea to do much of anything. van Persie looked extremely good. I can't really remember anyone else jumping out at me.

Palermo and Inter was quite a game. Inter dominated the play the whole time I was watching (I think I turned it on very shortly after Palermo scored to tie it at two), but was unable to break through. Palermo was basically just trying counter-attacks, and was unable to sustain any kind of possession. But, largely thanks to some nice set pieces, it was enough for them. I was really impressed by Miccoli. He had the pretty, set-piece third goal, but also had a couple of really close calls on earlier set pieces. I can't remember noticing him in the flow of play, but those were some pretty free kicks. "Bend it Like Miccoli" might not have the same ring to it, but might be even more accurate, as he showed several different bends to his.

One thing I wondered about; it's been a long time since I've watched Serie A. They seemed to rely far more on long passes than one generally sees in international play or in the premiership. I wonder if that was just those teams, or if that's typically the case.

Oh, and with those jersey colors, a City/Palermo game would be pretty damned funny to watch. And might even have interesting play, as well.

As for the American football, it wasn't very interesting, as all of the games I watched pieces of were pretty well decided when I turned them on. It certainly was surprising to see Indianapolis and Pittsburgh get blown out, though. Time will tell if we're seeing a bit of a changing of the guard (and I certainly wouldn't mind if that were the case).


Great moments in sportswriting, redux

Great headline, WaPo: "Yanks are out at Open". Did you happen to look at the women's side of the draw, where Serena is still alive? I'm pretty sure she's still a Yank.


What's wrong, here?

I mentioned previously that HD-DVDs can still be found, and are generally quite cheap when you can find a title you want. But sometimes you see weird things like this: right now, the HD-DVD ($20 as I write this) for The Last Starfighter ($11 as I write this, including DVD & digital copy; there's an older version as well) is more expensive than the blu-ray. I'd previously noticed the one being so expensive and being a bit baffled, but assumed it was because there was no blu-ray. Now, I'm just confused.


What shape is the earth in?

Just looked at this daring fireball post. It's actually worse than he says. Not only is it very close to 100% of climate scientists (I suspect there are at least a few who do not, who are considered crackpots by their peers) who believe global warming is happening, but it is also scientists in other disciplines (like those who study the other planets and moons of those planets, those studying glaciers, those studying the composition of the atmosphere, etc). I wouldn't say it's impossible that they're all wrong, but I would say that the odds are akin to any one person's chance of winning the jackpot of the lottery.

Oh, and that media obsession with appearing balanced by giving up all usefulness is hugely destructive of our nation.

Seriously, think about this. When you start a business, you need to build that business on providing value to the consumer. If you don't provide value to the consumer, you're going out of business very quickly unless you have a monopoly on something with inelastic demand.

Anyway, my point in mentioning that is this. What does the news do to provide value to the consumer? If they just tell you what the politicians are saying, then what value are they adding? If they verify facts, and call a lie a lie, then they have done something useful for the consumer. If not, they're simply somebody's propaganda tool.


I just wanted to say that my thoughts are with the families of those who died in the plane crash in Russia yesterday. It's a sad day for all, not just for family and fans of Lokomotiv.

Thank goodness that Varly didn't go there (it was one of the two teams with which he was rumored to be talking).

Best wishes to all those directly affected.

Update: Ugh. Just saw this post about it. Heartbreaking, truly. My kids are getting extra hugs when I see them.

Update 2: Just reminded that I'm an idiot, and that the reason Varly was rumored to be going to Lokomotiv (or thinking about it, at least) was that he WAS there 2006-8.


A FAQ, a FAQ, my kingdom for a FAQ

I also watched the british comedy FAQ About Time Travel this weekend (note that that's a PAL disk, so most standard def US TVs will not play it). I got it mostly because of Anna Faris, since I'd seen her in a couple of other things lately, which was not a good reason to get it (not that she was bad, it's just that her part was much smaller than I expected).

In any event, it's mostly a spoof of time-travel movies which is primarily interesting because of the way it changes your perceptions of certain scenes repeatedly.

I've heard it described that ~90% of a story (book or movie) should be finding ways to drive the main characters up a tree while lighting a fire underneath. The big weakness of this film is that it gets them out of the tree by having the tree suddenly stop existing. Paradox should not be a way out of difficulty.

This was only the second thing I'd seen Chris O'Dowd in (The IT Crowd being the other), and I should definitely look for more of him. He was very funny, as in The IT Crowd.

Other than that, it was pretty funny, with its combination of geekiness and skepticism, and the great job with the interaction of the three principles. But the parts that were supposed to be scary just weren't.

Overall, I guess it was interesting and a bit funny, but nothing all that great.

Ahthur, King of the Britons

For some reason, the remake of Arthur had me thinking about that line out of Monty Python's Holy Grail.

Perhaps it was the casting of Russell Brand (which, btw, I thought was a brilliant choice until I found out that he was also the Executive Producer. Then, it was a given, though still a good choice), or just having so many British overtones.

In any event, it was as funny as expected. They did a much better job of showing Arthur throwing around his money, much more so than in the original. It also had a great deal more sexual overtones, though nothing really overt, happily. But what surprised us was that it managed to do a credible job of being fairly serious at the end, as well. And that was what made the movie really work.

One good thing in the movie's favor, too, is that unlike many other movies this summer, Arthur didn't come to responsibility overnight. It was a long and difficult process for him. And that's the way it should be. I liked the AA bit where he gets a commemorative coin for going six months without booze, and he says something like, "This is the first coin I've ever treasured". But even the AA was handled well, as he basically blew it off the first time he went.

Anyway, I liked almost all of it. My one reservation was Viviene's reaction to Sarah at the wedding. She acted surprised with what she saw, and I can't think why she would have been. She seemed to know Sarah well enough that nothing there should have been unexpected.

But that was a minor note. For the most part, the movie was hilariously brilliant, and brilliantly absurd. Oh, and the extras are also not to be missed. None of them screamed out to me, "I should have been included", but they were very funny. Most of them were either goofs or improvised lines, but they worked, either way.

And I should also point out that the rest of the casting was great. Helen Mirren was, as usual, superb, and did a great job of playing the straight guy throughout. Nick Nolte was also great; I was very amused by his presence as I remember hearing that he had significant substance abuse problems in his past also. (Plus, going into the movie, I had no idea he was in it at all.) And Jennifer Garner was definitely playing against type, but did so very well. And Greta Gerwig rounded out the excellent performances as the other woman.

I will definitely be watching this one again.