March 01, 2014

Read how Edward VII helped create modern Britain and a modern monarchy

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy PrinceThe Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic bio of King Ed, normally known as "Bertie" to his intimates, after his given first name, Albert. I learned a number of things about him, beyond having known about some of his "wastrel" background, that he was the impetus for a cigar brand, and he had a tumultuous relationship with his mother. Let's start with that given name and mother, Queen Victoria.

Somehow, somewhere, long ago, I had heard that Victoria, as a deathbed codicil to a personal will or something, had asked that no future king be called or styled Albert. Actually, she had wanted Bertie to name his eldest Albert and perpetuate an eternal line of King Albert, such was the quasi-narcissistic nature of her mourning for her husband. (Bertie and Queen Alexander named their oldest Edward, and Bertie told his mom her idea was dead on arrival.)

The philandering? Perhaps platonic, perhaps more, it continued even after he assumed the throne in 1901.

The maternal relationship? Stormy, especially before the ascendancy of Wilhelm II in Germany in 1888 then Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897. She thought him unintelligent, cut him out of information about cabinet meetings, and disagreed on "sides" in the Schleswig-Holstein war of the early 1860s, which led to Prussia's rise under Bismarck, then the founding of the German Empire.

That said, by insisting on a public procession and more for both her golden jubilee in 1887 and the diamond, Bertie did as much as anybody, arguably, to save the monarchy, as tides of Republicanism were on the rise, and Victoria, by her perpetual mourning, including refusal to open Parliament and more in many years, was arguably failing her constitutional duties.

Ridley also shows how Edward, in his last years as prince and early ones as king, was key to the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France, yet worked to keep a hand out, unsuccessfully, to Wilhelm.

View all my reviews

Atheism with respect for religion

Excellent interview by Louise Antony with Gary Gutting. (I've read Antony's book, found it very good, and had an email correspondence with one of the contributing authors.)

Antony's first in-depth comment sets the tone:
Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.

That’s not to say that I think everything is within the scope of human knowledge. Surely there are things not dreamt of in our philosophy, not to mention in our science – but that fact is not a reason to believe in supernatural beings.
That second paragraph is important. Antony is rejecting gods of the gaps, while rejecting scientism at the same time. In short, this is not going to be a defense of atheism like Sam Harris might offer.

Indeed, Antony rejects interviewer Gary Gutting's idea that religious belief might be a hallmark of irrationality (let alone the mental illness canard) with this: "I’m puzzled why you are puzzled how rational people could disagree about the existence of God."

More on that is near the end of the interview:
It is disrespectful, moreover, to insist that someone else’s belief has some hidden psychological cause, rather than a justifying reason, behind it. ...

I believe I have reasons for my position, and I expect that theists believe they have reasons for theirs. Let’s agree to pay each other the courtesy of attending to the particulars.
Well put. And, that holds true even if a certain strand of the religious refuses to engage in such courtesies.

Antony later extends that courtesy to religious beliefs in the public sphere:
No one needs to defend their religious beliefs to me — not unless they think that those beliefs are essential to the defense of the policy they are advocating. If the only argument for a policy is that Catholic doctrine says it’s bad, why should a policy that applies to everyone reflect that particular doctrine? ...

But usually, religious people who become politically active think that there are good moral reasons independent of religious doctrine, reasons that ought to persuade any person of conscience. 
She then cites drone warfare as a particular example

Antony then goes to note, per the old atheist trope that we just believe in one less god than Christians, Muslims or whomever, who are atheists in terms of Zeus, Thor, etc., that rational people within the large set of religious believers disagree among themselves.

She makes this important point, about that diversity:
I’m challenging the idea that there’s one fundamental view here.
From there, Antony rejects the idea of epistemic peers. She doesn't claim that all knowledge is subjective, or that their are individualized facts. She does, though, note that we all bring our individual past perspectives to the table.

Antony then addresses what many people call "spiritual" experiences. I do not, because the term eventually gets twisted. Antony talks about "profound" experiences that, for her, did not become conversion experiences:
I’ll admit that I believe I know what sort of experiences the theists are talking about, that I’ve had such experiences, but that I don’t think they have the content the theists assign to them. I’ve certainly had experiences I would call “profound.” Many were aesthetic in nature — music moves me tremendously, and so does nature. I’ve been tremendously moved by demonstrations of personal courage (not mine!), generosity, sympathy. I’ve had profound experiences of solidarity, when I feel I’m really together with other people working for some common goal. These are very exhilarating and inspiring experiences, but they are very clearly about human beings — human beings at their best.
That's the bottom line, and how Antony is a good humanist as well as good atheist.

February 28, 2014

Tea party vs. tea party lite in uncompetitive Texas House District 12 (updated)

Incumbent Kylc Kacal is being challenged by Timothy Delasandro in this GOP primary. The district, which includes slices of Bryan and Waco, is arguably the most rural district in East Texas.

And, it's largely rural white conservative. Per demographic analysis, the district, which includes only 30 percent of McLennan County (Waco) and 16 percent of Brazos County (Bryan), plus all of three rural counties, is about 60 percent white, in terms of voting age population. Per additional demographics, it's older, poorer and less employed than the state as a whole, as well as being whiter.

So, old rural white folks. This isn't the new Texas; the district is pretty much Tea Party recruiting grounds.

And thus, on to the header.

The "lite," per the header, is first-term incumbent Kacal. He's being challenged by Delasandro, one of four opponents in the 2012 primary for an open seat. Intimations have already flown that Kacal is not a true enough conservative. Part of the battle is over how Texas Right to Life, vs. other groups, scored representatives and senators on votes on two bills this last year; the Texas Tribune spells out the details. One of the issues is Kacal's missing a final vote on one bill due to a previous commitment.

So, yep, we have a Republican primary based on a challenger who's entering "eternal Tea Party candidate" territory, based on him twisting the reasons why the incumbent missed one vote in last year's Lege. 

Otherwise, on Kacal, ranking about the same as Charlie Geren is not "liberal." Or close. And, why Independent Texans would actually have an endorsement, or quasi-endorsement, of Delasandro, is way beyond me. Indy Texans just sank several degrees in my book.

Unfortunately, unlike in 2012, there's no Democrat in the race. There's also no Libertarian and no Green. That's despite Democratic challenger Robert Stem drawing nearly 45 percent in 2012, indicating this is a competitive district, or could be, if one wants to dig below the surface.

Unfortunately, in 2014, it's officially uncompetitive. Given the district's nature, I'm surprised there's not a Libertarian on the ballot, too, if nothing else.

In a race where the primary is thus the general election, to show he's Tea Party lite, and not a stealth Democrat as Delasandro claims, Kacal has already gotten official endorsements from the likes of Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

And, in an election year where everybody's touting Wendy Davis, the initial forays of Battleground Texas, etc., if you can't get a candidate to file to run in a theoretically halfway competitive state house district? Texas Dems, you've got a long way to go, baby. 

Also, note to fellow Texas Lefty Blog writers: This is why you don't see a lot of local political writing from here by me!

Texas Trib says it will be more transparent; I don't think it's enough

Facing growing criticism over its relationship to larger donors and sponsors, the Texas Tribune has promised new levels of transparency as far as how much particular contributors give, if some donors sponsor special areas of coverage and more.

It's a step ahead, indeed.

But, is it enough to shake the criticism, which I have via Jim Moore, that the Trib is still too "establishmentarian"? I kind of doubt that. Actually, I more than "kind of" doubt that, as I explain in further detail below.

And, I doubt that's going to change, either.

Plus speaking of Moore, he talks about some methodology problems with the Trib's recent polling. This issue has nothing to do with who's donating how much, but rather, with simple editorial quality and quality control issues. He may be overstating things somewhat, but, at the least, it's arguably that some of the numbers are probably more fluid than the Trib would have us believe.

If you're going to do polling, spend the time and money to do it right, or don't do it.

And, per Moore's previous work, I forgot that I had blogged two years ago about the Trib being a softie on environmental reporting AND founder Evan Smith being overpaid.

That said, I don't know if this is in part a pissing match between Smith as a Gen-Xer and Moore as a Baby Boomer or not, as I've heard implied. I don't think it is, and Moore says it's not. That said, I do know that the ethics issue isn't limited to the Trib. It's not even limited to modern digital news groups in general.

Back in the day, a paper as rich as the New York Times occasionally killed stories over advertiser "concerns" back in the 1970s. And, right now, in at least one place in Illinois, a community newspaper, your old-fashioned small-town weekly, is killing anti-fracking ads.

So, what we have is a problem that's existed, but is getting worse as we speak, both in print media and its modern kin, whether digital only or digital-print blend. That said, on the advertorial issue, while it can be easier to "segregate" advertorial from house-written stories and opinion, it can be easier to "integrate," or "semi-integrate," too.

Meanwhile, back to why "transparency" isn't going to be enough from the Trib, Ramshaw's claim aside.

Speaking of advertising, with that lead-in, let's not forget, per this blog post of mine, that the Trib is planning on diving in the advertorial "content" pool this year, if it hasn't already dived:
TribTalk will be the Austin-based news nonprofit’s answer to both the newspaper op-ed section and and the wave of interest in branded advertising — a place for commentary on Texas politics and an opportunity for the Trib to find a new stream of revenue.
Moore confirmed to me that, as far as what he knew, this was still a "go."

And, this gets right back to the "establishmentarian" problems. Especially in an election year, the primary year in the four-year cycle for state of Texas offices.

What this really is, is an invitation for lobbyists, trade groups and PACs to get some PR on the op-ed pages of the Trib, lightly labeled as "sponsored content" to the degree the Trib "segregates" this at all. Can you picture the blizzard of advertorial op-eds when the Lege opens in January of next year?

Basically, Evan Smith is moving the Trib into becoming Tiger Beat on the Colorado, riffing on Charles Pearce calling Politico Tiger Beat on the Potomac. In case you're wondering what I'm referencing, I'm saying, what's stopping Smith from doing something like Mike Allen's Playbook at Politico? Speaking of, maybe Alex Pareene needs to save room for Smith on his "Hack List" for 2015, joining 2014's top-ranked Allen.

Let's take this back to politics.

Campaign finance reporting is transparent. Transparency don't feed the bulldog of how much money influences politics when Greg Abbott's raking in more than $30 million and Wendy Davis isn't that far off, for example, and both will surely bust $100 million by the general. They can file their reports with the Texas Ethics Commission and be as transparent as they're supposed to be. They're still trafficking in a gravy train of political money, and if Evan Smith wanted to do something about that at the Trib, he'd write columns calling for public financing of Texas elections at a maximum, and at a minimum, caps on financial contributions on state races.

But, just maybe Smith doesn't want that.

Hell, maybe Evan will start posting video clips from his PBS "Conversations" on the Trib and make it into a Daily Mail. Or maybe he'll partner with the vast, amoeba-like, hypercapitalist blob known as SXSW and form a rival to TED? (That's in spite of the fact that concentrating on high-end video will not help newspapers.)
Per an old movie, newspapers and their digital-only equivalents need to learn to "dye your underpants and live within your (financial) limitations."

Meanwhile, this has gotten long enough that I may spin the speculative parts off into a second blog post later.

Dan Patrick's Ill Eagles troubles increase

The original news that Danny Boy had willingly and knowingly hired illegal immigrants has surely torpedoed his campaign:
State Sen. Dan Patrick, who says Texas leaders must “stop the invasion” from Mexico, went along with a decision to hire at least four unauthorized immigrants as cooks and dishwashers at his sports bar in the mid-1980s, according to a Houston-area man who says he was one of them.
Has now gotten new confirmation, or even extension.

The Quorum Report links to a paywalled story from the Austin American Statesman that says that the "at least four" is now "between six and eight." Hell, next, we'll find out he drove to Matamoros personally to hire a whole family.

I would make a joke about Ill Eagles' breeding rates, but on the more serious side, that's the kind of bigotry that Patrick revels in.

In the original story, Patrick tries to claim fuzzy memory, but that doesn't fly:
Patrick, one of four Republicans running for lieutenant governor in the March 4 primary, said Tuesday he only “vaguely” remembers Andrade at one of his establishments. He said he had nothing to do with the hiring and that managers at each location handled employment decisions.

“We had literally hundreds of full-time and part-time employees. It’s a transient business and many young people come and go,” Patrick said in a statement.

Andrade agreed that a manager under Patrick hired him and the other three men, but said that after a few months Patrick knew that the four workers didn't have permission to be in the country – because he told Patrick.
It definitely doesn't fly after this update. See here for my blogging about the original story.

February 27, 2014

#TigerWoods — sensitive, defensive? But, No. 15 ahead?

Bob Harig at ESPN has a wrap-up on recent indirect back-and-forth between Woods and his former swing coach, Hank Haney.

Haney's probably a bit sensitive about not getting enough credit from Tiger for Woods' success during his tenure as Tiger's coach. (Psst: Hank Haney, let me introduce you to Steve Williams, who showed during Adam Scott's Masters-winning putt that he's probably worth something on the bag.) 

But, most of the sensitivity is on the side of T.Woods.

As Harig notes, the majority — the clear majority — of his major-less drought has been under the tutelage of current swing coach Sean Foley.

As for Haney's particular observations, that Tiger spends too much time working out and not enough practicing, especially on his putting and somewhat on his short game? I'd say they're probably true. We know flatstick problems killed Tiger at last year's Open, and have been problematic at a few other post-2009 majors.

Haney still thinks Tiger will win more majors. I'd agree.

But, do I think he'll win five more? No.

I'll take Haney's observation that Augusta is, indeed, Tiger-proofed, that the way it's shaped doesn't fit Tiger's game today, at face value.

US Open? We know driver accuracy, or lack thereof, can be a killer there. (And Pinehurst, this year, does not strike me as a good track for Woods, even though he was third there in 1999 and second in 2005. Also, it was overhauled in 2011.)

That leaves the Open and the PGA as majors venues more friendly to Woods.

Tiger can bomb it over in the Isles with little worry, in most cases, about accuracy. That leaves scrambling out of the occasional pot bunker, and the putting game. And, this year, it's at Royal Liverpool, where he won in 2006. (Hoylake has had some moderate changes since then, but nothing radical.)

The PGA? It depends on how US Open-like a typical course is made out to be.

Valhalla this year might be a good track for him, as he won there in 2000. That said, the course has been extensively overhauled since he won there and played there for the 2008 Ryder Cup.)

In 2015, Whistling Straits? We know he doesn't have a good record there. Baltusrol and Bellerive the next two years might be better. Philly Mick won at the last Baltusrol in 2005 and Nick Price won at Bellerive in 1992.

So, I'll pencil in Tiger as ending his majors drought this year, most likely at the PGA.

#SXSW — Moscow in Texas' top event has a labor problem

Or rather, SXSW has a not paying labor problem. Yes, I'm being snarky about the "Moscow in Texas" part, but actually, I don't think Austin is Texas' most liberal city. It's at least arguable; see the bottom.

Anyway ...

South by Southwest, or SXSW, the Austin-based film and music festival (or it was, before exploding into an "event") illustrates the difference between neoliberals and real liberals, especially in the so-called "creative" world.

When any for-profit organization, like SXSW, talks about "paying" beginning-level helpers in the coin of "experience" rather than money, something is definitely rotten in that particular Denmark.
I discovered that almost all the people working at SXSW are paid in similar “perks,” not U.S. currency. If you work 30 hours as a volunteer, you get a pair of T-shirts “to prove you were there”; 50 hours gets you inside one of the three conferences that make up SXSW (“Music,” “Film,” or “Interactive”); and 80 hours gets you access to everything, though you won’t have time to see much of it (SXSW itself says that if seeing the festival is what you’re after, “we strongly recommend that you buy a badge”).
Yeah, that's pretty sucktacular. And, per the subhead of the story, we're  not talking about a few people. We're talking about 3,000 volunteers.

And even performers are paid in the coin of "exposure":
The artists who come to SXSW aren’t compensated much better. Plane tickets and accommodations are on the band, which SXSW pays with either $250 or free admission to the music festival — one or the other, not both. 
Even Hitler knows a rip-off when he sees it:

But, you and I won't get in for anything close to free.
While much of the labor at SXSW may be free, tickets are not. If you order six months ahead of time, a pass to the film festival will set you back $495, as opposed to $650 if you buy now. A music badge costs $625 if you order ahead of time and $795 at the door, while access to everything costs from $1,295 to $1,695.
So, how much profit do SXSW organizers skim?

We don't know. But guesstimates say that it's more than "exposure":
“As a privately held company, SXSW doesn’t release any financial information,” said spokesperson Elizabeth Derczo when I called her up.

That’s not quite true. The company is quick to highlight its financial impact on the city of Austin, with a study it commissioned claiming that the 2013 event injected $218 million into the local economy. What it doesn’t release is information about the money it injects into the pockets of its board of directors. What we do know is SXSW Inc. brings in enough money that in 2010 the company purchased a brand-new, 20,828-square-foot office building that was appraised at $4.8 million. ...

So are the people running SXSW getting rich, then? Rob Patterson of the Austin Post asked (Roland Swenson, a co-founder and managing director of SXSW), that question in an interview last year.

“Are we getting rich? What is rich? I’m not sure what that means,” Swenson replied, sounding like someone who is certainly not poor. “To me rich means that I don’t have to work anymore. And if that’s the case, I’m not rich.
And, I'll take a further guesstimate. Let's average advance and near-event tickets and say the average attendee pays $550. If there's 70,000 attendees, that's $38.5 million.

And, I'm not even counting the hundreds of thousands of dinero that SXSW gets from its corporate sponsors. Nor the more than 500 exhibitors' booth spaces fees, which start at $2,880 for a basic 10x10 and rapidly get pricier. I'll guesstimate $10,000 average and round to an even 500 booths. Another $5 million. An average of $5,000 a spot for, say, 40 ads in the programs? Chump change of "only" $200K.  This doesn't count the corporation's (yep, my blog, and that's what we're calling it) 5x a year magazine and ad rates there, the $5,000 per blog company/product placement on SXSW blogging, and more. All this info comes courtesy of the SXSW marketing guide.

So, SXSW is easily grossing $50 million a year. Read that again. I'm not talking about the $200M a year that Swenson claims SXSW contributes to the greater Austin economy. I'm talking about what his organization grosses.

I'm a bit new to this; a quick hit on teh Google shows there's been complaints for a few years. But, I am the first one I've read, after that Googling, to take a stab at SXSW's own revenue stream.

And, this is only for the "traditional" SXSW in March. It doesn't count other events, whether in Austin or now, in Vegas, Baby! Per that Austin Post link:
The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Bureau came to us about doing it. And they wrote a check. ... It wasn't enough to pay for it, but it will certainly reduce the pain of its losses in the first year. I don't know. If we get 1,000 people we'll be happy.
To me, it looks like Roland Swenson is trying to create a new TED-like set-up. Next? A SXSE (for the geography) in Miami, perhaps? While expanding their real estate holdings in Austin at the same time?

It also looks to me like Roland Swenson is probably not "getting" rich but is already rich, too.

So, if you're a real liberal?

Skip SXSW. Don't condone bad behavior by attending.

And, if you're a "creative" person seeking your first "break"? Please, as tempting as it may be, stop falling for the "exposure" angle, if it's a for-profit company that's clearly making a profit dangling it in front of your eyes.

Things like this are another reason I also argue that El Paso, not Austin, is Texas' most liberal major city.

HERE is what #WendyDavis should campaign about

On this blog, I've regularly called Greg Abbott Texas' money-waster in chief, for all the times, about which he jokes, "I wake up in the morning, and I sue Obama."

And, someone from Lubbock agrees. And, has put a pencil to Abbott's money wasting, calculating it at more than $2.5 million.

THIS is what Wendy Davis should be running on, over and over, and over. Continue to hammer how Greg Abbott is Texas' money-waster in chief. She wouldn't have to run away from her record on social issues, or suddenly discover new ones, thereby continuing to confuse and disconcert the Democratic base.

Rather, hammer Abbott as a money waster, followed by the character issue. Ted Nugent is just the start. As Carol Morgan describes, Abbott's got a hypocrisy streak as wide as the Red River in spring flood, coupled with an integrity about as deep as the Red in summer drought.

Morgan has more, including blasting Abbott for suddenly, last year, "discovering" that his wife was Hispanic.

If, per Perry, the favorite bird of GOP Lite Guv candidates is the Ill Eagle, maybe for Abbott it's the Pander Bear.

February 26, 2014

Gay marriage: And now Texas

It was probably only a matter of time, but a federal judge in San Antonio has said that the Abandoned Pointy Object State's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.
U.S. Judge Orlando Garcia issued an injunction barring Texas from enforcing a law and constitutional amendment that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying and ban the state from recognizing same-sex marriages that were legally performed in other states.

There will be no rush to the altar in Texas, however. Garcia stayed his ruling, delaying its implementation while Texas officials appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees courts in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The real "proof is in the pudding," not just for Texas but as a thermometer for where higher courts stand, will be what the Fifth Circuit says on appeal.

Because Greg Abbott WILL appeal this one, if anything.

That said, maybe not in Texas, but nationally, Greg Abbott would be in the minority.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry has already spoken:
"Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens. The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions, and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box. We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state."
Did he ask every Texas Secretary of State if they allegedly agreed? Oh, the days of a decade ago.

As for people in opposition?

If you don't like gay marriage, then don't marry a gay person. Marriage is a civil matter, period. No gay marriage law or court ruling threatens any conservative church or religious denomination that refuses to have religious ceremonies for gays.

At the same time, you religiously liberal types? Don't try to tell me the Bible says nothing condemnatory about gay sexual relationships. I've already shot that down and thoroughly. 

If  you want to go to Cathedral of Hope, or even a liberal mainline Protestant church, or the Unitarians, that support gay marriage, fine. But don't claim that even a liberal reading of the bible does. Be honest that you've moved beyond a figurative interpretation to simply ignoring some parts of the bible. Every church, and every Christian, does already anyway.

Witness the classical Christian doctrine of "ceremonial law" as an excuse for Christians to eat bacon and lobster, banned in the Old Testament. Or, Paul himself ignoring the stipulation on kosher slaughter of animals, given to Noah before there were "Jews," and ignoring James at the same time in so doing.

You can be like Paul, or Joseph Smith, and simply say you, or your church, has had a new revelation.

Ditto goes for atheists, whether Gnus, Faitheists, Atheist Nones like me or whatever. Don't try to claim the bible says nothing derogatory about gay sexuality when it clearly does!

If the above blog post hasn't indicated that I am an independent thinking iconoclast of sorts, I don't know what would!

#AmericasTeam — 25 years after the #TomLandry firing

Tom Landry didn't hate Jerry Jones forever./Dallas Morning News
Yep, it's now 25 years since Jerry Jones was spotted at Mia's in Dallas with Jimmy Johnson. That, of course, was followed by the rumor explosion that led to what everybody expected: the canning of Tom Landry. The needed canning of Tom Landry, from where I sit, even if many Cowboys from that era still hold deep grudges against Jethro Jones.

So, right up front, I'm calling bullshit on Cowboys fans and former Cowboys players from that era who still nurse grudges against Jethro Jones. On the fan side, we know that many of you back then wanted him gone. I don't know about the players, but it's possible there, too.

So, don't weep too much for The Fedora. Previous owner Bum Bright and long-term GM Tex Schramm, who left the team soon after the sale, had already been looking at doing the dirty pre-sale, as people who were old enough to be around back then and of double-digit age know. It was a lot easier dropping that mess in Jerry's lap, though, especially when he volunteered, which shows that, GM skills aside,  he is a mensch in some ways.

Tom Landry Jr. claims his dad was ready to rebuild that team again, and could have done so. Junior notes that Landry had already drafted Michael Irvin in 1988 (thus showing he was willing to accept someone with "character issues") and planned on taking Troy Aikman in 1989 as the team actually did.

Fair enough, but ...

Would Landry (and Schramm) have agreed on the Herschel Walker trade, though? Aikman helped, certainly. But, without the additional picks, and the players, the Cowboys, in pre-salary cap days, probably don't create the dynasty they did. 

Let's refresh just who all was in the trade theft. Counting top players only, we have Emmitt Smith after a trade of the one draft pick from Minnesota Alvin Harper by draft, Russell Maryland by further draft trade pick, Darren Woodson by draft, Dixon Edwards by draft and Jesse Solomon by trade. None of the draft picks Dallas sent back ever panned out for the Vikings. 

In short, the Cowboys' defense of the 1990s, which allowed Aikman to be, yes, somewhat of a "game manager," especially when combined with Emmitt, simply wouldn't have existed.

And, I doubt that Landry and Schramm would have explored that trade, or pushed for that big of a swap if they did. Johnson, especially, given that Dallas had had three consecutive losing seasons under Landry, knew a rebuild was in order.

Also, Junior claims dad would just have coached a couple more years, to clean up that 3-13 1988, then retired. 

Not so, says Everson Walls. Via ESPN, he says that when Texas first broached "graceful retirement" to Tom, pre-sale, he said he would coach "well into the 90s":
From what I heard, Coach Landry chose the press conference [after 1988 season] and said, 'I think I'm going to coach well into the '90s.' 
There you go, Junior.

Also, per a story related to the above photo, about Landry's 1993 enshrinement in the Ring of Honor, there's this:
“The thing that hurts me the most is when people say I am unforgiving for Jerry and everything,’ Mr. Landry said. “I was really looking to get out of football. The move out of football didn’t bother me too much. I guess Jerry and I would agree they could have done it a little differently on a different occasion.  
Whether to save face, or because he forgot what he said after the 1988 season, somebody seems to be telling a white lie here, and it ain't Jerry Jones.

I will give Jethro a kudo for apologizing in the past. There's no need now to talk of regret about not having kept him another year.

But, he needed to go, and people knew it. If he was stubborn enough to resist after a 29-year career, I understand not wanting the black mark on his record, but ...

Per the ESPN link above, a great oral history piece about the jarring change:
"That 3-13 team in 1988 was still the worst Cowboys team I've ever seen. I was taking calls on 'Sports Central' every night about, 'When is Landry going to retire? He's got to go! The game has passed him by!' Every night. Until he got fired, then the same people were calling saying, 'How could they fire Tom Landry?'"
So, in other words, there's a lot of hypocritical Cowboys fans out there. Probably a few hypocritical Cowboys players among those holding grudges against Jethro Jones.

As Tim Cowlishaw notes, Irvin drafting aside, the Cowboys had posted three straight losing records. There's no need to mourn his being let go, other than details of how it went down.

If anything, Landry Junior should thank Jethro for making his dad a martyred saint. Imagine a fourth losing season in 1989, possibly almost as bad as the actual 1-15. Imagine them, say, only at 5-11, or even 6-10, instead of the actual 7-9, in 1990. And the future not looking so much better. That's five straight losing seasons, and, without the Walker trade, probably no better than 8-8 for Landry in 1991, instead of the team's first playoff appearance in six years.

Instead of laughing at calling the Cowboys "America's Team" today, that phrase would have died out by 2000. The team wouldn't have been good enough, and, all of his greed and gaucherie aside, nobody would have been marketing the Cowboys like Jerry Jones did.

You can read all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of Jethro at this reminiscence piece.

That said, Cowlishaw rightly notes that Jones is in danger of being the league's new Al Davis. While he should be cut slack for 1989, he shouldn't for today.

TxDOT dumps state cheapness on Texas counties

It's technically not an unfunded mandate, but it's clearly in the spirit of one. And it will primarily hit smaller, rural counties, the ones with the least free money.

For Texans who live in rural counties, they're likely familiar with alert signs on state and U.S. highways like "CR 340 <--- ---="" 171="" or="">" or "CR 292 <--->" advising that the intersection with said county road is about one-quarter mile ahead, and the county road goes left, right, or both ways.

Well, the Texas Department of Transportation has said it will no longer pay to maintain such signs.  Counties have the option of paying TxDOT to maintain or replace them, or else letting TxDOT take them down without replacement if they're damaged or deemed to be past their shelf life.

It's not huge, in that rural residents of farm roads are probably giving good directions to would-be visitors, anyway.

It's just that it's another sign of state of Texas cheapness.

And, given that one party has controlled the state of Texas for more than a decade, we know who to blame.

Right, Mr. Abbott, as you talk about how you won't stand for wheelchair speeds on I-35?

No, video won't save newspapers

If even Tiger Beat on the Potomac knows this, shouldn't newspapers? My No. 1 thought is for the Orange County Register and its massive video plans.

Look, the audience for local TV news continues to slip and slump, especially among younger people who also don't read newspapers.

More here, in black and white:
 What were once considered the “newscasts of record,” early evening local TV news programs have been losing viewers steadily for more than a decade. Over the past five years alone, the audience has declined almost 14%.
Why would newspapers, setting aside the expense and production quality issues, think they could do anything new here? That's doubly true when TV news revenue, like print newspaper revenue, has been sliding for a decade.

There's this, as part of that:
Local TV newscasts remain profitable. Almost 60% of news directors said their stations made a profit on news in 2011, the highest percentage since 1998.

That means that more than 40% lost revenues on local news, the lowest percentage to lose revenue since 1998.

That said, of course, the expense side can't be set aside in an industry that is still struggling to stanch print-side losses. And, per Politico, of the entities that may actually lose less money on video because of their operating structure, both Buzzfeed and Puff Hoes have no paywalls, so, if nobody's watching those pricey videos, they're not making money either way.

The only real way to possibly make ad money off online news, or "newslike," video is to have nothing more than 90 seconds with quickie ad lead-ins of no more than 15 seconds.

I still don't know what will save most newspapers. I know that starting with some sort of pay wall will at least help.

Traditional papers made some dumb decisions vis-a-vis the Net back in the 1990s. They had a change to reverse some of that in the early 2000s but were too slow off the bat. The media world today is pretty much broken, and may never be totally unbroken.

February 25, 2014

NBA likes my idea, is looking at a 4-point line

A couple of months ago, I first blogged about the idea that the NBA should consider a 4-point line.

And, now, under new commish Adam Silver, the league is looking at that, and interestingly, in combination with a larger court, something I hadn't considered.
NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn and vice president Kiki Vandeweghe acknowledged in a recent interview with that the league office, at least in an exploratory fashion, has weighed expanding the dimensions of the court and the introduction of a 4-point shot. ...

The NBA has employed a 94-foot-by-50-foot court since the 1940s. But Vandeweghe -- who went to two All-Star Games as a player and most recently served as an executive and head coach with the Nets before joining the league office in 2013 -- confirmed that the growing size and ever-increasing athleticism of players today prompted discussion about expanding the playing surface.
Thorn goes on to note the ducat value of courtside seats is a negative factor in expansion.

But, if you can get just a foot on either side, it will open up the floor a fair amount. Three feet on either end sounds about right. Two feet or so would be even better, though, as I'll explain below.

And, yes, it would make a difference. Both changes would make a difference. At Grantland, Zach Lowe recently had 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, and suggest possible remedies. One of them is to make the current field goal worth 3 and the current 3-ball worth 4. However, this would lead to a new outbreak of what was made famous by Shaquille O'Neal, the old Hack-a-Shaq with three free throws instead of two.

My alternative? Which the NBA may now like, and should, because it also ties into the athleticism issue, and will open up the court even more?

Shoot the 4-ball, 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.

Maybe, if we expand the court an extra two feet on each side, for 54 feet, we can make a 24-foot or 24-6 wing 4-pointer, just like the 3-point line cuts in below the elbows.

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.

But, this doesn't go far enough. Silver and the NBA should adopt international in-bounding rules, among other additional changes to speed the game up and improve its flow.

New numbers, same spinning, on Davis vs. Abbott fundraising

Kristy Hoppe summarizes the details. Yes, Davis was a touch ahead of Abbott in the most recent cycle, but again, you have to include her joint account fundraising to make that statement.

Second, yes, the vast majority of her money comes smaller donors, but, folks like Burnt Orange Report deliberately overlook that this includes two $1 million-plus donations.

There's a simple way to compare apples to apples.

On totals, we compare Davis-only accounts to Abbott-only accounts. If Davis wants any of the Victory Committee money counted, she needs to stipulate how much goes to her.

On where the money's coming from, on smaller vs. bigger donors, we list all donations to each candidate, then find the median donation amount.

Meanwhile, per Perry, instead of worrying about spinning donation deals, she needs to keep the heat up on Abbott about the Nuge.

Someday, in some galaxy far away, candidates will finally realize that truly independent-minded, non-tribalized, intelligent voters see through all the fundraising bullshit.

Unfortunately, that's not our galaxy today.

Jim Mussina: Just what real Democrats do not need

Whether he is the Karl Rove of something or another, anybody dipping his hands in the pockets of folks like the American Petroleum Institute is NOT the "Rove of the left," no matter what Politico says.

"Rove of the neolibs"? Well, maybe we could call him that. Chairing Obama's PR group, Organizing for America, dipping his hands in the post-Citizens United 501(c)3 till, and being one of Hillary Clinton's fronters means that he likely does swing a big neoliberal monetary dick.

Again, that's just what real Democrats don't need.

He was also a key architect of the sellout to insurance agencies, whose partially at work, partially sidelined (for a year? two years? forever) semi-limp remains are called Obamacare.
Again, that's just what real Democrats don't need.

Battleground Texas, at the Pointy Abandoned Object State level (that's Lone Star State, in case some readers haven't gotten that one yet) has nothing on Big Jim, though the Angle Bros certainly would like a piece of his action, I'm sure.

Is there some foul substance in the St. Louis #Cardinals drinking water?

First, as I blogged last week, Bernie Miklasz mailed in his worst column ever at the Post-Dispatch, pleading at the point of tears for Ozzie Smith and Tony La Russa to make up, because that's "the Cardinal Way"! St. Stan Musial was even evoked. That was before Bernie doubled down on this idiocy in a new column, primarily about other issues, but in reality a pathetic attempt to justify the idea that Royce Clayton was actually the better player that year.

Next, La Russa shows why it was time for him to have retired. He claims that sabermetrics is why Jeff Bagwell is not in Cooperstown, a claim quickly demolished here.

Worse yet, TLR thinks Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer.


At one time, I thought he was decent as a strategy manager, but great as an evaluator and developer of talent, and might make a very good GM. Now, I hope no team is dumb enough to make that move, or a grade higher, as president/vice president of baseball operations, unless you want your team overpaying for Jack Morris types.

Finally, Joe Strauss, perhaps worried that Bernie might hog his teh stupidz limelight, boo-hoos for Lance Lynn, claiming that sabermetrics hurt his cause too. Uhh, Joe? No, good old fashioned split stats show that he runs out of gas after Aug. 1. Sabermetrics just reinforce that.

Sabermetrics in the common thread. Miklasz is either misreading or cherry-picking, while Strauss and La Russa are clueless.

So, Ozzie? Not only don't kiss and make up, but don't drink from the same water cooler!

And, is it any wonder that Lee Enterprises, the parent company of the Post-Dispatch, was almost delisted from the NYSE a couple of years back because it was in penny stock territory? Strauss is horrible, Miklasz is becoming more miss than hit, and Rick Hummel needs to retire as a beat writer.

February 24, 2014

And the Derek Jeter BS machine starts up

Gregg Doyel, who's often pretty full of teh stupidz at CBS, weighs in on Derek Jeter's greatness by saying The Cap'n was one of the five best shortstops ever.

He openly and gleefully bases this only on offensive stats. And, even claims he was top 3 or 4.

Reality? Jay Jaffe's JAWS system puts him at No. 12, though I Tweeted Doyel that I'd put him in the top 10, graciously.

Among those ranking higher if you actually count defense, which is, of course, a big part of shortstop? Which Doyel ignores.

Ozzie Smith, as I noted in this blog post, just beats him, flat out.

Or, as I recently noted on a Jeter legacy piece, the Reds' Barry Larkin is in the same neighborhood. So is Alan Trammell.

But, let's play along with Doyel.

Offense? Easy snapshot is career OPS+.

And, ahead of Jeter? Honus WagnerAlex Rodriguez, George Davis of dead ball days, Arky Vaughn,
Ernie Banks, Lou Boudreau, and Joe Cronin. Larkin is just a point behind and may pass you as a result of your final season.

So, that's No. 8 for Jeter right now on offense alone, possibly No. 9 by retirement. And, all of them with the exception of A-Rod are HOFers.

So, Gregg, just stop the bullshit. 

Update, Feb. 24: You too, Buster Olney.

Buster appears to be smoking Doyel's crack. This is why I would never pay to read ESPN Insider bullshit. Matthew Pouliot, fortunately, did, and takes Buster to the woodshed.

Great new bio of Ted Williams out

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted WilliamsThe Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This should be the final word on Ted Williams.

It's more in-depth than anything else I've read about his almost manic (in a clinical psychology sense) depth of anger and the childhood sources of it, namely, anger at his mother for her endless time and monetary devotion to the Salvation Army but lack thereof to him, and anger and embarrassment at his mom and mom's family for being Mexican-American, most of them notably so both by skin tone and, presumably, by language as first-generation immigrants.

Bradlee shows how this anger then seemed to get "transferred" to women in Williams' tumultuous personal life, with wives, lovers and mistresses, and, in the case of wives, bad parenting of, and anger at, his three kids. Yet, for children not his own, as Bradlee shows with things like the Jimmy Fund and more, perhaps thinking of his own childhood, Williams could be unfailingly kind and loving. Indeed, Bradlee compares him, and his family background, to Babe Ruth.

At the same time, primarily vis-a-vis Boston sportswriters, Williams used this anger, often creating slights out of molehills, to fuel his drive as a batter.

Bradlee also covers Ted's politics, his anger at the Marines over his Korea call-up and more, including his ambivalent relationship to his fame, and sometimes sycophancy around him.

Bradlee also knows his sports, though, and writes well about this, including the long-running comparisons to Joe DiMaggio and Ted's relation with teammates like Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky, as well as his call for Hall of Fame induction of Negro League stars like Satchel Paige and his support of Jackie Robinson, Pumpsie Green, Larry Doby and more.

I pictured Ted today, with a Twitter account, after reading this bio. Any player who threw a double bird separately, to left, center, and right fields would be hell on wheels in today's plugged-in world. As for today's sports journalism world, Williams would probably take great delight in pissing off more people than he could have dreamed of 60 years ago.

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Why I stopped reading Counterpunch - exemplified by Ukraine

It was because of nutbars like Paul Craig Roberts, even nuttier than Justin Raimundo.

About a year ago, I'd finally had enough of the reflexive anti-Americanism of some pieces there, stopped reading, and delinked it from my blog roll. Jeff St. Clair's stupidity about Bosnia and Syria was the last straw, coupled with fellating Hugo Chavez. But, the nuttery of Roberts, whose political ideology is smeared even more across the map than Raimundo's, means that he'll write elsewhere, and in similarly stupid fashion.

Roberts claims that what's really at stake in Ukraine is a US bid for hegemony there.

Which is, of course, a laugher, but not an unusual one for him.

Nor is the telling of outright lies unusual for him. Like this:
"Washington overlooked that the financially viable part of today’s Ukraine consists of historical Russian provinces in the east and south that the Soviet leadership merged into Ukraine in order to dilute the fascist elements in western Ukraine that fought for Adolf Hitler against the Soviet Union.
This is simply not true! Period. After the creation of the Ukrainian SSR, the only adjustment of its borders of any note was incorporation of previously Polish land from 1939; its northeastern borders were not changed after WWII. Period and end of story.

Also, interest in the EU is not the same as interest in Washington. And, the original Orange Revolution was not directed by Washington, either.

The whole article is a tissue of distortions, lies by omission and lies by commission.

And, any organization, or individual, that gives space to stuff like this, unless realizing they've made some sort of mistake, falls on my shit list. 

Reality?  As this piece from the NYT Review of Books shows well, there's one hegemon in recent Ukraine, and his name is Vlad the Impaler. And, on Feb. 26, the news of new Russian military exercises just across the border reinforces that.

And there's a reason for all this: Ukraine could have significant shale gas deposits. And, while their are legitimate environmental concerns over fracking, it does make one wonder if Russian agents provacateur aren't stirring the pot on some anti-fracking protests in Eastern Europe.

I mean, as our history with a country like Venezuela shows, there's enough American imperialism to be mad about without inventing fake American imperialism where it doesn't exist. Or listening to loons when they claim it does.

February 23, 2014

Yankees lock up OF future with Gardner deal

Ensuring that they'll have at least a bit of youth on the team, or semi-youth, for a few years to come, the New York Yankees have offered Brett Gardner a four-year deal worth $52M, reportedly.

First, this is arguably better than shelling out the 4/60 the Mets did for a three-year older Curtis Granderson, since the two bring roughly the same value to the table. It's certainly cheap compared to what the pinstripes paid in free agency for Jacoby Ellsbury, who arguably may not be that much better. That said, with Carlos Beltran also locked up for three years, the Yankees can now take a look at figuring out their infield after the retirement of Derek Jeter. If Stephen Drew signs a one-year "pillow" to stay with Boston, he could draw interest next year. Ben Zobrist could certainly draw interest at second if the Rays don't exercise their team option, which they might not for someone who would be 34 in 2015.

If this year's free agent signings at least halfway pan out, and Gardner does, the Yankees could be looking at finishing a rebuild for fairly low cost, in terms of the Yankee free agent world.

So, folks in Boston, Tampa and elsewhere, don't breathe too easily.

I think the team is still going to have a bumpy 2014; we'll see how good Masahiro Tanaka is, how much depth the rest of the rotation has, and what the bullpen does without Mariano Rivera. But the team could and should be better in 2015.

The simplemindedness of #determinism

Since I'm talking about philosophical determinism, the idea that we have no volition, free will, or what I think will eventually be discovered to be "something like free will," there's a pun in that header. Consider this an extension of my series on saying "mu" to the polarities of free will vs. determinism.

A touch of background to this.

As I've said elsewhere, and you can just click the tags below to find details, I think that cognitive science and science of mind are, at best, in the Early Bronze Age of understanding, and perhaps in the Neolithic. That's part of why I've said "mu" in those previous posts. We just don't know enough about the mind to say exactly what we should call decision-making. I am going to call it that, though, with the clear implication that we will find that "something like free will" exists.

In other words, like the young Wittgenstein, we should be quiet until we can say more. Or, in the line of logical positivism, we should recognize that "free will" is a phrase without definition.

Determinism? We can speak about that, and quite easily refute it with some simple intellectual judo.

Here's the analogy.

The cosmological argument for the existence of God argues that everything has a cause, and this can be traced back to a First Cause or Prime Mover. The obvious failure here is, "What caused the First Cause?" "What moved the Prime Mover?"

Well, you may be thinking with or ahead of me.

Determinism is normally, in everyday English, expressed as "All our thoughts are determined."

My reply, of course, is:

"What determined the first determinor?" Oops!

So, determinism is simple-minded, or simplistic, if you will.

It also seems to rely on a very black-and-white view of consciousness, namely, that either one has it, or not.

Let me illustrate.

If I asked you, "Does a dog have free will?," you'd scratch your head for a minute, then maybe say, "Well, maybe something like free will." (If you're like me, you'd say, "It has something like something like free will," of course.) You'd then go on to explain that a dog has some degree of consciousness, and you think it has enough to make decisions in some things and is not a purely instinctual animal.

If I asked you, "Is a dog determined?", you'd probably think the question is at least twice as ridiculous as asking if a dog has Buddha nature. I know I would.

Or, another example.

Take two homo erectus, one male, one female. My gut tells me that a determinist would say that if both of them crossed a magic line to consciousness level X, their kids would be determined, period, and that none of them could have a lesser degree of consciousness that would fall below X.

But, if one combines the "something like free will" (or even a more robust free will, which I don't) with consciousness as embodied cognition and as an embodied-based emergent property, than degrees of "something like free will" are free to evolve and develop.

That then leads to another point.

I just don't see determinism as being very compatible with an emergent property understanding of consciousness.