SocraticGadfly: 12/29/13 - 1/5/14

January 04, 2014

New Year's resolutions: It's OK for "you" to fail

Great piece here from the New York Times' "The Stone" series of online op-eds devoted to matters philosophical, "In Praise of Failure."

The piece isn't primarily about failure and New Year's resolutions, to which I will get in a minute. It's about accepting, even embracing, the possibility of failure in general. And, it's NOT about embracing failure from some New Age "positivity" point of view, either.

Costica Bradatan has three main points:
1. Failure allows us to see our existence in its naked condition. 

(F)ailure also possesses a distinct therapeutic function. ... We insatiably devour other species, denude the planet of life and fill it with trash. Failure could be a medicine against such arrogance and hubris, as it often brings humility. 

2. Our capacity to fail is essential to what we are. 

Ultimately, our capacity to fail makes us what we are; our being as essentially failing creatures lies at the root of any aspiration. 

3. We are designed to fail.

No matter how successful our lives turn out to be, how smart, industrious or diligent we are, the same end awaits us all: “biological failure.” ...

A better model (for how to face failure) may be Ingmar Bergman’s Antonius Block, from the film “The Seventh Seal.”   
Read the whole thing, though, not just that summary.

And,  now, relating this to New Year's resolutions, to a newspaper column I recently did, and why "you" is in scare quotes.

Why do so many of us make New Year's resolutions only to break them? In fact, why do so many of us continue to make them, based on the likelihood that we broke similar ones in the past and expect ourselves to break the new ones, often quickly, in the future?
It’s pretty simple, if you will: That may not be “all of us” making those resolutions.
Modern philosophy of mind and psychology talk about things like “subselves.” In the Christian Bible, Paul said, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Sounds like a bit of the same thing. Another hallowed Christian leader, Saint Augustine, famously prayed, "Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet."

Some part of ourselves, often, really doesn’t want to fulfill these regulations. I think that’s even more the case if they’re phrased in a “negative” way, like promising to “stop” or “quit” something rather than “start” something. 
Some part of us does want to quit, but another part doesn’t. And, so, we are of two minds. Or three, when we start feeling guilty about actual failure, or potential failure before it happens. Or four, if we’re conditioned to somehow, perversely, like feeling guilty, or at least anxious.
Beyond that, nature abhors a vacuum. Including a mental one.
So, promising to quit a bad habit is often doomed to failure if we don’t also promise to replace it with a good one. Part of the trick is finding the right good habit related to that.
Or, if not to directly replace it, to reward yourself in some other way. And that’s because, besides nature abhorring a mental vacuum, our inner selves don’t like being scolded, lectured, or otherwise made to have no fun. And, to the degree the "subselves" idea has truth behind it, some part of our selves is a young child, ready to rebel against such lecturing and scolding.

That said, why do so many of us, or "us," make these resolutions in the first place?
In part, some portion of our self believes we do legitimately need to make a change. On things like quitting drinking or smoking, or other health-related matters, that belief may be absolutely correct.
But, there may be another part of ourselves that is afraid of failing to achieve that change.  And, here’s where another phrase, that isn’t necessarily a cliché, comes into play — “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Sometimes, below the level of full consciousness, we move almost inexorably toward some result we expect to happen, or even want to happen, but don’t want to consciously discuss.

Related to this is the idea that free will, or "free will," since we're still in the Early Bronze Age on cognitive science, is, as a part of consciousness being "embodied cognition," a social phenomenon. In other words, "free will" is influenced by our interactions with our environment. 
That said, not all New Year’s resolutions are ones that are necessary. 
Maybe we’ve decided to resolve to be kinder to friends, neighbors, coworkers or other family members. We’re not going to have a heart attack or cirrhosis of the liver if we don’t follow through on that one, though.
But, the resolution itself may not be fully our own idea. Maybe it’s something we think we “should” do. Or, more to the point, it’s something that somebody else thinks we “should” do.
In this case, some inner part of our selves drags our feet, passively resists, or otherwise decides not to go along with the program. And soon enough, the resolution fails.
So, to sum up?
The way I see it is that, if you want a resolution to succeed, it should be one you want to do, that you can fully get yourself behind, that you can reward yourself for achieving, and where you can not only change something by keeping the resolution but replace it with something better.
And, if not?
To riff off what Hawkeye Pierce said on an episode of M*A*S*H many a year ago, make a resolution to not make more resolutions!

January 03, 2014

Cooperstown Central: Were roids and PEDs the only reason for baseball's power surge?

As Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and a host of other likely, or in some cases vaguely alleged, users of steroids, human growth hormone and whatever else might fall under the aegis of "performance enhancing drugs" await another shot at Cooperstown, we might ask how much roiding really was worth.

How much of an influence were steroids, on the batting side? I say batting because "chicks and Bud Selig dig the long ball," and batters don't have rotator cuffs and Tommy John ligaments to blow out.

I'd say they're worth 35 percent of the power explosion. The Costa Rican baseballs after Rawlings moved its factor from Haiti? Maybe about 17.5 percent. Maple bats another 17.5 percent. Bandbox ballparks, like Philly, Cincy, Denver (the power surge started pre-humidor) and Houston, 15 percent? Umps squeezing the strike zone 15 percent? That puts us at 100 percent.

That said, maybe I need to recalibrate. Baseball Prospectus makes an argument that expansion from 26 to 30 teams bumped the performance of top batters (and pitchers, too). And, per my PEDs+ equivalent of OPS+ and ERA+, provides some specific calibration guesstimates:
Since 1950, there have been seven seasons in which 17 or more players finished with at least six WARP. All seven came within five years after an expansion, even though fewer than half of all seasons since 1950 fit that condition. Excluding strike-shortened seasons of 1981, 1994, and 1995, an average of 15.5 players have posted at least six WARP in the five years after expansion, compared to 11.0 players in all other seasons.

When comparing performances from different eras, we don’t just compare each player’s raw stats, because we understand that those numbers come from different environments. Good analysis instead uses context-neutral statistics, comparing performance to that of an average or replacement-level player. But when “average” or “replacement level” changes—as in the case of expansion eras—should we not also consider that factor?

To estimate the impact of expansion on stars’ statistics, we can compare the performance of the top players before and after expansion. In post-expansion seasons, the top 10 players in baseball have had an average WARP of 7.8; in all other years, their average is 7.4, a statistically significant difference. Using different cutoffs (eg., top five or top 20) yields similar estimates of about .4 wins per season.
Very interesting stuff.

I'm not holier than thou on the issue of steroids in baseball. My take is, how much did roiding, in my estimation, boost a particular suspect player's career. If I think I can reasonably factor that out, AND get some contrition, I will at least be open to voting a player into the Hall of Fame.

For example? Rafael Palmeiro is a "high borderline," still, with 350 HR, 450 2B, and a WAR around 55 or so. Raffy probably goes .360/.500/.860 on OBP/SLG/OPS. 1,500 runs and 1,700 RBIs. Of course, his oWAR might fall below 60. That's the hesitation point. Is Raffy a higher-grade Harold Baines without steroids? I wouldn't argue against that. But, he at least gets consideration. But, I lean no.

Mark McGwire? I estimate that he'd be down to 450 HRs, and would lose a ton of walks, and so lose OBP and lose massively on OPS and OPS+, reinforcing his one-dimensional nature, so a no. Knock his OBP down to .380, his slugging to .550 and then his OPS to .930. His runs fall to 1,100 and his RBIs to 1,300. About 450 HRs. NOT a HOF career. That's a high-grade Dave Kingman or not a lot better.

Other players? As far as prime suspects, and doing some "redacting"?

Sammy Sosa
is not a steroid-subtracted HOFer. Gary Sheffield likely is not, either. On the pitching side? Andy Pettitte is not. What he is, if anything, is the current generation's slightly better ... wait for it ... Jack Morris. Actually, he's enough better than Black Jack that he has a halfway legit argument, World Series record aside, for being a HOFer. But I still lean no.

Anyway, if I had a vote? No guilt, no entry. Let's have confessions. Not just by the individuals. Bud Selig and Gene Orza and others from the union need to step to the plate, pun intended, and hit a clean one out of the park.

And, then, we can do something like with OPS+ and ERA+, and make our best guesstimates on how to "neutralize" for steroids.

In short, just as a website like Baseball-Reference makes sabermetric adjustments for different ballparks, different eras, and so forth, I would like more information so we can make a sabermetric adjustment for steroids and human growth hormone, and anything else that was in the "cream" and "clear" that Bonds got from  BALCO. No, it won't be a perfect adjustment, but, it would be some adjustment.

There's other reasons for the contrition. If Bonds, especially, fesses up to details, maybe we get improved testing. Maybe we get better ways of warning high school kids away from this.

I give Deadspin some help in killing Bill Simmons

Deadspin has a great post on all the sports issues, items and people it says need to die or be killed off this year.

I especially agree that, among other things, Bill Simmons has outlived his shelf life. When Joe Boston Sports Fan was saying the things he does, it was interesting. Now that he's an often vapid, often insufferable, first person commenter, and a name dropper du jour to boot, yeah, time to get rid of him.

True, per a friend, he recruited staff that made Grantland what it is today. OK? He can manage Bill Barnwell, Zach Lowe, et al, and shut up 50 percent more himself.

That said, I'm giving Deadspin some help — killing off all of these with a quick mashup.

Col Allen of the New York Post personally goes to a military surprise reunion, asks one too many questions of a Marine with PTSD, and gets his pencil neck snapped in 3 seconds. Sports Illustrated tries to take over the remains of the Post and goes bankrupt, but not before revealing that the NFL passer formula is a secret code for Roger Goodell knowing that chronic traumatic encephalopathy from too many concussions "causes" gayness. Every homophobe in the NFL sues the league and it goes bankrupt.

We let Barack Obama kill the First Amendment, so we can jail Simmons. Gus Johnson tries to imitate him and has a massive, fatal coronary from stress.

We get Dolan to believe Trick Shot Titus is a real player and sign him, which leads to, oh, say, Spike Lee kidnapping Dolan, driving him into the hood and having him beaten to death.

There, everything on Deadspin's 2014 death list is offed, except the highlight truthers.

And, admit it, you'd like to see a few of these. Dolan getting beaten to a pulp in the South Bronx probably gives some Knicks fans a willie.

Simmons incarcerated, especially if we made him listen to piped-in Skip Bayless and Jason Whitlock would be fun.

But, the NFL one would be the best.

We'd kill off a league that, per a quote by George Will:
Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.
And a more recent one:
In the NFL, especially, football is increasingly a spectacle, a game surrounded by manufactured frenzy, on the grass and in the increasingly unpleasant ambiance of the fans in the stands. Football on the field is a three-hour adrenaline-and-testosterone bath. For all its occasional elegance and beauty, it is basically violence for, among other purposes, inflicting intimidating pain.
Has boxed itself into a corner.

We'd see the NFL sued into oblivion, but not before the added hypocrisy of trying to legally shield itself behind its nonprofit status. We'd see a huge amount of homophobia exposed. And, we'd somehow de-emphasize this one sport, at least, down into the college and even the high school ranks, and just maybe, get some of our schools focusing a small bit more on education.

Can somebody please make this happen? Somebody start that rumor?

Oh, and force Simmons to listen to all the piped-in details while he's in prison? 

January 02, 2014

Get rid of the extra point? Or add a new "extra point"?

Get rid of the extra point? Or do something with it?

Pretty interesting piece here from NBC. Not sure which change I favor, but, in line with New England Patriot head coach Bill Belichick, I do favor some change. And, about any change would, per modern analytic football, make going for two more valuable yet. That said, per NBC's offerings, if you forced me to support one idea, I'd say put the extra-point conversion line at the 20. It makes an extra point somewhat less valuable, plus makes a blocked extra point a bit more likely to be returned by the other team for a point the other way.

That said, speaking of points, here's a change I'd like to see in the NFL, both coming from our friends up north.

Even with the smaller end zone, per Belichick's comment on special teams in general, allow the CFL's rouge point for punts the defense touches down in the end zone. Instead of coffin corner kicks, you'd want a boomer. And, would give coaches yet another strategy on fourth and 3 from the opponent 40. Now, instead of kicking a 57-yard field goal, going for it, or punting to try to down it inside the 10, punt to try to down it in the end zone.

Related to that, it would stimulate more quick kicks on some third and long plays.

That said, per CFL rouge rules, when the "single" is scored, the touchback comes to the 35, not the 20. If the NFL kept that part, too, it would force more of a gamble vs. coffin corner punts.

Unlike Canada, though, I wouldn't count it on missed field goals. And, because of the shorter U.S. field, I wouldn't count it on kickoffs. I might even tweak the CFL rule on touchbacks on punt rouges to put them at the 20 instead of the 35. It would still be an added twist to the U.S. game.

Speaking of, what about putting men in forward motion before the snap and allowing multiple shifts?

Could Matt Adams just be a glorified Brett Wallace, #Cardinals fans?

This Yahoo piece, about how Brett Wallace was part of the 2009 trade that brought Matt Holliday to St. Louis, got me thinking.

What if Matt Adams is a glorified Brett Wallace?

First, a glorified Brett Wallace is still better than the actual Brett Wallace, who never met his minor-league touting, but has met some minor-league concern levels, about fielding range, etc. In his 2012 cup of coffee and 2013 half season, Adams has shown he's at least a glorified Brett Wallace, and not a replacement-level Brett Wallace.

It's another way of saying this is the Prince Fielder concern: When will Adams' build potentially start causing problems?

Because, while he's definitely better than Wallace at the plate, Adams was league average in 2012, and by dWAR and fielding runs, a deficiency in 2013.

If Adams can keep a BA above .280, slugging at or above .500, and OPS+ at at least 125, and preferred 130 or better, he's at least a small plus. OPS+ of 135 or better is what will make him more than a small plus.

And, improving his splits against lefty pitchers will be key in 2014. I've already noted how Allen Craig can slide from right field to first against lefties, but in the longer term, the Cards would certainly like to have Adams pick up the slack.  He also needs to get more patient on drawing walks.

Again, "glorified Brett Wallace" is not bad. It's just not that good. The team hopes for more; we fans do, too. At the same time, we should temper expectations until Adams gets a full season under his belt.

A word to both #Obamiacs and #Hillaryites via Ted Rall

It's the start of the new year, and I'm being snarkier than ever from my skeptical left-liberal perspective.

That said, it's a lot easier with the help of Ted Rall, a master of snark.

Ted Rall's own caption: Hillary Clinton has titles, but few achievements, to her name.
Her campaign is built on hype. People are more into what she would symbolize if she won —
a first woman president — than what she would do. Sound familiar?

That said, a couple of points to note.

First, in 2008, when people asked if I didn't want to help make history,  or whatever, I told them I was voting for both the black and the woman, in the same person, before the Democratic primaries even ended. (I have no idea if Cynthia McKinney had or has something in the closet on her sexual preferences, and it's none of my damned business if she does.)

And, per a friend of mine, I have a new word: "Demdroids."

I define it as a lower digestive system ailment one gets on a no-fiber, all neoliberalism diet.

That said, if you don't recognize that you're being fed pablum with no sustenance in the first place, you don't realize that having a low-grade burning pain in the ass is not the way things are supposed to be. 

Or, you may believe that a diet with 2 percent fiber, and the resultant Demdroids, is enough less bad than the zero-fiber GOP alternative. In that case, don't blame GOP governors for people lacking insurance, don't trot out conspiracy theories about Obamacare's website getting disrupted by wingnuts with DDOS attacks or anything else.

Look at said cartoon above, again, especially the top right panel.

I had thought about having "Be less snarky" as one of my New Year's resolutions, but I realized I'd break that in a New York minute.

Rather, mentally, I'm thinking, "Be more acccurately snarky," or "Be snarky with more precision," is what I'm looking at. New Year's resolutions, or better, goals, are supposed to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound and, this fits all of them.

That said, looking ahead to 2016.

While Elizabeth Warren might actually do more good in the Senate, I suspect a lot more people will run the possibility of "demdroids" in 2016 unless someone like her enters the Democratic race. Hell, maybe Tammy Baldwin should run, as long as its not on a sexual identity special interest platform.

And, let's see one, just one, Kossack post this at the great orange Satan.

That reminds me of something else. Some of you may recall the whole Daily Kos kerfuffle,where Kossacks accused Rall of racism, and Rall eventually said he would draw Obama differently? What if he just doesn't draw him at all for three more years, while continuing to take potshots? Take that, Kossacks! 

Sadly, instead, he went back to "just" drawing Obama like before. But, there's hope!

Anyway, in one post, Rall bankshots both Obama and Clinton, while perhaps setting the tone until Jan. 20, 2017. And, for Kossacks who are also Hillaryistas, now you know — mess with Ted Rall at your own peril, or with any cybercartoonist who buys coloration by the pixel-barrel.

We have problems with education, but this book isn't the answer

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That WayThe Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thin and anecdotal, with one big error of omission.

The major point, and a very relevant one?

Most western nations have a school year of at least 200 days, compared to the 180, or less, here in the U.S. Why this wasn't even mentioned, let alone made a point of discussion as to whether or not it affects U.S. school performance (I am sure it has at least some effect) I have no idea.

PISA? Per an OECD link about how PISA scores should best be understood in light of U.S. educational practices, PISA's not all she cracks it up to be. (There is value in PISA, but, to the degree there is value, for identifying ways to change, areas to change, and support for positive change rather than punitive action, Ripley's coverage is superficial here, too.)

The ding? "Alright" is not an English word. "All right" is. If you're going to write a book about education, please use standard English.

She does get some things right, like the need to nationalize standards and move away from the horse-and-buggy days of the locally autonomous school district, but she's far from the only person to point that out. She's also right about a "balance point" on the amount of standardized testing, and how to approach it, but again, she's not alone, and the treatment is fairly light.

Also, she promises more than she delivers.

Focusing on just three other nations that take PISA, three largely homogenous nations, and viewing them through the lenses of just three exchange students, is anecdotal, not rigorous. That's especially true in light of her getting hundreds of exchange students to respond to her request for information.

Finally, there's little prescriptiveness on "how to get there," in terms of either federal or state level public policy.


My review should indicate things I think we do need in terms of K-12 education. I'll list them and more:
1.  A 200-day school year;
2. National standards on education, with national standards of some sort on textbooks to achieve this and on standardized testing to measure it;
3. Getting away from local-control school boards and districts, along with top-heavy administrative costs this incurs, especially in rural areas;
4. Getting away from local property tax and all its inequities as a primary funder of schools;
5. Using federal education funding already in place as the stick to achieve 1-4;
6. Increasing federal education funding to further 1-4, and getting big business to buy into the necessary taxes for it and reasons why.

View all my reviews

January 01, 2014

Gasol-Bynum swap? Why would the Lakers wait? Dump, tank, Wiggins!

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in Laker teammate days.
Getty Images via ESPN
ESPN says that a possible trade is in the air between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Potentially on the move? Currently disgruntled Lakers center Pau Gasol and currently disgrunted and temporarily suspended Cavaliers (and former Lakers) center Andrew Bynum.

But, under this idea, the Lakers don't want Bynum to play him, but rather to dump him.

Come again?

Yep, and here's why:
By trading Gasol in a package for Bynum and then waiving Bynum, the injury-ravaged Lakers could save more than $20 million in salary and luxury taxes, which could help them maintain financial flexibility heading into the next few summers. A Gasol-Bynum trade would have to include at least one other player to make the deal work under league rules, and perhaps other assets from Cleveland.

Plus, there's another advantage.

Per previous blogging I've done ever since news of Kobe Bryant's downtime with a broken leg, this gives the Lakers the perfect, justifiable reason to start tanking and get in the Riggin' for Wiggins sweepstakes to nail down a shot at Kansas freshman star Andrew Wiggins.

Given that Steve Nash is likely out for the years and the Lakers have no true point guards, and that no Gasol eliminates a playmaker of sorts as well as a scorer and rebounder, it would be easy to accumulate plenty of lottery Ping-Pong balls this way.

Why the Lakers and GM Mitch Kupchak would want to wait, I don't know. By the time Kobe is back, they'll be deep in the Western Conference dust with no chance of coming back, anyway. Even without this trade and dump.

And, there's another good reason:
The Lakers have been luxury-tax payers for six straight seasons. While the luxury-tax savings this season -- and the ability to avoid the repeater tax penalty, which kicks in when a team is a taxpayer in four of five years, starting with the 2011-12 season -- would undoubtedly help the Lakers' long-term flexibility, the franchise's history and organizational culture make that a difficult prospect to consider.
So, the Lakers are the New York Yankees of the NBA, in essence. But, with a chance to get smarter than the second generation of Steinbrenners.

Beyond that, Laker fans need to face reality even more than the front office. It's time to rebuild. This offers at least a puncher's chance of doing that relatively quickly and painlessly.


Unfortunately, as of Jan. 2, talks have cooled off. Why? The Lakers are greedy for an additional "asset." What? Getting under the lux tax, tanking, freeing up free agent money, and possibly doing a quick rebuild aren't enough?

Take the minimum additional  player Cleveland has to add to make the deal work; stop being greedy enough to ask for a first-round draft choice or whatever.

Eating toads and other nonsense, New Age and otherwise

I hear New Age / positivity thinking / success gospel / bright-sider / secrets of selling aphorisms and slogans all the time, whether on  public radio, in books I scan but pass up at the library, mouthed by people in 12-Step groups, vouchsafed by people in personal growth programs and more.

At their best, they're arguably not totally harmless, though with some of them, the kernel of motivational truth they bespeak may outweigh their downsides.

At their worst, when told to people in cancer recovery, soul-killing stretches of life, or other problems, they're a mentalist form of social Darwinism and thus, quite harmful indeed.

So, let's dig in and look at a few of these.

That "eating toads" phrase, though commonly attributed to Mark Twain, comes from the French aphorist Nicolas Chamfort, according to writer and novelist Paul Theroux. He wrote: "Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day."

So, let's start right there.

1. Here's my take on that phrase, "Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day."

Why shouldn't I instead figure out a way to better my life so that I don't face the perceived necessity of toad-swallowing in the morning? Better yet, why shouldn't we as a society work for that as a societal goal? And, why shouldn't we also as a societal mindset, move at least partially beyond the "no pain, no gain" behind this?

Related to that ...

2. One of the most common of these pseudo-insightful aphorisms is "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

So laughable on several grounds.

My standard response is: "How do you know in advance if it will kill you or not?" Plus, as a good secularist, I know there's no "you" left after you are dead.

Bill Murray, in a Tweet a few weeks ago, had a more sarcastic take: "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you smaller." And, that actually, if it's "sometimes" rather than "always," is true, sarcasm aside. A bout with cancer may not kill me. However, it will certainly weaken me, and perhaps for the rest of my life, not just temporarily. And, not just physically. The "fog of chemo" is a well-known mental issue for cancer survivors. And, even after chemo's done, I may be permanently affected enough physically by the cancer for the effects to include my mind, my self, my personality.

Add in that this was first uttered by Nietzsche, and that's probably good reason to dump the phrase right there.

3. I mentioned earlier, that these phrases are downright harmful if told to, say, a person trying to get over cancer. Or a person in a 12-Step program still struggling, and struggling in part because the slogans sound like nonsense.

One of them is "All you have to do is believe," or something similar.

Excuse me, but believe in WHAT? This sounds like Eisenhower's take on civic religion, namely, that everybody needs some sort of religion or deity.


Second, the harm? The cancer survivor who is told this, when encouraged to try an "alternate" treatment, then gets told her lack of faith is the problem when she doesn't get better. Ditto for the would-be sober person for whom an "anonymous" group simply doesn't work. Both of them get depressed, with various further, potentially deadly, consequences.

So, you want a New Year's resolution? Work on decluttering your mind from stuff like this.

December 31, 2013

Why not a 4-point line in the NBA?

Over at ESPN's Grantland site, Zach Lowe has a good, in-depth piece about how NBA teams (for the most part) are moving ever more toward 3-ball offense. And, it makes sense. The simple math says that a 3-ball at a 36-percent shooting accuracy is like shooting a 2 with 54 percent accuracy, and you have to be inside 17 feet, maybe a bit closer, to do that with a 2. So, shoot away is sound coaching, if you've got a team that can shoot the 3 that well.

But, not everybody likes this.

Lowe also notes some folks, like Stan Van Gundy and Billy King, are worried about this trend (as if Billy King actually has much idea of success in the NBA or how to get there), and how they and others are suggesting possible remedies.

One of them is to make the current field goal worth 3 and the current 3-ball worth 4, but Lowe notes that would diminish free throws and lead to Hack-a-Shaq late in games, at least if non-shooting fouls under such scenarios only got two free throws. (Or slow the game dreadfully if they drew three free throws, and make the whole process worse.

My alternative?

Don't make 3-pointers worth 4. Go one better.

Add a 4-pointer on top of the 3, and make Antoine Walker's dreams come true. Walker famously said "there are no fours" when asked why he jacked up so many 3-balls, a sentiment backed by actions that got him on Deadspin's NBA Shit List.

I'd consider moving the 3-line in from its current 23-9 if we did this. Probably not all the way to the 22-0, matching the corners, as the David Stern League did briefly in the mid-’90s, but maybe 22-6, or if not, 23-0.

Then set the 4-pointer at, say, 26-0. Maybe 27-0. But no further out. We want the 4-ball to have about 25 percent accuracy for top shooters, making it the equivalent of a 2-ball at 50 percent. Maybe a bit lower, but no lower than 22 percent. I don't want the 4-ball to become a temptation away from 3s, but I want it, if this seems wise, to be a halfway legitimate shot, and not just a lucky freak.

And Mr. Logo, Jerry West, is probably wishing he was balling in this league. If he played just with the 3 an option, he'd have scored 30,000 for sure. With this, and him actually chucking a few 4s, and having more room for 3s, he might have hit 35,000.

I mean, the league could at least try this in preseason for the next year or two and see how it flies, so to speak.

Man of the Year? #BarackObama

If Time Mag can do its Man of the Year, and make picks for interesting reasons at time, and some fellow Texan bloggers can nominate their picks for Texan of the Year, why can't I?

And, I did, and it's you know you.


First, to give credit where credit is due, he's the first Democrat to twice be elected president with a majority, and not a plurality, since ... Andrew Jackson.

But, that's not the real reason he gets this honor here.

What is?

In a word?


Its sign-up problems this year due to computer glitches at first, but now due to wariness among 20-somethings, will go far to defining its success, or failure, in 2014 and beyond.

Carl Gibson, a 20-something liberal activist, has a good article on why he's opting out of Obamacare. He's probably speaking for a lot of 20-somethings who have looked at the cost, even sniffing the federal exchange website, or the state exchange site if available, and making a rational decision to pass.
Would you pay $5 to save $1? I didn't ace Math in school, but I do at least know that a Lincoln is worth more than a Washington. If you were presented with this deal in a store, to buy a $5 item to get $1 off another, most people don't see that as a deal. Now, multiply those numbers by a thousand, and you may start to understand why the "young invincibles" of America aren't participating in the healthcare exchanges.
That doesn't stop a Kossack Obamiac from overstating Gibson's two visits to the hospital as an adult as "a propensity for accidents." And, Carl? If you're getting lectured by both Kossacks and Ezra Klein (for not being a good citizen) you're probably doing the right thing.

That said, the actions of not just one but many Carl Gibsons will, in turn, define the success of Barack Obama, and not just his second term, but, his presidency as a whole. And, no, not the computer problems, even though they will likely suppress enrollments into 2014. It's young, educated liberals like Gibson who make the rational, non-Kossack decision to opt out that are key.

Obamacare was predicated on getting a reasonable amount of Carl Gibsons to opt in as part of cost containment. Not only is he instead opting out, he's essentially telling his cohorts to do the same and feel good about it.

Hence, since 2013 is the year Obamacare hit the road (except for all the parts Dear Leader delayed a year!) Barack Obama is this blog's Man of the Year.

As for 2014? With the delays, and the under-enrollments? As 2013 Part Deux, it will further define Obama's legacy, and likely not for the best. (Even if the White House continues to be slow in providing hard data about things like enrollments, the degree to which the website's payments to insurers issue is fixed, etc.)

And, in 2014, we're all going to be guinea pigs on whether Obamacare can provide truly affordable coverage. That said, Obamacare says nothing about providing nightmare-free coverage. And, given the way the modern insurance world works, as documented in sad detail here, it likely won't change that a bit. (It's true that the person in question benefits from being able to get insurance via Obamacare; but, that's not the angle I'm focused on.)

So far, through the end of December, Gallup polling says the uninsureds still aren't impressed.

Could Obama have gotten single-payer passed in 2009 or 2010? Possibly, if he had wanted to, and had expended real energy to do so. But, he never wanted to do either one of those, as I see it. The federal exchange website problems testify to the "real energy" issue from where I stand.

In my personal "view from somewhere," to riff on a philosophy phrase, then to riff on Charles Pierce's C-plus Augustus description of George W. Bush, the man's a C-plus LBJ.

As for me, it's relative success or failure will define exactly where he ranks in U.S. presidents overall, and especially those since Teddy Roosevelt basically invented the modern presidency.

Currently, going from bottom up, chronologically, I rank him ahead of Harding, Coolidge, Hoover (while acknowledging Hoover's bad rap), Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes.

That's 12th out of 19 presidents since the start of the 20th century. Not fantastic. And, yes, I ranked both Taft and Carter ahead of him.

And, yes, I was ranking Shrub's place in history before the end of his second term. Barring some major new breakthrough, I don't see much of a rankings change likely.


As for Time's choice? It's more and more clear all the time that Pope Francis' "liberalization" is a mix of playing around the edges and the soft bigotry of low expectations when compared with Benedict XVI.

That said, I've long said that Bush's "soft bigotry" phrase explains well the continued romance many a neoliberal, and even a few liberals, continue to have with C-p lus LBJ. (Hey, Obamiacs? I could have called him C-plus Carter.)

December 30, 2013

THe #SJW #privilege backlash is how I know Chris Arnade isn't all wet

From  XKCD website. Added here because Atheism Plus and
Gnu Atheism types love to trot it out as a sort of shield, a
"no true Scotsman" claim that they're not annoying.
For those of you not too familiar with him, Chris Arnade is an atheist. Who used to work on Wall Street, with a Ph.D. Who now works with homeless people not too, too far from Wall Street.

And, via his work with them, and the seeming degree of attachment many of them have to religious belief, has led him to call atheism an "intellectual luxury for the wealthy." Which certainly isn't a life of "privilege" and, per the SJW hashtag of "social justice warriors," is working for social justice.

Here's the heart of his piece:
(The homeless) have their faith because what they believe in doesn't judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless. 

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners. 

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.   ...

I look back at my 16-year-old self and see Preacher Man and his listeners differently. I look at the fragile women praying and see a mother working a minimum wage custodial job, trying to raise three children alone. Her children's father off drunk somewhere. I look at the teenager fingering a small cross and see a young woman, abused by a father addicted to whatever, trying to find some moments of peace. I see Preacher Man himself, living in a beat up shack without electricity, desperate to stay clean, desperate to make sense of a world that has given him little. 

They found hope where they could.
I hadn't intended to write a full blog post about it. I thought it was interesting, but not something I totally agreed with, though I understood to some degree where he was coming from, or where I interpreted him as coming from.

I called it a version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In other words, after people get a stable, secure situation in regard to food and shelter, then safety, then social belonging, after that, they're going to feel comfortable — and have the mental energy — to question old beliefs and old values systems.

I agree with him, and against some, though not all Gnu Atheists, that H. sapiens isn't all that rational, even when we're higher up Maslow's hierarchy.

And, this is nothing new. Look at black slaves who adopted their owners' Christianity.

That said, it hasn't stopped the Atheism Plus junior subset of Gnu Atheists from jumping all over Arnade.

And, the one that has topped off the dogpile, all while insisting she's not writing about any one person?

Quelle horreur! It's Stephanie Zvan.

To refute just a couple of the hints she makes, even if at no one in particular, whether always to be believed or not:
1. Arnade never said that religion had no connection with predatory capitalism. That said, the claim of religion is usually just a fig leaf.
2. Unearned authority is a problem far outside of religious groups. Like Gnu Atheism. Besides, in many religious groups, the members of that group have no problem with believing their leaders have earned said authority.
3. I'm sure that if Gnu Atheism gets big enough, by the law of averages, it will have its own scandals. Only Gnu Atheists, even more than many an intensely inward group, will probably trot out "no true Scotsman" claims enough to earn themselves a listing in places like Skeptic's Dictionary under that entry.

Add to this somebody on Facebook using a compounded version of the magical word privilege in a post about Arnade's piece, and barf.

Meanwhile, let's ignore people like that and get back to people like Pamela J. Stubbart, with a more nuanced critique:
Frankly, Chris, I think that your piece has more to do with sig­nal­ing con­cern for the dis­ad­van­taged (and sig­nal­ing that you’re not a dick like Richard Dawkins) than it has to do with athe­ism per se. Not that these are bad things to do — but it doesn’t seem to me that your athe­ism was chal­lenged at all. As far as I can tell, you just revised your opin­ions regard­ing the dif­fer­ing value of truth in the con­text of var­i­ous kinds of people’s lives. (That would make a slightly less catchy title, how­ever). We can agree that it would be “cruel and point­less” to try to talk these peo­ple out of their the­ism. But label­ing athe­ism itself an “intel­lec­tual lux­ury” con­sti­tutes a near­sighted attempt to imbue athe­ism with the con­no­ta­tion that it’s unnec­es­sary and friv­o­lous. Please don’t for­get that in other con­texts, the non-religious do impor­tant work towards cur­tail­ing religiously-motivated harms (female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion, any­one? allow­ing chil­dren with eas­ily cured med­ical con­di­tions to die?) At those times, it is keep­ing quiet about unjus­ti­fied reli­gious claims (“think­ing dif­fer­ently” from athe­ists!) which would be cruel.
I could largely agree with that. Unfortunately, I don't think most Gnu-type atheists, and certainly not the subset of them Atheism Plusers, would agree with Stubbart.

Knowing what I do about the world of addiction, I will say that, in part because these alternatives aren't recognized by the court system, and in part for other, more sociological reasons, secular alternatives to 12-Step addiction support draw a different crowd.

Plus, also indirectly back to Zvan, and others.

Yes, atheists/secularists donate food to food pantries, and other "street level" support. However, secularists don't have their own homeless shelters, at least not that I'm aware of. Not all shelters that do exist are run by religiously oriented private organizations, of course, but many are. And, even those that aren't, in working with alcoholics and addicts, offer up the religious nostrums of the 12 Steps, in part because, again, they don't know the alternatives. 

In short, to bring out another psychological phrase, if Arnade "confronts" the homeless he helps with the illogic, and lack of empirical basis, of their beliefs, he risks giving them a massive case of cognitive dissonance. As many of the homeless are not only alcoholics or addicts, but "dual diagnosis" folks, this is about the last thing they need.

At the same time, Arnade's piece almost makes it sound like he's "deconverting." I asked him that on Twitter, and I'm putting it in here now. 

Why do I say that? The middle section of the block quote from above:
In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners.

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility.
Sorry, but you, without the burden of being on the first or second level of Maslow's pyramid, have just made a logical/empirical disconnect, as I see it.

First, sinners implies sin. Sin is normally associated with religion. It's a word with all sorts of connotative overtones. It implies either a theistic god or a an impersonal karmic metaphysical force judging sin.

And, it sounds like it was written deliberately, as a face-slap, especially with the addition of the phrase "Biblical terms." (Having done that at times myself, I know it when I see it.)

Second, it seems to imply all atheists are part of the "successful people." Commenters on Zvan's page point out that's not true. And, I know that myself. I'm a community newspaper editor with extra money in the bank, but I'm nowhere near rich, and I personally know secularists worse off.

Third, per what I said before about "dual diagnosis," many of the people on the street have been sinned against much more than being sinners. Without causing them cognitive dissonance, you could at least lighten the religious chains for them by giving them some version of understanding of that, even if you have to still fertilize it with some religious manure.

Fourth, related to Nos. 2 and 3, it seems to imply most atheists are more like this than like you are.

This all said, Arnade promises a more nuanced follow-up.

I'd love to see it. I'd also love to see a more friendly reception for him from the social justice warriors, too. And, yes, I would note that, too. See three paragraphs above.

"Secret atheists" are all around you, says David Silverman.

Grandma, before you say the Lord's Prayer over that Christmas turkey, be mindful of the secret atheist in your own family who may be sitting next to you.

That's the claim of David Silverman, president of American Atheists and quite possibly the most obnoxious atheist thought leader in the U.S.
We know that a large population of 'Christians' are actually atheists who feel trapped in their family's religion.
And, you know this how?

In the same way that Gnu Atheists assume all "nones" are atheists, I guess. Since they always assume that most if not all of the surge in "nones" is due to a surge in atheism, that's the most charitable assumption I can make.

So much for the superior reasoning and critical thinking powers of Gnu Atheists, eh?

(Note to hardcore Gnus: I can certainly make less charitable assumptions if you want, like the idea that Silverman is simply pulling something out of his ass.

And, speaking of pulling things out of his add, add to that his March 2014 lament that Democrats are too liberal.)

Meanwhile, that's not the only stupid claim of Silverman's. Zvan also points out this:
“The intent here is not to convert Christians. The intent here is to get atheists going through the motions and pretending to be religious to stop, come out of the closet, and be honest with themselves.” 
Really? Putting up offensive billboards across the country, and even less than 100 percent offensive ones, which are clearly designed to say "eff you" to Christians, followed by possibly converting some of them, has as its actual goal getting atheists to come out of the closet?


And, as for "saving the lost," there's other alternatives that Zvan overlooks or tacitly dismisses, like atheist/freethought equivalents to churches, which, at least in larger urban areas, even exist, already, right now, and even in red states. The North Texas Church of Freethought, in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, has been around 20 years.

Note that name: "Freethought."

Silverman's approach, if it is trying to convert believers (and given that atheists are still just 2 percent of the population, that's surely its focus and Silverman's lying out some orifice in all likelihood) reminds me again of the old "if you want to catch flies, honey is better than vinegar" approach.

(Speaking of, Peter Manseau has some good spreading honey thoughts.)

If you're trying to get closeted atheists to come out, they're probably not the people who want to explain to Grandma at Christmas why they're associated with a nutbar like David Silverman.

Heck, people who have been atheists for some time — many of us don't use the word "atheist" in part precisely because of people like Silverman. Call us secularists, metaphysical naturalists, or per the community in Dallas "freethoughters."

Speaking of, there's one other issue, about one other word in that place's title: "church."

I don't know about Silverman, but I do know that many a Gnu Atheist, no matter how much "atheist evangelism" power such places might represent, furiously reject the idea of anything even close to an "atheist church."

Fine. Suit yourselves. Keep spraying vinegar rather than honey in the air. Just don't moan in public about the lack of results, or lie about the results by claiming "nones" are all "atheists," because I'll smack you down in public.

And, speaking of, let's be more honest on Silverman's behalf about one other thing.

Ultimately, this isn't about getting secret atheists to come out of the closet. It's about getting the money of open atheists to come out of the wallet and head to Silverman. It's a PR scheme for fundraising.