BRISTOL-SIZED SUCCESS

Posted in Rants on November 30th, 2010 by Ed

People who have been around these parts for a long time know that I am a vocal advocate of (occasionally) doing things on principle even if they are less than logical. For example, I've talked about online advertising a number of times. With the number of people who read this thing weekly, I could throw up some BlogAds and google thingies and make an estimated $100-200 per month. Since I could use the money, refusing to do so is stupid. But I know it's stupid. I choose to do it anyway because I hate the fact that we are being advertised to on every screen and flat surface on Earth, 24-7. But there is no way I'm going to argue that A) my one-man boycott accomplishes anything or B) this makes economic sense.

I can appreciate, in other words, the nobility of fighting for a lost cause now and then. On that level I understand the fight that abstinence-only sex education (AOSE) advocates are fighting. In some ways it is admirable to see people committed purely on principle to an idea that makes as much sense as a rubber crutch. I mean, the Catholic church can attest to the fact that despite 1,900 years of consistent effort it is pretty much impossible to convince people to stop banging. We know it isn't going to start working now. We know that kids, especially in rural areas where there isn't much else to do except meth, are going to have sex. They just are. This does not perturb the AOSE supporter. It is a matter of principle, and I understand that. But I can't respect it.

It was almost too easy to make jokes during the 2008 election about Sarah Palin's love of abstinence-only education and her teenage daughter's terrific success at getting knocked up before graduating high school. Sometimes life works out a little too perfectly. What isn't quite as funny as this news that Alaska is taking a run at becoming the Clap Capital of America. That's right, gonorrhea rates have jumped 69% (again, isn't life hilarious?) in a single year from 2008 to 2009. Look out, Mississippi! Alaska's coming, pun intended.

Principled stands are only admirable inasmuch as they don't affect anyone else. Refusing to vaccinate your child, for example, is disgusting because Mommy's little theory exposes a powerless child )and all of his/her neighbors and classmates) to substantial risks. AOSE has similar public health side effects if sex education programs have any effect whatsoever on high school students; admittedly, this might be a bad assumption. I empathize with the urge to speak out in support of one's beliefs, but I wonder how long the rest of us are supposed to play along with this anachronistic little experiment in social engineering. At best, Sex Ed classes are meaningless and AOSE isn't making anything worse. At worst, it's contributing to easily preventable public health problems. That sounds like a pretty lousy hill on which to dig in and take a stand.

MISPLACED AGGRESSION

Posted in Rants on November 29th, 2010 by Ed

(Welcome back.)

I try not to think about 2002 and 2003. America was a truly awful thing to see while it was pregaming the Iraq War. Watching the American public, desperate as it was to lash out incoherently in post-9/11 rage, swallow one tablespoon of horseshit after another as the previous administration engaged in the greatest marketing campaign in history was not pleasant. It was a real reminder – not a Teabagger's "Obama = Hitler" reminder – of how thin the line between American-style democracy and fascism really is.

For me, one of the most frustrating things about the argument for war in Iraq was that it was transparently ludicrous (even if believable to the average Hannity fan) when applied to Iraq but entirely accurate regarding another threat in which the Bush folks had no interest: North Korea. I am not exactly a neocon. My AEI membership application would likely be rejected. But if ever there was a logical, persuasive argument to be made for "regime change", North Korea would be it. Still is, in fact.

Consider everything we were expected to believe about Iraq apply it to North Korea. Secret plan to develop nuclear weapons? Iraq never got off the drawing board while North Korea developed an elaborate underground program that has produced functioning warheads. Unpredictable, dangerous dictator? Check. Human rights abuses? It's doubtful that anyone can match North Korea on that account. Proliferation risk? Iraq had nothing to proliferate except imaginary WMDs to sell to imaginary Hussein-friendly jihadists while North Korea has peddled its nuclear technology to Iran, Syria, and anyone else with hard currency. Destabilizing to the region? Iraq was largely irrelevant on the global stage while NK is a geopolitical powder keg. Threat to our interests and allies? Well, Iraq could lob some 70s-vintage Scud missiles with conventional warheads at Israel; NK can deliver a nuclear warhead to Japan or Seoul. Belligerent aggression in international affairs? Check.

Since the Iraq storyline was actually true regarding North Korea, why didn't it interest the Bush administration? We can only speculate. Take your pick: Lack of plausible connections to terrorism. Overriding desire to establish an American puppet state in the Middle East. Lack of, um, "resources of strategic value." Military preferences (North Korea's military, although horribly trained with antiquated equipment, is very large and considered highly fanatical; Iraq's numbnuts military would prove far easier to pound into oblivion). Unacceptable risk to allies, namely South Korea and Japan. Pissing off China. And so on.

Whatever the reasons, North Korea has only gotten crazier and more dangerous in the interim, and the president who prided himself as the great protector of American interests merely punted the issue to his successor. The bizarre North Korean leadership seems intent on A) provoking war or B) provoking concessions without realizing that it is actually provoking war. On the Sunday morning circuit, John McCain noted that China's coddling (or at least blind-eye-turning) toward its backward neighbor is the primary problem in the region. He implies, and it is hard to disagree, that South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. would gladly turn NK into a charred bomb crater if not for fear of Chinese retaliation.

This raises two very interesting questions, in my opinion:

1. Why is China willing to ignore or even actively condone North Korea's dangerous, unpredictable behavior?
2. What does South Korea actually want out of this situation?

As odd as it seems, South Korea and China may be acting based on a shared interest in maintaining the status quo. Why? Let's just say China does not relish the thought of a North Korean collapse followed by hundreds of thousands of refugees swarming across the Yalu. Similarly, South Korea recoils at the prospect of a sudden reunification (or proxy thereof) making its government and society responsible for millions of homeless, impoverished, brainwashed, and unskilled ex-Communists looking for handouts.

Although it is implausible, the preferred outcome appears to be a stable if somewhat hostile North Korea. There is little doubt that American, Japanese, and South Korean military power could eliminate the government and military infrastructure of North Korea if desired. But who desires it? We don't want to spend the money or manpower on another war. South Korea doesn't want to be forced to fill a North Korean power vacuum or face the prospect of China doing so in the wake of a war. China wants as little to do with North Korean affairs as possible and needs a million refugees like it needs an asshole on its elbow.

So. Where does this situation go from here? If I was better at game theory I would try to describe the bizarre equilibrium that the players have reached on the Korean peninsula over the past 30 years and hazard a guess at what happens if North Korea continues to upset it. As it stands, though, I know nothing beyond the obvious facts that nothing good is going to come of this situation and that South Korea's political leadership can only take so much provocation without responding.

BLACK FRIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE: GREAT GIFTS FOR TEABAGGERS

Posted in Rants on November 24th, 2010 by Ed

The holiday shopping season is upon us, which means it is now incumbent upon you, the American consumer, to rescue the economy by spending like a PCP-addled Powerball winner. Don't have the money? Well of course you don't. But you DO still have those credit cards, right?

One of your hardest tasks on "Black Friday", aside from maintaining a high state of situational awareness (keep those heads on swivels to avoid being trampled like a Peruvian soccer fan), will be to find the perfect gift for that special wingnut in your life. You know, the Uncle who forwards dozens of weekly emails about our President's uncanny resemblance to the Biblical antichrist, the circumstances of his birth, or his impending plan to beat 10 Marines to death with a Koran every day for the next 2 years. Or maybe you have a little one in your life who you're trying to nudge down the correct ideological path; the gifts you give today can pay huge dividends down the road. When little Billy is in college 15 years from now, snorting drugs off his john's naked back, you'll be sorry you wasted the 2010 gifting season on Sonic the Hedgehog's return. Instead, why not give him a gift that he'll love now and benefit from later?

I'm big on shopping, of course, so I'm here to help you with some tips for the shopping season that I guarantee you will not find elsewhere. Shh! Keep these to yourself. Other shoppers are your competitors, and you want to keep your edge! First, a few general Black Friday shopping tips.

1. For the best 5:00 A.M. sales, anxious bargain hunters will begin lining up Thursday evening. Get the jump on your fellow shoppers by burglarizing the store a few days in advance. Better yet, conduct careful reconnaissance of the store's delivery schedules and hijack the truck en route. Trucking companies are heavily insured and drivers are instructed to offer no resistance.

2. It's too late to bone up on your Krav Maga skills, but advance planning is the key to prevailing in violent encounters in the toy department. Remember that there are no rules in a street fight; an effective tactic is to politely allow a competing shopper to cut ahead of you in line and follow up with a sharp, debilitating hook to the kidneys when his or her back is turned. Sure, they might get that limited edition Barbie, but they'll have to celebrate that victory while pissing Hawaiian Punch for a week.

3. Ignore the fallacious argument that things are cheaper and easier to find on the internet. Let the suckers fall for that. You should be in line at Best Buy no later than 2:00 AM on Friday morning if you want to get this year's hard-to-find electronic items like the Droid or Nintendo Wii. Likewise, the only way to get this year's hot toys is to exchange elbows Charles Oakley-style with suburban cow people in a dimly lit Wal-Mart parking lot in the middle of the night.

That's all well and good, but it leaves open the most important question: what to get? Here are a few trending items to keep an eye on. If you hope to land these popular gifts you need to formulate a shopping strategy now!

  • Tea Party Elmo – Toddlers go wild for Elmo, but catching Elmo's World inevitably exposes your youngster to the vulgar socialist indoctrination that is Sesame Street and Children's Television Workshop. When Big Bird starts in on his "sharing" nonsense and brings out the Spanish-speaking friends, your kids might as well be at a Khmer Rouge rally. Tea Party Elmo comes with a tri-cornered hat, a doll-sized copy of Robert Bork's Slouching Toward Gomorrah, and a make-your-own protest sign kit. Pull Tea Party Elmo's cord to hear him repeat one of four phrases over and over! Remind Big Bird and Snuffy that It's We the People, not We the Judges!

  • Suburban Mario World for Nintendo Wii and DS – Kids guide their favorite Nintendo franchise characters on a fun and challenging quest to create a tax-exempt 501(c) organization to donate money to Bowser's campaign. Afterward, the gang must continue to pressure Bowser until he agrees to rezone Mushroom World and declare Marshmallow Island an offshore tax haven, allowing Mario to avoid the Alternative Minimum Tax. (Note: Due to the potentially controversial "ethnic" nature of the characters, Suburban Mario World alters the appearance of Mario & Luigi to feature 60% less wopness.)

  • Sarah Palin's new book America by Heart – Ever struggle to find the perfect book to buy someone who doesn't read? Well, here it is! Uncle Larry will be so happy to see this one that you won't care what he does with it after he tears away the wrapping paper. Like Going Rogue, the book features an extra large portrait of the Mama Grizzly herself on the cover for maximum shelf display. Now with fewer big words!

  • Orrin Hatch Sings: 14 Songs About Whatever Mormons Think About Christmas – Featuring guest appearances by Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Randy Weaver, Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Juicy J of Three-Six Mafia!

  • Have I No Shame? by Ben Stein – This hilarious straight-to-DVD release probes the depths of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed star Ben Stein's avarice. Featuring an extended and unrated version of the "Will you defile this dog that died 40 minutes ago for $100" scene! Not recommended for kids!

  • Know Your AEI Talking Points – The hot family board game of the year tests your recall of phrases like "job creators" and "death tax" while forcing players to think on their feet. You'd better do some studying and hope you don't draw the Liberal Media Gotcha Questions card! Comes with a shirtless photo of Paul Wolfowitz waxing his 1977 Ford Ranchero.

    Good luck this Friday, and remember: if you can't get 'em in stores there's always eBay. Or whatever wingnuts have created as "the conservative response to eBay" since I can only assume they have some sort of moral or ideological objection to it. Then again, they swallowed a Meg Whitman candidacy…

  • A DIFFERENT VERSION OF THE TRUTH

    Posted in Rants on November 23rd, 2010 by Ed

    Mike hits one so far out of the park that it can only be compared to an old Comiskey Park roofshot from the likes of Greg Luzinski. I can add nothing to it.

    Michael Mandel handed glibertarians some first-class wanking material when he wrote a paper arguing that the real problem with the post-millennium economy has been…drum roll… too much regulation. Of course, common sense tells us that the banking/lending industries were, if anything, almost totally unregulated. But it's hard to dispute the hard facts, which Mr. Mandel happily provides:


    Wow! Hard to argue with that. Unless, of course, one bothers to peer a little more deeply into those Dudley & Warren BEA numbers Mandel cites:

    SECURITY THEATER

    Posted in Rants on November 22nd, 2010 by Ed

    After all these years of writing, I find few things less useful than pointing out that right-wingers are hypocrites. Sometimes it's fun or instructive depending on the context, but overall it adds little to the public discourse. Pointing out Teabaggers on Medicare, red states dependent on Federal tax dollars, and other similar examples is about as necessary as pointing out that the sun comes up daily. All of conservatism is built on a fundamental hypocrisy: that government is Bad, except for all of the things I want it to do for me. Which I don't want to pay for, incidentally.

    Any argument that begins with a caveat like the preceding is bound to have a ", but…" So, that said, this whole Let's Revolt Against the TSA / Don't Touch My Junk thing is so far beyond ridiculous that I'll suffer my own statement of the obvious for a day.

    Charles Krauthammer is one of many columnists banging this drum in the last few days, trying mightily to turn irritation at airport security procedures into some combination of the Montgomery bus boycott and the Salt March – not to mention a total validation of Teabagger Doctrine:

    Don't touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter. Don't touch my junk, Obamacare – get out of my doctor's examining room, I'm wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back. Don't touch my junk, Google – Street View is cool, but get off my street. Don't touch my junk, you airport security goon – my package belongs to no one but me, and do you really think I'm a Nigerian nut job preparing for my 72-virgin orgy by blowing my johnson to kingdom come?

    WOLVERINES!

    Other rants bear overblown titles like "TSA has met the enemy – and they are us" and other such faux-populist nonsense. This is so far beyond stupid that I am not sure where to begin. So let's begin at the beginning.

    Look. The TSA was created by these same people who now find themselves in vocal opposition to it. It was born of the post-9/11 fear and paranoia of America's business travelers, crotchety grandparents, and mothers burdened with strollers. Soccer Moms. Late Life Libertarians (?). Knee-jerk suburban reactionaries. Xenophobic hicks. Whining Baby Boomers. They demanded that Big Government protect them from their fears and brown people (to the extent that the two diverge in their minds). Washington responded with the greatest display of bureaucratic firepower and security theater the world has ever seen. The TSA is everything that the 2002 Yellowcake-from-Niger obsessed American public demanded: a big, expensive show, the primary and perhaps only purpose of which was to make people feel better.

    Let's be frank. Any remotely clever person who cared to do so could think of about a dozen ways to sneak dangerous or banned items onto an airplane. We know goddamn well that a walk through a metal detector and a quick pass of our baggage through a screening device aren't really going to "protect" us. Sure, it will catch some portion of the potential terrorists, namely the really dumb ones.

    But come on. If security is really the goal here, it is not only logical but necessary that passengers be screened – either visually or by hand – for items taped to their bodies. Now that we're at that point, people get pissed. This is what you wanted. You wanted security. You demanded it. You wanted someone with a uniform and a badge to reassure your imagination that Osama bin Laden was not going to blow up your 12:35 nonstop from Chattanooga to BWI.

    Then again, maybe all we really wanted was the Theater. Or maybe the TSA has always been a huge pain in the ass of the American traveler, but for some strange reason no one felt much like lashing out at Washington over it until their was a CommieFascioMarxist black guy in the White House. Maybe talking about our rights – which we essentially punted on between 2001 and 2008 – is just the lamest, most transparent kind of excuse for people like Krauthammer to grind a political ax. People are irritated because of a new security procedure at the airport? My word, how unprecedented. It must be because everyone hates the government.

    I don't dispute that most of what the TSA does is silly and marginally effective at best, nor do I question the sincerity of travelers who say they're annoyed. I guess I just question their timing.

    BACK TO THE ROOTS OF FJM

    Posted in No Politics Friday, Skip this if you hate sports on November 19th, 2010 by Ed

    FJM is derived from the now-dormant website FireJoeMorgan.com, the focus of which was baseball, not politics. If you think regular journalism is bad, you ought to see the cabbages that make a living writing about sports. Since the original authors of Fire Joe Morgan covered baseball so thoroughly, I borrowed their concept and applied it to opinion writing outside of the world of sports. I've never actually applied the technique to baseball as the original website did so well. Today that changes. It changes because I have seen something so stupid that I can't help myself. It changes because someone gave this asshead a column in which to regularly share the fruits of his intellect with the world:

    His name is Tom Jones. I will strain mightily to avoid making any "What's New, Pussycat?" type jokes, but no promises. Folks, what you are about to see Mr. Jones drool onto his keyboard is so stupid that you will not even need a passing interest in baseball to appreciate it. In short, he is incredulous that Felix Hernandez of the Mariners was awarded the Cy Young Award on Thursday, the award given annually to the league's best pitcher as voted by sportswriters. Real ones, not Tom. Don't get me wrong, most of them are morons too. But after you read the following, Woody Paige will seem like Wordsworth in comparison. Are you read to learn why "Cy Young voters got it wrong"? Let me put it this way: if this guy is qualified to write about baseball, there's a rugby commentator job out there waiting for me.

    FJM, this is for you.

    Sorry, but I don't see how a pitcher who goes 13-12 can win the Cy Young Award as Seattle's Felix Hernandez did Thursday.

    Here is a quick primer on how to tell if someone's opinions about baseball (and presumably anything else they'd want to talk about) are worth listening to: if they think Wins and Losses are the way to identify good pitchers, they are operating on about a 3rd grade level. If you show them two cars, they will insist that whichever one is larger or shinier is better.

    Wins, to be blunt, are for stupids. To be credited with a win, a pitcher must throw at least five innings and leave the game with a lead. Great pitchers on horrible teams don't win many games. Bad pitchers on great teams often win a lot. Rick Fucking Helling won 20 games. So did Matt Morris. And Russ Ortiz. And Esteban Loaiza. Jose Lima. Bill Gullickson. Jamie Moyer (twice!). Winning 20 games means a guy can stay healthy enough to make every start, pitch league-average, and play on a team that scores a lot of runs. Some pitchers who win 20 are great, but they are not great because they win 20.

    Tom Jones, you are a stupid person.

    It means, essentially, that win-loss record is no factor.

    That is exactly what it means, because Wins are for stupid people who don't understand how baseball works.

    A 13-12 record is so mediocre that it could not have been considered at all by those who chose Fernandez. So does that mean he still would have won the award if his record was 12-13 and all of his other numbers were the same? The answer would have to be yes. What if he went 9-15?

    Well the 13-12 record clearly wasn't "considered" by the voters, at least not in any manner that Tom Jones would like, but if King Felix managed to go 9-15 with the kind of stats he put up this year…yes, he'd probably get the award anyway.

    Again, it would have to be yes because 13-12 was apparently eliminated from consideration.

    What?

    It's true that Hernanez is a heck of a pitcher. It's also true he pitched on a lousy team that lost 101 games. He shouldn't be penalized for that.

    Well, it's "Hernandez". And that's mighty big of you to point out that this guy's team went 61-101. And Hernandez won 13 of those 61 games, which someone who thinks Wins matter should probably note.

    But he can't be rewarded for it either.

    It's not a "reward" to note that FIVE of his 12 losses were in starts in which he gave up two or fewer earned runs. Like when he pitched 8 innings on Sept. 23, surrendered one run, and lost 1-0 because Seattle couldn't score one goddamn run on Toronto.

    No one can think or assume he would have posted a better record on a good team. You can't speculate or estimate that he would have gone, say, 20-10 if he had played for the Yankees or Rays or Rangers.

    Can we assume that he might have gone 20-10 if he played on any team other than the one that scored ONE HUNDRED FEWER GODDAMN RUNS THAN ANY OTHER TEAM IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE. 513 runs in 162 games, and the next worst offense scored 613. The Yankees (more on them in a minute) scored 859. The Mariners were dead last in the AL in hits, runs, home runs, on-base, and every other statistic you could possibly use to prove offensive ineptitude.

    And I still contend that it's much easier to pitch when your team is 25 games out first place in September with no hope of a playoff spot than it is when you're pitching must-win games in the heat of the pennant race. You could argue that after the first few weeks of the season, Hernandez didn't pitch in a game that truly meant anything. Meantime, Tampa Bay's David Price and the Yankees' CC Sabathia pitched in critically meaningful games all season long.

    Ah, yes, King Felix wasn't Gritty and Grindy and Clutchy enough because his team sucked. He must have been too busy trying to scratch out a few wins with THE WORST RUN SUPPORT OF ANY PITCHER IN BASEBALL. In Felix's 34 starts, the Mariners deigned to score a mighty 3.75 runs per game, absolute dead last in all of the majors. That he managed to win 13 is like the miracle of loaves and fishes.

    It's one thing if there were no viable candidates besides Hernandez (13-12, 2.27 ERA), but certainly Price (19-6, 2.72) and Sabathia (21-7, 3.18) had worthy Cy Young numbers.

    Ah, yes. Sabathia (Look at his magical 20+ wins), for whom the Yankees scored a ridiculous 7.31 runs per start. Almost exactly TWICE Hernandez's run support. Boy, I bet it's easier to win games when your teammates are swinging Wonderbat to the tune of almost 7.5 runs every time you take the mound. Price: 7.03 runs per start. Both pitchers run support was in the top 20 of all starters in baseball. Which is considerably higher than Hernandez, who was DEAD LAST.

    What this proves is that the stat geeks — those who consider Moneyball to be the bible of baseball and sabermetics to be their gospel — have taken over the baseball world.

    No, this proves that Tom Jones is a mouthbreathing jackass who has absolutely no concept of how dumb Wins are as a measure of a pitcher's ability. It proves that some sportswriters, neanderthals as they are, are slowly starting to realize that Wins are a measure of how many runs one's team scores.

    It's all about WHIP and OPS and a bunch of other abbreviations that no one knows how to figure out.

    If you can't "figure those out", you probably need help dressing yourself. Anyone beyond the most casual fan can explain basic statistics like this. WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) is a measure of baserunners allowed. OPS is On-Base plus Slugging. It means you add the two fucking numbers together. Tom, did you not feel somewhat like an asshole typing out this sentence? "Guhhhh. Snort. What the hell does "RBI" stand for? You eggheads and your statistical mumbo-jumbo."

    It's not about baseball, where games and awards are won on the field with bats and gloves. It's about fantasy baseball, where games and awards are won on paper with a calculator and slide rule.

    No, it's about the fact that Hernandez was a better pitcher and the games are won on the field with bats and gloves, and it is not Felix Hernandez's fault that the Mariners can't field or score any goddamn runs. Is it Hernandez's fault that Chone Figgins toed the Mendoza Line for 4 months? That Russell Branyan couldn't hit an off-speed pitch if he was given 15 strikes to work with per at-bat? That the Mariners routinely started lineups in which 7 of 9 players hit below .240? That Jose Lopez last took a walk in 1962?

    Sabathia and Price, on the other hand, had to shield their eyes from the horror of their teammates beating the hell out of the opposing pitcher to the tune of SEVEN RUNS per start.

    Things such as ERA and opponent's batting average and strikeouts and walks per nine innings, of course, should be considered when picking a Cy Young, but shouldn't a pitcher’s record count, too?

    Yes, it should count. So let's total up the stats in which each pitcher prevailed:

    Hernandez: strikeouts, walks, WHIP, innings pitched, opponent batting average, opponent OBP, opponent slugging pct., K/9 IP, BB/9 IP, K/BB, hits/9 IP, ERA, IP per start, average Game Score, P/PA, P/IP, Tough Losses (8), Cheap Wins (0), Quality Starts, Complete Games, Shutouts

    Sabathia: Wins, body fat

    Well, I'm sold.

    In fact, shouldn't victories count as much or more than most numbers?

    Sure, let's count it equally. To any of the 20 other stats in which Hernandez was far and away the better pitcher.

    The issue I have is victories apparently were not counted at all.

    No, you blathering jackass. The issue you have is a lack of basic reading comprehension skills and knowledge of baseball. Are wins supposed to be more important than every other stat, all of which prove that Felix was by far the best pitcher in the AL this year?

    How else can you explain a starting pitcher with the fewest victories in a full season and a pitcher who was one game over .500 winning the Cy Young Award?

    JESUS TAP-DANCING CHRIST, TOM. HOW SONOFABITCHING HARD IS THIS TO UNDERSTAND? IT IS EXPLAINED BY THE FACT THAT WINS ARE ONE STAT – AND A CRAPPY STAT, BUT WE'LL IGNORE THAT FOR A SECOND – COMPARED TO THE MOUNTAIN OF STATISTICAL EVIDENCE SHOWING HERNANDEZ TO BE THE SUPERIOR PITCHER. I FEEL LIKE I AM HAVING THIS CONVERSATION WITH A GARAGE DOOR.

    It's a new day in baseball. A sad day.

    I am sad about how stupid you are, and I can see why the original FJM guys got sick of dealing with this nonsense after three years.

    Tom, please, I mean this sincerely: you need to find a new line of work. This is the dumbest argument I have ever seen, and I grade the work of 18 year old Georgia public high school graduates for a living.

    Tags:

    A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE

    Posted in Rants on November 18th, 2010 by Ed

    I am not the least bit ashamed to admit, as longtime readers know, that I respect the hell out of a good crook. Thieves, burglars, con artists, grifters…I believe that they deserve the punishments they get if caught and convicted, but like many people (judging by the ratings and box office receipts) I admire a good heist. I'm not talking about people mugging old ladies and doing drive-bys. I'm talking about Great Train Robbery type stuff. The dude who stole the goddamn Mona Lisa. The Hitler Diaries. Those Brazilians who robbed a bank by digging a 260-foot tunnel into its underground vault while posing as a construction crew at the neighboring building. And despite how disgusting and symptomatic of the decay of our governing institutions it may be, I even have to admire the sheer balls required to pull off fraud on the scale of an Enron.

    That said, I am unable to find any art in the lending/housing crisis of the past two-plus years. Rather than being the work of flashy con men with schemes that require as much luck as talent, the great mortgage ripoff is largely the work of sociopathic, overgrown fratboys with no morals (Even the crooks we tend to love on film live by some sort of code, even if only the norms of the underworld) and bloodless Russian and Chinese mathematicians programming the catastrophe as dispassionately as would do their taxes. It's just sad. From every possible angle. In a dream world in which the perpetrators would be arrested and held accountable for their actions we couldn't even fake an "I have to hand it to you, kid, that was one hell of a plan." It's as though we were robbed by a computer.

    That's how I have felt since this all began. It was not until today that I paused to reconsider my position.

    Matt Taibbi's latest, which is lengthy but mandatory reading, focuses on how eager our nation's courts are to help insolvent or federally bailed-out banks fuck homeowners with laughably fake documents standing in for long-ago lost paper trails. In it he briefly mentions a new example of kind of thievery indicative of a born thief – simple, brilliant, and requiring little more than enormous balls to pull it off.

    First, a short aside. In my three years in the collection industry, I became well-acquainted with a little known profession called process serving. When someone is sued (for example) they must be served with legal documents that summon them to court and so on. I'll spare you the details, but generally speaking an individual must be served in person by a process server acting within the laws of his state and county. This means that people who can't be found – either by design or by the transient, off-the-grid nature of their lifestyle – cannot have a judgment made against them in court in most cases. Cops serve process (for a set fee) but, shockingly, do a half-assed job of it. Basically they knock on the door, and if no one answers they say the person can't be found.

    This is where the private process servers come in. For a fee they can find just about anyone. They are similar to bounty hunters in their persistence and often checkered backgrounds (lots of ex-cops, disbarred attorneys, and so on). The important fact is that they are expensive and the individual who is being served is responsible for the fees. So, in my previous job I always told individuals with whom I spoke, "Look, you can accept this summons voluntarily, or we can have Jeff (our server) serve you. He will find you, and you'll owe us the $300-500 he costs." It wasn't a bluff. Jeff was ex-Special Forces, had a little drug problem, and could find Judge Crater if you paid him enough. Even though engaged in a soulless profession, I tried to be honest with people: trying to avoid service would just end up costing them more. Defendants must pay service fees even if they win the lawsuit; that will become important in a second.

    Taibbi uncovered an ongoing scam in Florida – probably elsewhere, too – in which banks were making up attempts at process service to stick mortgage holders with a big bill they had to pay even if the bank's suit was unsuccessful. They were telling judges (and the courts were more than happy to buy it) "We tried to serve Joe Blow on ten occasions, and we just couldn't find him. Never home. He was really trying hard to hide from us, the bastard. Here's the bill for $1500." And none of it ever happened.

    With all the robo-signing and whatnot, take note of what was happening here: our major lending institutions were using fake process servers to serve fake mortgage documents. That's…incredible. It is so absurd it circles back around to brilliance.

    I have a deviant mind, experience with a seedy industry, and a pretty thorough understanding of how hard the law allows financial institutions to ream people who owe them money. Despite all of that, I never would have thought of this in a million years. The people at JP Morgan, Bank of America, et al who concocted this have truly impressive minds for larceny. They are born thieves. My first thought is that it's too bad they chose to waste such criminal brilliance on an industry as dull as finance. Or maybe they recognized their unique gifts at a young age and naturally gravitated toward the industry where they would be in high demand.

    AT LONG LAST, HAVE YOU NO SENSE OF DECENCY?

    Posted in Rants on November 17th, 2010 by Ed

    In the latter half of the 19th Century it was common for presidential candidates to engage in what we call "Front Porch Campaigning." In short, they didn't campaign at all. They stayed home, perhaps emerging onto their porch (hence the name) to speak with the media for a few minutes once or twice per week. Convention delegates and party bigshots would bring important people (read: the wealthy) to the candidate's home instead of the candidate hitting the road and holding fund raisers.

    There were several reasons for this, some of them practical. During the party-dominated era of nominating conventions before the advent of primaries, the candidate was nearly an afterthought. The party didn't much care who it nominated so long as he was, as a delegate said of Rutherford Hayes, "present (at the convention) and not considered overly obnoxious." Accordingly no one really cared what the candidate had to say. Elections were affairs of dubious honesty during that era, with party loyalties and voting behavior driven by a delicious stew of patronage, graft, fraud, and naked threats of violence. The candidate was a warm body, hence our post-Civil War string of anonymous bearded Ohioans and upstate New Yorkers in the White House.

    The other reason, and the one that the parties were much more vocal about at the time, is that it was considered crass for candidates to do something as low-brow as campaign. It was seen as shameless groveling for votes, entirely unbecoming of such a high office. Over time, of course, this "taboo" fell by the wayside as more candidates began relying on their oratory (William Jennings Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt, for example) and populist appeals to build a base of support.

    Today we'd be shocked if a candidate didn't campaign actively, but we still have certain expectations about how they should campaign. There is a level of decorum or dignity that we expect. It doesn't surprise anyone to see McCain or Obama on a talk show in a suit, maybe cracking a few jokes to emphasize their oneness with the common man, but it would be surprising to see them dressed in overalls (no t-shirt, of course) wrestling in pig shit to try to win a few more rural votes. Some things – participating in a pro wrestling match, taking pies in the face on D-list TV talk shows, or telling fart jokes on the local Morning Zoo radio show, perhaps – are just "beneath" a presidential candidate.

    You know where this is going.

    "Sarah Palin's Alaska", despite the premiere bringing in good ratings for a cable reality show, is indicative of a candidate who is entirely unconcerned about toeing the line between campaigning and a cinema vérité Three Stooges performance. For someone seriously contemplating a 2012 presidential run, the extent to which Palin has turned herself into a reality TV character is nothing short of incredible. Andrew Sullivan recently declared her "The Republican Snooki" and noted that the two are identical inasmuch as "The only thing that can destroy her is ignoring her." But people will never stop paying attention to her because there is no depth to which she will not stoop for more attention.

    Right-wing columnist Jennifer Braceras calls this new paroxysm of exhibitionism on Palin's part "flippin' embarrassing", to quote the Grizzly herself. Now that she is reduced to parading her children around on camera for sympathy and spouting catchphrases like some attention-hungry hack contestant on Project Runway, it is not clear how Palin expects anyone (except for the 15% of the country that already idolizes her and always will) to take her seriously. This new performance is one step up from appearing in the center ring at Barnum & Bailey with a ball on her nose. She doesn't need a campaign manager, she needs an organ grinder.

    We know that Palin is an attention whore. All politicians are. But there are unspoken limits. One must "look presidential", which is defined as Potter Stewart defined obscenity – no one can explain it but we know it when we see it. This ain't it. This is the 15th minute of fame for a flavor-of-the-minute singer. It is the last grasp at a paycheck from a washed-up soap opera star. It is KISS on its 10th reunion tour too many. It is Police Academy 6. It is Jerry Rice trying out for the Broncos when everyone on the planet except him could tell he was finished.

    When Braceras asks in her column, "Isn’t such low-brow exhibitionism beneath the dignity of a former governor and potential presidential candidate?" she misses the point by a wide margin. Palin is a potential presidential candidate only in her own mind at this point. She and Snooki are equally likely to be living in the White House in the near future. After willingly suspending herself over (and her family) over the dunk tank full of sewage at the reality TV carnival, everyone except Palin herself realizes that her next gig is more likely to involve hawking fishing gear on QVC than delivering State of the Union addresses.

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    LOOK AT ALL THAT RED!

    Posted in Election 2010 on November 15th, 2010 by Ed

    Among the dumbest of many dumb things passed off as intelligent commentary on Election Night 2010 was the constant emphasis on color changes on the big national Congressional district maps that all of the major networks kept on prominent display. Fox, CNN, and ABC (and probably others, but I can't watch everything at once) are in agreement, apparently, that viewers are 5 years old and thus best able to absorb the events of the evening through brightly-colored graphics. Look! Look at the blue turn into red. That means things are changing!

    Anderson Cooper in particular was heavy on the "Just look at all of this red, Wolf!" commentary. Where there was once some blue there is now just a "sea of red", a metaphor he managed to use dozens of times without making a joke about the Red Sea. What AC and the gang were so breathlessly reporting underscores near total ignorance of a rapidly increasing trend in both presidential and midterm election years.

    This is a county map of the Illinois Senate race. Say it with me, guys: Just look at all that red!!

    Bearing in mind that the race was actually pretty close (48%-46%, with the final difference around 100,000 votes), note that the Democrat Giannoulias won three counties in Illinois. Three. Out of 102. One of them – St. Clair County, home of East St. Louis, he won by 0.1% (about 200 votes). Another, Alexander County, had all of 2400 votes cast. And then of course he won Cook County…by 450,000 votes. 450,000!

    Basically Giannoulias did what Democratic candidates always do in Illinois, and increasingly what Democratic candidates do in every state – win the major urban areas by so much that losing the entire rest of the state won't matter. Alexi G lost, of course, but the race was damn close. He came within a hair of winning and he lost 99 of 102 counties in the state.

    This pattern reminds me of 2004, when John Kerry won a number of states in a similar fashion. In fact, nationwide Kerry won 583 counties…to Bush's 2,530. That is a margin of nearly five to one, yet the popular vote was within 2%. Among the 5 counties with the largest margin of victory for Kerry were San Francisco County, Washington D.C., and Bronx Borough. Bush's were Glasscock County, TX, Madison County, ID and other similarly fly-blown places.

    In short, gaping at the color balance on the map is ridiculous because Republicans have proven beyond any doubt in the past 30 years that they are absolutely dominant in areas where no one lives. Huge, sparsely populated districts/counties/states are their cup of tea. And they win a ton of them. Democrats, on the other hand, make their victories count by winning – and winning big – where humans actually live. The level of intrastate polarization between rural and urban areas in modern elections is hard to overstate. It really boils down to city folk vs. country folk to a degree that might be unequaled in our history.

    Yes, American elections have always been divided by some more-or-less clearly defined cleavage, be it North vs. South, Coasts vs. The Middle, or industry vs. agriculture. But in recent years, Obama's near-blowout in 2008 excepted, both parties have struggled to win votes beyond their rural and urban comfort zones. Even in the reddest Red State, Democrats do far better in urban areas. Even in the bluest Blue State, the rural areas are highly conservative. Elections end up turning on turnout differentials and the "swing" areas in the suburbs – which lean Republican far more often than not.

    This raises an interesting question for Democratic strategists, and it is the primary ideological debate within the party at present. Does it make more sense to try to alter the message enough to achieve some nonzero level of success in rural areas, or should they just go all in on urban-focused liberal policy to maximize turnout in the cities? In other words, should they even try in rural areas or is it rational to say "Ah, fuck it, let's just try to win Cook County by 550,000 next time" given that a well-oiled turnout machine could feasibly accomplish the latter? Perhaps just as interesting is the question of which elections are "normal" and which are anomalous: the 2000-2004 years in which Democratic success was limited strictly to urban areas or 2006-2008, when they had success elsewhere?

    Unfortunately the results in 2010 suggest the former as the status quo, with the 2006-2008 results attributable mostly to anti-Bush sentiment and, in 2008, the spectacularly bad presidential ticket on the GOP side. This year snapped the Democrats back to their pattern of winning only in the cities and trying to make that hold up against the big ocean of rural red that so enthralls the crack professionals inside the Beltway.

    BARRY RUBIN GETS THE FJM TREATMENT

    Posted in Rants on November 12th, 2010 by Ed

    Barry Rubin – who very, very clearly wrote his own Wikipedia page – decided it would be a good idea to use the journalistic stage to play one of modern society's most sympathetic characters: the loud-mouthed, egotistical suburbanite pissing and moaning about his kid's soccer coach. Then he ups the ante by turning the whole thing into a lesson about how liberals made his kid a pussy. Since his intended audience is the regular readers, if any, of Pajamas Media, there's a good chance that he expected his rant to draw plenty of nodding heads and comments of sympathetic agreement. Outside of that bubble of sadness and Joe the Plumber fans, however, "It’s How You Play the Game: The Fate of Western Civilization and Grade-School Soccer" does not fare quite as well.

    Or does it?

    No, I was right the first time. It doesn't.

    It‘s something of a stretch to compare a soccer game among eleven-year-old boys with the fate of the democratic world, but I’ve always managed to see big issues in small things.

    i.e., "This is retarded, but I am going to do it anyway. Inexplicably I will soon ask you to take me seriously."

    Really, Barry? This is "something of a stretch" like Mitch McConnell is something of a sour, hatchet-faced prick. Like the Hindenburg had something of an accident. Like Pajamas Media is something of a joke, even by internet standards.

    My son is playing on a local soccer team which has lost every one of its games, often by humiliating scores. The coach is a nice guy, but seems an archetype of contemporary thinking: he tells the kids not to care about whether they win, puts players at any positions they want, and doesn’t listen to their suggestions.

    This could not start out more poorly, BR. You do realize that this is how every rant from a loudmouthed parent about his kid's soccer coach (a topic, incidentally, about which no one on the face of the Earth cares) begins, right?

    "Man, this coach is such an asshole. Tyler only played like 20 minutes today, and he only got the ball twice. I screamed at this guy for like an hour and he just ignored me. Then I show up at his house after a couple of beers and you know what that asshole did? He called the cops. He called the goddamn cops."

    He never criticizes a player or suggests how a player could do better. My son, bless him, once remarked to me: “How are you going to play better if nobody tells you what you’re doing wrong?” The coach just tells them how well they are playing. Even after an 8-0 defeat, he told them they’d played a great game. And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place.

    I'm going to ruin some of the suspense and point out that these kids are 10 and 11.

    I’d even seen an American television documentary about boys and sports which justified this approach, explaining that coaches were doing something terrible by deriding failure, urging competitiveness, and demanding victory. So were the kids really happier to be “relieved” of the strain of trying to win, “liberated” from feeling bad at the inequality of athletic talent?

    Barry would cite the name of this "television documentary" but he could not find a link given that it aired only on the Barry Rubin's Imagination network. Thank god he was able to remember all of its key points so he could construct his straw man.

    Or am I right in thinking that sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills?

    No, you are not even remotely right about that. Sports are not to teach kids how life works. Sports are for kids to get exercise, and they are more likely to do it if it's fun. It's only thanks to emotionally unstable Jock-Dads and the worst fratboy aspects of our culture that anyone would imagine people learning life lessons from a contact sport.

    A central element in that world is rewarding those who do better, which also offers an incentive for them and others to strive,

    Sometimes doing better is its own reward, like when doing something inconsequential like playing soccer when you're 10.

    rather than thinking they merely need choose between becoming a government bureaucrat or dependent.

    OK.

    See, we were traveling down Loud, Boring Blowhard Avenue and we took a very sudden left onto What The Fuck Are You Talking About Street.

    Read that again. That's how fast it happens. That is how fast these people turn normal things that happen to normal people (like seeing a lemonade stand) into Parables of Conservatism.

    The playing field was perfectly even, but the boys were clearly miserable. They felt like losers, their behavior rejecting the claim that everything was just great, or that mediocrity was satisfactory as long as everyone was treated identically. They knew better than to think outcomes don’t matter. In a truly sad gesture, one boy had suggested before still another losing game that they form a circle, put their hands in, and cheer themselves: “Like the good teams do.” Halfway into the season, the kids had even chosen a nickname for the team that expressed their sense of being weak losers.

    None of this happened. If you have ever been within 1000 yards of 10 year olds playing soccer, you are well aware of the fact that no one gives a shit about the whole enterprise except for the parents. Those kids would rather be at home playing Wii. They would rather be playing something without adult supervision. They would rather be doing anything except playing soccer while their parents yell at them. The idea that these kids sunk into a deep depression because their coach on Team Trotsky was preventing them from winning makes it clear that this entire story took place in Barry Rubin's head.

    When the opportunity came to step in as coach for one game, I jumped at the chance to try an experiment. I’ve never coached a sport before, and am certainly no expert at soccer despite my son’s efforts. Still, I thought the next game could be won by simply placing players in the positions they merited, and motivating them to triumph.

    "Unlike their coach, I knew which positions they merited because like every suburban dad on the planet, I think I know everything. I know better than every coach, teacher, and fancy-pants expert you can throw at me. I am God. I am a flabby-assed God with a wife who hates me and two annoying bastard children on Paxil. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair."

    I didn’t put terrible players in at forward or in the goal. It didn’t take any genius to do so, just basic sports common sense. You don’t need Ayn Rand to tell you which way the wind blows.

    Ah, "common sense"…the last refuge of the person who thinks he knows something but can produce no evidence in support of it.

    I wonder if Barry Jr. was one of the kids he arbitrarily deemed "terrible" or, by some magical coincidence, Little Rubin is the bestest, specialest, most talented little Pele on the team.

    Before the game, I gave them a pep talk, with the key theme as follows:

    I bet that helped. 10 year olds really pay attention to Asshole Dad doing his Win One For the Gipper impression.

    Every week you’ve been told that the important thing is just to have a good time. Well, this week it’s going to be different. The number one goal is to win; the number two goal is to have a good time. But I assure you: if you win, you will have a much better time!

    "Because…umm…you can use the victory to convince yourself that you're better than those losers on the other team! If I do this just right, you'll soon learn to derive all of your self-worth from convincing yourself that you are, by some arbitrary criteria, better than other people. That's why I drive this 2007 BMW 335xi. It's so you can tell that I'm better than Bob Johnson and his lame-ass Honda Accord. Look at Owens in his little Prius. What a fag. Are you kids getting the message yet?"

    And that’s just what happened. They took a 1-0 lead and held it, in contrast to the previous week when it was scoreless at the half but turned into a 3-0 humiliation when someone ill-suited was made goalkeeper just because he wanted that job.

    What a magnificent coincidence. Of course, none of those 10 year olds remembered the outcome (and certainly not the details) of the previous week's game, but rest assured that the neurotic Little League dads did.

    When kids with fewer skills didn’t want to play defense, I pointed out that these were critical positions, since winning required preventing the other team from scoring. At the end, they performed heroically, holding off repeated attacks on their goal.

    What, all of the sudden this is the French Army at Verdun? It's a kids' soccer game. By definition, nothing that happens in a little league soccer game can be heroic. I don't care if Timmy Anderson scores four fucking goals on a broken leg while adopting an abused dog and teaching two underprivileged kids to read. It's not heroic.

    I worried that the boys who played less of the game and were given seemingly less significant positions would be resentful. But quite the opposite proved true. With the team ahead, they were thrilled. One shouted from the sidelines something I thought showed real character: “Don’t let the good players do all the work!” Instinctively, he recognized that some players are better, but he wanted to bring everyone’s level up rather than down.

    Odds that this actually happened: zero. The odds are zero. Pretty convenient that the 10 year olds would start yelling things that sound like slogans from The Fountainhead just as Coach Galt takes over and realizes he could use a few zingers in his column.

    I’m tempted to say he was going against what he was being taught in school.

    You're not tempted to do it if you just did it. Also, what?!?????!? Where do you send your kids to school, Barry? Is it some special charter school that uses a patented combination of math, science, and belittling comments to put the kids in their place nice and early?

    They played harder, with a bit more pressure and a less equal share of personal glory than they’d ever done before. But after the victory, they were glowing and appreciative, amazed that they had actually won a game.

    I want to point out that Barry Rubin just described the children as "glowing and appreciative" of him. I am getting a kick out of picturing a group of uninterested 10 year-olds waiting to be rewarded with a trip to Pizza Hut as Barry looks on and says to absolutely no one in particular, as people take great pains to avoid him, "Look at how much they appreciate what I did for them!"

    Suddenly, I noticed that one boy’s mother was really angry at him, claiming he hadn’t showed good sportsmanship because he was too happy over the victory. Not seeing anything that might have provoked her outrage, I wondered whether this was a suggestion that one should apologize for winning.

    So, to be clear: Having absolutely no fucking idea whatsoever what this supposed scolding was about, if indeed it actually happened, you just went ahead and assumed that it was a demented liberal (woman, of course) acting out your straw man argument and punishing her child for winning.

    Makes sense to me.

    Still, the bawling out didn’t put a damper on his big smile.

    "In one short hour, I became more important to him than his mother. Everything he had ever been taught was rinsed away by my powerful lessons."

    Next week, of course, they will be back to losing.

    Without you, Barry, how could they win????

    But I think that perhaps they learned something useful to counter the indoctrination they are getting in school.

    Barry, whatever school you are sending your kids to, be sure to let me know so the rest of us can avoid it.

    If you don’t care about winning, you’re merely handing triumph to the other side.

    Which you wouldn't care about.

    In a soccer league that might not matter, yet in personal life, your level of achievement and satisfaction is going to depend on giving your best effort. If a country is indifferent to succeeding, the opposing team’s success might be very costly indeed.

    Bingo, Barry. You've nailed it. America is in trouble because we all want to lose. We don't care if we're unemployed and the country falls apart. Totally indifferent. How did you know?

    As I said at the start, perhaps not too much should be read into this little parable.

    "Perhaps" you could have pondered this point more seriously 1100 idiotic words ago.

    Yet the broader question may be the most significant issue of our time: why should Western democratic societies abandon the techniques and thinking that have led to such great success, in order to embrace failure as glorious or victory as shameful?

    I am tempted to say "Presented without comment" and let you ponder this sentence by your lonesome, but I just need to point out that he describes his attitude as something that has "led to such great success."

    It would be facile to point out that Barry Rubin is a dickhead, so please focus on the fact that he is the worst possible kind of dickhead. The kind that thinks that what the whole world really needs is to listen to him and all of its problems will be solved. In reality, of course, this IS the problem. Our problem is the millions upon millions of self-centered assholes, each one a god in his or her own mind despite having accomplished nothing and not maturing emotionally beyond grade school, walking around thinking that the problem with America is that everyone refuses to listen to ME. Next time Barry Rubin really feels like making a difference, I suggest taking a look in the mirror and shutting the hell up for once in his life rather than pedantically lecturing people based on their choices as he imagines them.

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