20 December 2013

Duck Dynasty

Or whatever is the name of that brain dead redneck show on A&E.

The first amendment protects our right to free speech. It doesn't mean we can say whatever we want, whenever we want, without consequences.

If you're publicly and vocally homophobic in America in 2013, that pretty much makes you an asshole. If you think the bible backs you up, that's even more fucked up. So here's the thing. Believe that "god" hates queers if you want, but if you say it in front of me I'm going to tell you what I think. And you probably won't like it.

20 October 2013

Bum

Bum Phillips died this week on his Texas ranch. Even though he didn't manage to bring the Saints to its first .500 season, his .391 career winning percentage was at the time the high water mark for Saints coaches. The early Saints were plagued by institutional ineptness. Owner John Mecom loved the team, but in the end he was a dilettante.

Early Saints teams were awful. In their first eleven seasons, they managed between two and five wins eleven times.

After watching a succession of untested coaches fail, Mecom made a high profile hiring. Hank Stram, who had a Super Bowl and three AFL championships under his belt, couldn't overcome the lack of talent. He gave up after two years with no success on the field to show for it.

Dick Nolan followed, and building on Stram's squad produced the two most successful seasons the Saints had experienced to that date. The Saints were expected to contend for a playoff spot in Nolan's third season, but instead suffered their worst season ever, and Nolan was fired after the team lost its first twelve games.

Phillips had been fired by the Houston Oilers in spite of leading them to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. His first draft with the Saints produced an impressive list of perennial starters: Rickey Jackson, George Rogers, Hokie Gajan, Frank Warren, Hoby Brenner and Jim Wilks. His first season was a rebuilding one at 4-12, and his second season was the strike shortened 1982 campaign. That year the Saints missed their first playoff spot by the narrowest of margins, the Detroit Lions advanced on a tie-breaker.

Phillips had been a true innovator on defense. Unfortunately he was also intensely loyal; and time can ruthlessly punish loyalty in professional athletics. Phillips attempted to replicate his Houston success, often using the same players. He traded quarterback Archie Manning, the team's most popular player, for the once excellent offensive lineman Leon Gray. He signed 37 year-old Ken Stabler from the Oilers, then gave up a first round pick for Earl Campbell. Campbell rushed for fewer than 1000 yards over two seasons before retiring, hardly a first-round contribution.

Under Phillips, the Saints had again returned from its historical ineptitude to competitive. They weren't quite good enough for the playoffs, but at least had left the realm of comic relief. Phillips's last season started OK; they were 3-2 after five games, but the team deflated and ran off six consecutive defeats. The Saints won in week twelve, and Phillips chose to go out on a winning note. He was replaced by the team's defensive coordinator, his son Wade.

Less than a year after Mecom sold the Saints to Tom Benson, Bum followed his old boss to retirement in Texas. More so than with Nolan, Bum's Saints felt like they might really finally deliver a winning season and maybe even the playoffs. Had Phillips not filled the roster with Houston's jetsam, they might well have. The following season saw the hiring of Jim Mora and the first real success of the New Orleans club. But that success was possible because of the players drafted by Phillips.

08 October 2013

Conflicted

I'd really like to be talking about some mundane part of my life like my running or a new cocktail recipe. Unfortunately, I can't escape a feeling of doom. I just see little reason for long term optimism. I'm not worried about the shutdown which, while stupid and ultimately pointless, is unlikely to do significant permanent damage. I am worried about the "debt ceiling" nonsense, because the people forcing the issue seem so blithely ready to ignore the fourteenth amendment or the economic realities of sovereign debt.

Nominally, the current government shutdown is supposed to be about fiscal responsibility. Republicans think the government spends too much (and they're half right), and so they're not bothered by paralyzing the government. Except now they've guaranteed that all furloughed employees will get back pay. Which means that we're actually accumulating more debt in exchange for, well, nothing.

The hurricane trackers (before the back pay guarantee) were working for free. Because they care about doing their jobs (saving lives). Congress apparently considers them non-essential. Sorry, "non-exempt".

Some Republicans, speaking out of both sides of their mouths, have said "see, we shut the government down and no one notices" and "what an outrage that children aren't allowed into our national parks". Most of the "non-exempt" jobs might not be so immediately evident. But researchers have been sent home from the National Institute of Health.That means that they're not working on next year's flu vaccine. What's the worst that could happen?

A non-trivial part of the right apparently has been so adamant about the second amendment because they believe they'll have to overthrow the government. That almost makes me feel conflicted about the NSA overreach.

I think it's time for reasonable Republicans to disavow the tea party. But there's no sign of that happening. The only hope I have is that eventually, demographics are going to overwhelm the right. Hopefully though we won't just be trading the loonies from the right with counterparts from the other side.

05 October 2013

Frightening

Depressing article at the Atlantic.


Who's really behind the mess? The districts that are electing, and more importantly, continuing to encourage these guys.

03 October 2013

Dysfunction

OK, so...

The "non-excepted" part of the US Federal government is shut down because of a budget dispute. This isn't over an actual, you know, budget. That is literally too much to hope for at this point. No, this is over a "Continuing Resolution" which basically says that we can't agree on a current year budget so we'll keep using the last one that was approved.

Anyway, Congress has not passed a Continuing Resolution because it hasn't voted on one. The problem is that a small number of Republicans have said that they will only support a bill that defunds the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare). Of course, the White House has far too much political capital invested to stand for that. This small group (apparently 30-40) are threatening House speaker Boehner if he doesn't do what they want. As a result, even though there are enough votes to pass a Continuing Resolution that excludes the ACA defunding, Boehner will not present a "clean" Continuing Resolution for a vote.

This is political terrorism. A small group is threatening to blow everything up unless they get everything they want.Here's the thing, though. Terrorists don't generally garner a lot of sympathy.

There's a false equivalence, born from people who, absent a careful examination of the facts, assume that a deadlock involves a degree of blame on both sides. As a parent, I can sympathize with that impulse.But whereas most people might assume that it's 50-50 or 45-55 (and thus blame both sides), in this case, it's not so much a right vs left problem as a right vs far right problem. And I put the overwhelming majority of blame on the far right.

ACA is a flawed solution to a real problem, a real problem that the Republican party has steadfastly refused to address. Having failed to prevent its passage, having failed dozens of times to repeal it, a handful of zealots are now holding the government hostage. But again, when was the last time you felt sorry for a hostage taker?

29 September 2013

An open letter to The Honorable Tom Price, MD



Dear Dr. Price,

I assume this is being read by a hard-working staffer who will categorize it to receive a specific boiler-plate response. To help that process, here’s a summary: I’m an ex-Republican who is outraged by what the far right has done to the party, a constituent who knows that the debt ceiling is a sham issue, and an American who believes that over forty unsuccessful attempts to reverse a single piece legislation seems, well, a little pathetic. Sadly, not as pathetic as a voter who spends a couple of hours crafting a letter knowing that it will do no absolutely no good.

For about thirty years, I consistently voted Republican; the first vote I ever cast was for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I have been extremely fortunate; I don’t apologize for being part of the infamous “1%”. I pay taxes from the very top bracket. I am a libertarian and a fiscal conservative.  I am now nearly embarrassed to admit that I was a member of the Republican Party. Its rhetoric has become so toxic, some of its positions so incongruous, that I struggle to find much common ground with the party to which I once proudly belonged. 

I can't know, but I desperately want to believe, that you know the difference between reining in spending and refusing to pay the bills. If you want to pass a balanced budget, by all means go ahead. But refusing to pay bills we’ve already accrued is irresponsible. Pretending that it’s fiscal discipline is disingenuous. Threatening to do so for partisan ends is unforgivable.

I understand that you oppose President Obama's initiatives; I’m not crazy about some of them myself. But like you, he was elected by the majority of his constituents. The Republican obsession with reversing the Affordable Care Act is perplexing. Five years ago, the Republicans had many opportunities to address a broken healthcare system. Instead of presenting an alternative or negotiating with the opposition to find a compromise, they tried to kill the legislation; betting on an all-or-nothing outcome. Once the bill passed through the constitutional process, Republicans have spent the intervening years acting like petulant children who don't accept that they can't always get their way. You had your chance and you lost. Move on; there are other important issues.
 
I know that there is nothing I can say that will make any difference. As an independent in your district, my vote is moot. There is no chance that I can have any effect on policy. Even if you had a moderate impulse (and there have been occasional signs), the right wing either in your district or in your party would undoubtedly punish you mercilessly if you showed it too often. It’s just the reality of the size of your constituency, but I think it is a shame that writing a feckless letter on a Sunday afternoon is the full extent of my influence as an American voter. 

Regards,

06 September 2013

On Syria

"Fool me once...", the saying goes.

Any government insider (I'm looking at you, Rumsfeld) who argued that invading Iraq was a moral imperative because of the threat of chemical or biological weapons is disqualified from arguing, well, anything at all. Sorry, I can only see two explanations. One is that they knew the intelligence was crap and lied about it. The other is that they allowed the country to send its young men and women to die, to kill Iraqis, to spend trillions of borrowed dollars without making absolutely sure that there was a real threat to America. That makes you incompetent. Either way, it's criminal.

James Fallows has written a few articles, and I find them persuasive, especially these two. They're long, and frankly depressing, but life isn't always strawberries and cream. Seriously, you should read them. I'll wait.

I have a friend from Syria; he thinks Assad is, well, pretty much what everyone else thinks he is. But he also thinks that keeping him in power is probably the best outcome for Syria, for Syrians, and for the region. If you read the articles, you know why he might believe that.

The moral outrage over chemical weapons feels artificial; it seemed to be lacking when it was just 100,000 dead to conventional weapons. Because you know, killing children is OK, as long as you're using bullets. Each cruise missile costs millions of dollars, money which would do everyone more good if it were spent relieving the human suffering of millions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and especially Jordan.

Anybody who reduces this situation to a sound bite is doing you, the victims, and history a disservice. Demand better.

What do we want to accomplish? If you think slapping a despot on the wrist is better than reducing human suffering, well, you and I have a different view about how we should conduct ourselves in a civil culture.

To the absurd argument that we lose credibility, I say, do you really think that one event (one where the details are decidedly less clear than the headlines might suggest) means that every tyrant now thinks they have open season on dissidents? That not bombing precludes future actions? That bombing is the only possible reaction?

Look, do I think the world would the world be a better place if Assad were not in charge, but the people of Syria were peacefully coexisting in a safe, multicultural way? Sure. But that's not the choice before us. We're unlikely to topple Assad, and if we do, the outcome is not unlikely to resemble Afghanistan. How's that working out for us?

Maybe it's always been this way, but it feels like American politics have moved to a place where both sides are unwilling to accept that the other roughly 50% should get anything at all. We're right and you're wrong; we control the house/senate/white house and therefore you get nothing. Not a voice, not a seat at a table, not civil dialog. Two year-old children act that way. And American politicians.

I weep for the future.

17 August 2013

LFC 1-0 SCFC

Liverpool looked bright throughout, and fully deserved their result. Overall, the theme is that the club picked up where last season left off: bossing possession with occasionally scary moments in defense.

Mignolet looked shaky a couple of times. He seemed to play shorter than his 6'4"; he isn't the first keeper to be troubled by Crouch, but today's performance didn't feel up to Reina's standard. Of course, the penalty save will be the memory. NBC named him man of the match, but I'd have given it to Begovic. I'd say Toure was an upgrade over Carragher. As for Aspas, I don't know if it's all he can afford, but Rodgers seems determined to stack the lineup with shifty little players.

Hopefully the penalty save will help Mignolet settle in. An upgrade to Enrique would be welcome.

This is a match Liverpool might've drawn last season; getting the win keeps the natural optimism of August alive.

13 August 2013

What does FIFA have against homosexuality?

As America slowly emerges from the dark ages of restricting the rights of its gay citizens, it is disappointing that a couple of countries which will be hosting the World Cup are choosing to increase their anti-gay rhetoric. Well, that's not fair; if all they were doing was making noise, it would only be unseemly, but Russia is actually passing new laws. And Qatar, well, sharia. I really don't comprehend the seething hatred that some people feel toward those who love differently.

I didn't "choose" whether to be hetero; I assume the same of everyone else. And if it's not a choice, how can you criminalize it?

09 August 2013

Silence

It's been a couple of years since I posted here. I imagine this could be the proverbial tree falling in the forest.


The American constitution is built on a framework of transparency and liberty. These are in tension with some approaches to security.
The problem, I believe, is that while the NSA might be well intentioned, the current use of security letters and the FISA court clearly overreaches their stated objectives. Without transparency, the overreach is much more likely to extend than recede. And the existence of data stored for a purpose creates the risk that it will be used for another purpose.

Congress, tasked with oversight, has failed in their assignment. No one, I think, can be surprised by that. Congress is another broken constitutional construct.


"We need to collect phone records, in case we later find out someone was talking to a terrorist," they say. "It makes you safer," they say. "We've thwarted terrorist threats through these methods," they say. But there is no proof. No data. Just claims. "If we gave you details, we'd help the terrorists", they say. "Trust us."

The message from the NSA, from the FBI, from the Obama administration (and from its predecessor), and from Congress is "trust us". But they have clearly and repeatedly betrayed the trusts given in the past.


Look, I don't want to die at the hands of Al Qaeda. Or another second amendment lunatic. But I reject the hypothesis that there is no extreme too far in the defense against terrorism. And I'm good enough at math(s) to know that both of those are (and always have been) extremely unlikely.

I distrust anyone who uses fear, instead of reason, to convince me of a course of action. The government and the media want you to be afraid. They perpetrate de facto terrorism. But terrorism occurs in our minds; we can refuse to be terrorized. And we can demand accountability from those who are tasked with protecting us.

PS - Kip Hawley was director of TSA. Now that time has passed, he has published some interesting thoughts about improving things.

PPS - This was post was originally meant to be about Snowden, so here's that synopsis. What he did was (a) unambiguously illegal, (b) brave, (c) likely to make Americans safer, and (d) (I believe) the ethical thing to do. It's unfortunate that he couldn't find asylum in a more reasonable place.