SocraticGadfly: 5/4/14 - 5/11/14

May 10, 2014

Looking at Albert Pujols' long-term future — he could be an all-time leader

Now that Pujols appears to be over most of his plantar fasciitis problems, and hitting like something near the 2011 version of Pujols (sorry, Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia, you're not getting the 2008 version or whatever back), where will he wind up in terms of career numbers? I'm noting that, with Josh Hamilton back by the end of this month, and hopefully batting reasonably well for the 3.5 years he has remaining with the Haloes, and Mike Trout there for years to come, this is based on a modest-to-moderate normal career decline arc through 2016, gaining some speed in 2017-2018, and arcing downward more for his last three seasons, albeit offset by playing more at DH.

So, here's some tentative predictions as to where he'll finish on some counting, and sabermetric, numbers in relation to Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and others, whether great classic figures of the past or people with some "help" in more recent years.

That includes noting that he has an outside shot at becoming the all-time leader on at least one counting stat.

First, slugging percentage. Pujols is currently seventh. I expect him to fall no lower than No. 11, staying ahead of current No. 12, Miguel Cabrera, and possibly just to ninth, ahead of current No. 10 Joe DiMaggio. That would still leave him above the majority of people on the list above.

Park-adjusted OPS+ is a good all-around measure of a player. Pujols is currently 10th, at 165. Aaron and DiMaggio are among a group tied for 22nd at 155. Cabrera and Joey Votto are among those tied for 25th, one point lower. Ed Dehalanty is 30th at 152. I certainly don't see Pujols going lower than that.

Next? Total bases, where Pujols is No. 50, with just over 4,450. A strong, but not overly aggressive prediction of 1,950 for the rest of his career gives him 6,400, behind only Aaron. Even a conservative estimate of 1,680, or 225 per year, which he's easily done every non-injury year, still puts him ahead of Musial in the No. 2 slot. (And yes, Stan Musial is No. 2 in career total bases; I just wish more semi-casual, but semi-serious, baseball fans would see this and recognize just how damned good he was.)

In RBIs, Pujols is 49th. He's 773 behind Aaron, 690 behind Ruth and 651 551 behind No. 3 Cap Anson. An output of 90 RBIs per season for the rest of this year and the next 7 full seasons left on his contract would put him past Ruth.  With 85 or so ribbies, he's past Anson, at least. We'll put him there, with a shot at Ruth. He can get just under 70 per year and pass Bonds into No. 4, which seems it should be no problem. (Per the commenter, thanks for the catch on the math on Anson. It still will be somewhat of a sled to catch Anson.)

And, finally, Pujols has a semi-reasonable shot at becoming the career leader on one list. That's if he can get about 430 more total extra base hits.

As of early May, he was 25th on the career list, 428 behind Aaron and 391 behind Bonds. If he has 58 extra base hits the rest of this year, for 76 on the season, that leaves 360 in the next seven years. Just 52 extra-base hits a year puts him past Aaron.

Possible? Yes, but not easy. For obvious reasons, I'm not going to look at Bonds.

A few others:
Aaron had 318 extra base hits his last seven years
Musial: 291
Mays: 275
Ruth (not counting his partial year in 1935): 495.

However, especially with not counting 1935, Ruth's career ended three years earlier than those other gents. For his last four full seasons, he had 240 extra-base hits. But, 47 a year over three more extrapolated years would put him at the 380 mark.

So, it's possible. And, just 46 extra-base hits per year after this year puts him after Bonds.

May 09, 2014

Men on Mars 2030? Color me still skeptical (updated)

NASA says it still sees a manned mission to Mars in the works for sometime in the 2030s. But, current politics (including GOP reluctance to spend on about anything with the word "science" in it, as noted in the story, are part of why I'm skeptical. The only realistic way to do it, fiscally, is through international cooperation, and given the recent fun with Vladimir Putin, I'm sure US officials want to keep Russia at arms' length.

The other reason?

Per actual science, I don't think we're there yet.

Properly measuring and protecting against Martian radiation will be key
to any manned mission to Mars./ photo
Despite Dennis Tito saying a year ago that he plans on having a manned mission to Mars by 2018, we're nowhere near that close, as I blogged a couple of years ago, unless Tito wants nothing but an unscientific, one-way trip, and a high likelihood of cancer to boot. That said, that's probably all Tito cares about.

That's because, as notes in this great piece, we're just starting to figure out what we need to know about cosmic rays. And, the problems will be on Mars, not just in flight. Nothing in the USA Today story, at top link, convinces me that NASA has fully addressed these issues yet. It is working on addressing things like how to slow down a manned capsule for landing, as Curiosity's detachable retros, and older balloon systems, are out of play. But, I'm still not convinced NASA is adequately addressing radiation issues, let alone crew redundancy-safety or crew size issues.

(Update, April 24: Wired has a piece of its own on the cosmic rays issue.)

Let's take a peek at it, before doing an update on the possibility, and needs, of an actual scientific mission:
The Mars rover Curiosity has allowed us to finally calculate an average dose over the 180-day journey. It is approximately 300 mSv, the equivalent of 24 CAT scans. In just getting to Mars, an explorer would be exposed to more than 15 times an annual radiation limit for a worker in a nuclear power plant.
So, double that for the return trip. Add 50 percent, off the top of my head, for time on Mars. That's 60 CAT scans, or 37.5 times the power plant worker's limit. Or, 750 mSv, which is 75 rem. Per Wikipedia, we're at a lifetime dose for a nuclear power plant or similar worker.

In short, while a trip to Mars isn't going to turn an astronaut into the cosmic-ray version of Frankenfood, without at least some shielding, it's going to definitely increase his or her likelihood of cancer. And, especially with men, it's going to increase the likelihood of sterility.

That said ...

Is this doable? Yes? Any time this decade? No.

It is a big sum to do this, unless we want a one-way trip, which somebody likely would volunteer to do. I think setting a target date of about 2035 allows out years to fatten that budget, do the R&D on radiation shielding, use more robotic missions to focus what a manned mission should do, etc. That also allows NASA plenty of time to work out details of a joint effort with Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, and maybe other partners.

Also, our current rockets are too small, specifically capsule size. As I've blogged before, unless you want to do the 1-day stop-and-return to have the lowest-energy return trajectory, you've got to have more than three people on that mission. And, that adds up to additional weight, space and food, plus additional weight and space for the exercise area. Mars' gravity is enough more than the moon's that, without adequate exercise in flight, an astronaut is liable to break a leg on landing.

That 2035 tracks pretty closely with the "30 years away" of my original blog post.

Wikipedia has an entry entitled "Manned mission to Mars." Since I started writing my thoughts independently of looking at it, I'm going by what I have written, with brief references to it.

Shorter take? Illustrations of such a trip look great, don't they? Well, drool away, because those illustrations are about as close as we're getting in your lifetime or mine to landing people on Mars, in my opinion.

There's three main reasons why "cool" images are all we'll be seeing in the foreseeable future. They're called space psychology, space safety and space engineering.

And, most of those are connected with the idea that, at minimum, we're talking 1.5 years of travel, with distances far greater than lunar travel. And, the low-fuel journey, for one-quarter of what the "fast" trip takes, involves 2.8 years, more than half of that on Mars.

This will tax engineering, certainly tax human psychology, and without massive advances in shielding from cosmic rays, will kill astronauts -- not on the actual trip, but more surely, and with at least as much life reduction on average, as smoking two packs of Camels a day.

In short, beyond the illustration, we have to do R&D on human physiology for a long journey in "zero gravity," a certain amount of exploration into 1/4 Earth gravity, then a long journey back into zero gravity. We have to do the psychological R&D, more rigorous than Russia's mock trip to Mars, on a capsule of as many as seven people confined together for 6 months or more, and, on Mars, as far away as 20 minutes, one way, by communications link.

Details on the "why" of all of this below the fold, updated to reflect how NASA's current manned mission planning is woefully inadequate, starting with the spacecraft.

1. Space psychology. A trip to Mars will take about 400-450 days round trip. Once on Mars, astronauts either have to wait about 1.5 years for an optimal window for return, or else burn much more fuel to get back to Earth after a relatively short one-month stay. Details of both options, as well as a faster outward trip, are here. Having to burn 3x as much fuel for a faster outward trip, and 5x as much for an earlier return is not a negligible consideration.

Here's the bottom line:
A. Hohmann transfer both ways plus 1.5 years on Mars = 2.8 years.
B. Fast trip out plus 1 month on Mars plus slow trip home = 1.5 years.

So, we've got astronauts away, well away, from Earth for a minimum of 1.5 years. And, if we want to maximize the "return" on going to Mars, we've got them there three years.

Even in near-Earth orbit, and with less than a year's time, we've seen psychological stress on some outer space crews. Yes, there have been simulated Mars trips, but, given the many minor things that can go wrong in real space, and the simple psychological factor of knowing that Earth is "just outside the door," I'm not sure how well you can simulate the psychology of such a trip. The Russian mockup was far short of that. First, they had the knowledge they could bail. Second, it only simulated a one-way trip; the time on Mars and the return time was not in the simulation.

2. You certainly can't simulate space health effects. As for the effects of solar wind? In its articles on magnetospheres and solar wind, Wiki talks about Mars' lack of magnetic field and results thusly: Mars, with little or no magnetic field, is thought to have lost much of its former oceans and atmosphere to space in part due to the direct impact of the solar wind, with an atmosphere now 1/100 that of Earth. Venus, with its thick atmosphere is thought to have lost most of its water to space in large part owing to solar wind ablation. (The solar wind stretches the "downwind" side of Venus' atmosphere almost to Earth.)

For just about all the trip, astronauts will be outside the protection of Earth's magnetosphere. Dangerous, in terms of radiation? Yes, enough to make some people rethink the whole idea as potentially fatal:

"The estimate now is you would exceed acceptable levels of fatal cancer," said Francis Cucinotta, chief scientist for NASA's space radiation program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "That's just cancer. We also worry about effects of radiation on the heart and the central nervous system."

Cucinotta says these estimates do take into account protective shielding around a crew vehicle, probably some form of polyethylene plastic. Lead shields actually create secondary radiation when struck by cosmic rays, while water, perhaps the best form of protection, would have to be several meters thick to get enough protection. ("Houston calling Water Balloon 1, do you copy?") 

Lead and water, in any case, are very heavy for the quantities that would be required, making them an expensive shielding to launch.
And then, there's the gravity issue. We'd have either 450 days of zero gravity and one month of 1/4 Earth gravity, or 450 days of the former and a little more than that of the latter.

At the same time, while Mars' gravity is low, low enough to not be "good" for Earth-accustomed astronauts, it's heavy enough to be problematic after 225 days of no gravity, as the story above notes;

"What happens if they land on Mars and try to lift an object that's fairly or reasonably heavy, they could herniate their discs," said Alan Hargens, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of California San Diego who studies the effects of gravity on astronauts. "One of the main issues is that when they arrive at Mars, there's nobody there to take care of them. If they have some issue due to de-conditioning in that six month period, they'll definitely have a problem."
It's true. Even with treadmills and other gravity simulators on the spacecraft, in the first few days on the Martian surface, there would be a high risk of muscle pulls, muscle and tendon tears, hernias and broken bones, and possibly heart attacks due to stress.

Because you'd definitely need "backup," that means not just one, but two members of each crew would have to be physicians. (One could be a psychiatrist, to address issues under point No. 1. We're going to need a psychologist anyway.

There's also another medical problem that's already hit some shuttle/ISS astronauts: Vision problems.
According to one NASA survey of about 300 astronauts, nearly 30 percent of those who have flown on space shuttle missions — which usually lasted two weeks — and 60 percent who completed six-month shifts aboard the station reported a gradual blurring of eyesight.
It's obviously progressive. A trip to Mars would have worse effects on a higher percentage of astronauts. It's fairly serious, and so far, recovery has not been complete in those who have suffered it.

3. Space engineering. This is going to subsume several things.

Let's start with a bottom line that also relates to point 1: the communication time gap. When Earth and Mars are at opposition, it's 20 minutes one way for communication.

So, if an Apollo 13 type event happens, during almost all the journey, astronauts are on their own.

That affect Earth engineering. We can't have an Apollo 13 problem, as far as improvised fixes, of trying to mate square canisters and round holes or vice versa. Can't have it. That means that the U.S. government, U.N., EU, a consortium or whatever, has to ride a very, very heavy herd on private contractors. That, in turn, ramps up the price.

Second, radiation shielding. Unless you have astronauts who sign "death sentence waivers," our current engineering simply can't protect against it. Period.

Third, crew composition. Let's say we have a crew of seven.

As I noted above, we have to have two M.D.s, one a psychiatrist. Both to study human changes in space and explore Martian life, person No. 3 is a Ph.D. biologist, of course. No. 4 is a mechanical engineer who's spent time at all those private contractors' sites. (Every astronaut, though, for reasons mentioned above, will have a crash course in engineering.) No. 5 is a geophysicist. No. 6, whether military or not, as commander, has to have a leader's presence. No. 7 is No. 2 in charge, and No. 1 in piloting skills. These two may have some backup training in sciences, but, their primary backup training will be the leads, along with person No. 4, in engineering and constructing a Martian base, on the first flight, which will be the high-fuel, quick-return version.

Of course, we' re not getting there anyway. But, that would be a minimum. Arguably, even on the first flight, you'd want an eighth person, another engineering/construction person. That then said, what crew capsule size are we talking about? And, are we conforming a crew to a capsule or vice versa? In either case, seven is a minimum, I think.

Don't forget all the food that means. All the water conversion and air filtration that means, with multiple redundancies on systems.

Meanwhile, NASA's Orion crew vehicle only seats four. NASA's skimping a LOT on both human backup needs, legitimate crew needs and space psychology issues. More reason to say both that we're not going to launch a manned mission to Mars any time soon, and we shouldn't, at least not under current planning.

However, Boeing's new capsule (update, May 8, 2015) does seat seven, and does so in comfort, style and modernity, as this story details, complete with the photo and more at the link.

Details note that the pilot's seat has had traditional switchgear replaced with tablet-like interfaces. In turn, that reduces cabin clutter.

Plastic has replaced metal in a lot of places, which reduces weight.

It generally looks much more ergonomic.

Now, this is being targeted to low-Earth orbit, for flights to the International Space Station and commercial use. But, the size is right and general design elements are right. No reason why something based on this couldn't be the Mars craft.

There's one more "engineering" option. Let's call it "financial engineering." Throwing aside radiation, building a spaceship that can offer some exercise protection against zero-G debilitation, be big enough to offer some small bit of buffer against space psychology, be big enough to, over a few trips, carry Mars base construction raw materials, etc. ....

Will cost at least $1 trillion in today's money to build and launch.

The U.S. is not doing that alone. See above, all the various links.

Partnerships also need to to "research and development" on the willingness of even the biggest government joint venture to shell out that much, or even international cooperative efforts to shell that out.

#BokoHaram: A possible actual scandal of sorts for Hillary Clinton?

No, it's not the Benghazi embassy stuff, even though the House has, pretty much on party-line vote, created a special investigative panel there that's sure to be stacked with wingnuts.

Rather, it's the fact that the Department of State that Clinton ran for more than four years did not officially "certify" the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram as being a terrorist group until November 2013. Here's the crux of the issue:
The letter asks “Under federal statute, militant groups must meet three standards to be classified as a foreign terrorist organization. For designation as an FTO, a group must be a terrorist organization, it must engage terrorist activity (or retain the intent and capability to do so), and it must threaten the security of American nationals or the national security of the United States. Why, when it was clear as early as 2011 that Boko Haram met all of these conditions, was the FTO designation not made until November 2013?”

King and Meehan go on to raise further questions about the government’s response to the Nigerian terrorist group and state “it is critical that we address the threat posed by Boko Haram before it has the ability to export its violence and harm American interests and potentially Americans themselves.”
It may be true that State, as claimed by reliable Democratic flaks, was doing some behind-the-scenes work, but, given the kidnapping of some 350 schoolchildren this week, it obviously wasn't enough. Hayes Brown may be halfway right. Steve Benen's just a hack trying to disguise himself as a journalist, no less so than wingnuts.

That said, Nigeria, like the Middle East, is awash with oil, though that oil is in the largely non-Muslim south. And, oil complicates everything, or we let it complicate everything.

Here's the Beast's original story, which could also show Clinton as a bit of a hypocrite for now worrying about women and girls:
(H)er own State Department refused to place Boko Haram on the list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2011, after the group bombed the U.N. headquarters in Abuja. The refusal came despite the urging of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and over a dozen senators and congressmen.
While the angst since then has been primarily Republican, it's had enough Democratic involvement to be at least semi-bipartisan.

The Beast gives fair space to the anti-designation argument, which isn't one that's all wet. Nonetheless, when coupled with still-lingering aroma over Benghazi (some, CIA-related, will remain deeply buried by both mainstream parties), this isn't good "optics" for Clinton. She's just lucky it's May 2014 and not, say, October 2015. Somehow, if this were then, somebody would be resurrecting her old "3 a.m. phone call" ad she ran against then-Senator Barack Obama.

Anyway, even with giving the anti-designation folks a tip of the hat, if Nigeria wasn't reaching out beyond its borders for a regional initiative, why weren't we? Especially given that the kidnappings are revealing more and more a government of dysfunctionality there.

To be sure, the GOP is already exploiting this issue. To also be sure, contra the hackish Benen in particular, and the quasi-tribalist Think Progress in general, that still doesn't mean there aren't legitimate issues involved. And, it doesn't mean that these issues only seem legitimate with hindsight.

Beyond that, the rise of Boko Haram ties with other things identified as "Westernizing," like oil-based corruption, which has tendrils with some connection to Dick Cheney, and more. If both Clinton and Obama wanted to address Boko Haram, we'd push to further develop solar energy in both the US and Nigeria as part of that.

And, that bipartisan foreign policy establishment issue, scolding Hillary Clinton for fundraising or other political points aside, may make things worse. Among the "worse" could be more cries to increase US military presence in Africa. Add on other Westernizing ideas that only feed Boko Haram's contempt, like the calls for moar "social media" and "hastags — including you, Ms. First Lady Dear Leader, and it only gets worse. Is there such a thing as "social media imperialism"?

May 08, 2014

Could Denton ban fracking?

Citizens of the North Texas city, frustrated that the city council won't do more than pass a temporary moratorium on oil and gas fracking, with lots of residential growth, both for people with local jobs and commuters to Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano/Frisco, have submitted a fracking ban proposal.

Here's part of official Denton's concern:
The Mayor of Denton, Mark Burroughs, has said he thinks the fracking ban being proposed is illegal.

“If it does pass, the city has to follow it,” Burroughs told StateImpact Texas in April. “We could be bound to enforce an illegal act, which throws into a whole panoply of open issues…. We as a city would be bound to defend it, whether we believed it was illegal or not. So it’s a real open, difficult series of issues.”
I would like to see tighter fracking regulations myself. That includes better knowledge of what happens with injection fluids, safe disposal of waste fluids, improved wellhead casing seals and other measures (both for safety and, with natural gas, for greenhouse gas reasons), and drilling setbacks from schools, houses, etc.

However, off the top of my head, I doubt that an absolute ban would fly. And, thus, to be on the safe side, I don't know why Denton Drilling Awareness Group, to avoid the potential litigation issue, doesn't do what I asked why the city of Denton hasn't done, and propose the Dallas ordinance, rather than an outright ban.

And yes, both Big Oil/Gas and absentee mineral rights owners would sue.

Also, the fact that they are absentee owners doesn't matter legally, anti-fracking Dentonites. It may be a "heartstrings" issue, but it's not a legal one. And, it could be misguided. Falls County, Texas, all of 17,000 people and change, has absentee mineral rights in Wise and Archer counties.

At the same time, I do get the feeling that Burroughs' support for a temporary moratorium is little more than an exercise in trying to run out the clock on fracking opponents. After all, while not a full ban, earlier this year, Dallas passed one of the tightest control ordinances in the country. It would be a simple matter for Denton to do a copy-and-paste vote on accepting Dallas' ordinance, perhaps with a minor tweak or two. People on all sides of the issue agree that, without technically and legally "banning" fracking from Dallas, it effectively did so.

The moratorium, and a desire for something more than it, have been going on for two years. Part of Burroughs' problem may be fear of drilling companies — drilling companies that call anti-frackers terrorists. And, per the story, how would EagleRidge know if anti-frackers are on any Homeland Security watch list?

Were I in Denton, I'd support a total ban just to tell EagleRidge a good "eff you." And, if activists ARE on any watch list, it would be a good "eff you" to Team Obama and Dear Leader. But, I would prefer something more ironclad, if given my druthers.

Because,  yes, a total ban will have legal ramifications. There will be suits.

But, whose fault is that? Given the "two years" I mentioned above, Mayor Burroughs would seem to be the one to blame for that, along with EagleRidge, of course. At the same time, bring on the lawsuit. Again per the "two years" mentioned above, EagleRidge has yet to sue over the moratorium. So, Your Honor? Even if you don't want a total, permanent ban, why don't you extend that moratorium until September 2016, and not this September, as kind of a test of EagleRidge.

And, if Burroughs is running out the clock, and residents pass the ban in November, it will have political ramifications for him in May 2015, if that's when his mayoral seat is up for re-election.

At the same time, Denton anti-frackers? Don't paint the issue of mineral rights and royalties in Texas as being entirely about greedy out-of-staters, as "absentee rights holders" might imply. A small, aging, declining county or two, either directly, or indirectly on behalf of school districts from before the modern ISD issue, can use that money.

As for better regulations? To riff on an old NRA claim, it would be nice to have Texas better enforce the ones it has as a starting point, which it doesn't. That's why former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg is either clueless or obfuscating when touting Texas as a regulatory model.

On the non-enforcement issue, how many of you Denton anti-frackers pulled the "R" lever in 2012, also? Beyond the local level, if you want real change, it has to start with you. The county as a whole, of which Denton is one-sixth, voted 2-1 for Romney in 2012. In this year's primary, 38,000 voted for one or another of the GOP gubernatorial candidates; 7,000 for one or another of the Democrats. All four individual commissioners as well as all countywide offices are held by Republicans.

I don't buy, at least not without caveats, the idea that all politics is local. I certainly don't believe all politics on issues like this should remain local.

So, Dentonites? Stop pulling the R lever so much. Certainly stop doing it on Railroad Commission races.

May 07, 2014

Needed: Grand jury nullification

The Harris County DA's 'shooting simulator.' AP photo/Austin Am-Statesman
Or anti-nullification, or whatever the hell we call it.

Being in the news biz, I'm quite familiar with the old phrase, "A prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich." I'm also quite familiar with how true it is, its hoaried clichéness aside.

However, at times, a district attorney does his or her damnedest to get a grand jury to not indict, or no-bill, someone arrested.

And, in Harris County (Houston), Texas, the degree to which the DA's office there is going to try to get police officers no-billed when they're facing charges related to shooting civilians is reaching national scrutiny level.

As it should.

It's true that the "shooting projector" may be used in other cases, but it sure seems like it was created specifically to get cops with seemingly itchy trigger fingers a pass. And yes, they exist, whether shooting adults, kids, the mentally ill or even occasionally pets. Here's the details:
The armed carjacker projected on a large screen threatens to kill you if you don't give up your keys. Holding a modified gun that emits a beam, you pull the trigger when he draws his weapon, and seconds later fire again at another person who jumps in front with something in his hand.

The second person turns out to be a bystander holding a cellphone.

This interactive way of illustrating the use of deadly force is part of unusual training that Houston-area grand jurors can receive before they begin hearing cases, including those involving police officers.

The Harris County district attorney's office in Houston calls the shooting simulator — which experts believe is only being used in Texas — an educational tool that helps grand jurors better understand what someone sees when confronted by a threat.

But amid a streak of nearly 300 cases in which grand juries have cleared Houston police officers in shootings, the training has become a point of contention among critics who say the simulator promotes a pro-law enforcement mindset. One defense attorney recently unsuccessfully challenged the simulator's use, calling it mind manipulation.
It is mind manipulation, even if a court doesn't recognize it.

Behavioral psychology has done a lot of study about "priming." While we still face some problems with replication of these studies — problems that can and should be addressed — there does seem to be some degree of truth to the fact that people can be subconsciously "primed" to look for and see certain things and not others, or to see things in a certain way.

Even a judge has confirmed that:
Harris County's simulator has so far withstood scrutiny by the courts. A judge last month ruled against defense attorney Paul Looney, who challenged his client's indictment by saying the simulations place grand jurors "subliminally in the shoes of the police officer." The defendant, an oil company executive, is charged with assaulting a Houston police officer last year.
It's also misleading because the simulator may not exactly replicate the situation in which the police officer actually was.

And, per the cliché above, it perpetuates a mindset that the DA knows who's a criminal and who's not, which is a matter for a trial jury, or a judge in a juryless trial, to establish. It's not the grand jury's business, nor is it the DA's business at grand jury level. That's why this is so true:
"(Grand jurors) should not be naturally in one camp or the other," said Joseph Gutheinz, a retired federal agent who served on a Harris County grand jury in 2008 and is critical of the simulator's use. "They should be after the truth."
Bingo. And, that's coming from a law enforcement official.

That said, this is all part of the "hang ’em high" mentality that seems to perpetuate Harris County criminal proceedings in general.

Now, per the story, DA Devon Anderson and her office will likely claim, "But it's voluntary." Yeah, but a lot of things, when it's as part of a group, and being done by a leader in a position of authority, come off as pressuring, even if theoretically voluntary.

And, it seems to be "working":
(A)n investigation by the Houston Chronicle last year found that Harris County grand juries have cleared Houston police officers in shootings 288 consecutive times since 2004.
That's a long streak, right?
The streak may not be entirely unusual. Sandra Guerra Thompson, a criminal law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said grand juries usually give officers the benefit of the doubt in shooting cases because of the dangerous nature of their jobs.
Well, first of all, police officer isn't the most dangerous job in the country. It's not even in the top 10, per this list. And, a police officer's life is in more danger, on average, from driving in a high-speed chase than from engaging a potential shooter. And, overall, in public service jobs, it's at about the same danger level as a firefighter. In general, per a different list, being a logger is four times more dangerous and being on a fishing crew is five to six times more dangerous. Being a farmer is more dangerous than being a cop, for doorknob's sake.

None of this is to minimize the legitimate dangers that police officers, sheriff's deputies, state troopers, etc., face.

But, it is to put things in context — especially in the context of Ms. Anderson, and probably tens of thousands of DAs elsewhere — about cops with itchy trigger fingers in front of grand juries. It's to say that, in general, cops are human. Many cops go out of their way. Many others, even the sheriff's deputies of Posse Comitatus love, or local police, are jack-booted thugs. Some aren't that bad, but aren't good. When even small town cop shops look for MRAPs,  Bradleys and other Iraq War surplus for high-firepower militarized SWAT units, you know that's true. When a town of 500, with a minority police chief, thinks it needs a K-9, you really know that's true.

Or when a cop in Hearne, Texas, fatally shoots his second person in less than 2 years, you've got problems. Besides cops that are occasionally jack-booted thugs, or halfway that way, you've got other cops that are ... well, that are Barney Fifes. Period. End of story. Oh, and in a place like Hearne, I don't need the New Black Panthers dropping in to tell me race is probably involved. Having a Hispanic mayor (this time?) may help; the mayor has recommended the officer be fired.

And, he has been. That said, a nephew of the deceased said she shot first, apparently angry over not getting her driver's license renewed at 93. I'm not here to justify bad cops, but I'm also not here to justify knee-jerk responses by local governments, either.

That said, let's treat cops in the eyes of the law as human beings, not blue angels or civic saints, en masse. The more you keep doing that, the more others, well short of the NBPs, are going to have less, not more, sympathy in general.

So, how to address this?

Per the header, as I told friend Perry, it's simple.

Grand jury nullification, at least in Harris County, Texas. If you're a good liberal, and you're picked to serve on a grand jury, vote to true bill any cop brought before the grand jury. Don't get sentimental.

And, let's do this not just for these cop cases. Given that the US is the only country in the world that still uses the grand jury system, and even here, half the states (probably not "red") have abandoned it, we probably need grand jury nullification until the rest of the states, including the Pointy Abandoned Object State™, drop it.

And, actually, it's not "nullification." It's a "runaway grand jury," and Tea Party wet dreams aside, it gets at the roots of what grand juries did 250 years ago; in New England, they connected to the traditional town meeting and its oversight ideas. That said, the idea of a modern runaway grand jury in a state like Texas would be scary, precisely because Tea Party wet dreams can't easily be set aside.

Back to the basics of grand juries here.

At least Texas requires a three-quarters vote. At the federal level, and in some other states, it's still a bare majority.

In states with elected DAs, my personal thought is that, especially in smaller counties, grand jury work lets incumbent DAs show they're "tough on crime," too. As a second angle, it's use to argue tough cases in court, as in the DA saying, "A Harris County grand jury indicted Mr. Abbott (no resemblance to Greg Abbott or any other living persona named Abbott) on these three charges." So, they must be guilty is the implication.

If you want to prosecute someone, then do it. And defend it. If you want to not prosecute someone, then do that. And defend it, too.

Until we reach that day, though, grand juries, in states that still use them, need to stop being rubber stamps for DAs. No bill a few more ham sandwiches. And, in the case of cops, true bill a few more Reubens.

May 06, 2014

#Cardinals pitching and Matheny's "guys"

Remember how, if he was going to just miss a start or two, Joe Kelly would be replaced by Tyler Lyons, but, if it was thought he needed more down time, then, since he had not gotten too "slotted" into the set-up man's role yet, Carlos Martinez would move into the rotation?

Dream on.

Lyons' stay on the DL is being extended, but, Lyons, ineffective so far since his call-up from Memphis, stays as the fifth starter. (That said, he did much better tonight, May 5, than the previous two games. That, that said, he was pitching against possibly the most anemic battling order in baseball right now in Atlanta.)

Yeah, yeah, Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak alike can worry about a relatively thin bullpen. But, a better starter means less wear on the pen, doesn't it?

This gets back to an issue Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch raised a few weeks ago about "Matheny's guys," in talking about the call-up of Randal Grichuk and Greg Garcia.

Bernie brought the talk around to our Sub-Genius Skipper:
I just hope Grichuk gets a chance to play. Obviously, the CF position remains unsettled in St. Louis. Bourjos has done nothing so far, which leaves Matheny leaning on Jon Jay, the guy Mozeliak tried to replace by making the Bourjos trade. Given the situation in CF, and Allen Craig's slow start and startling loss of of power, there should be plenty of chances for Grichuk to get into the lineup. 

Unless, of course, Matheny is caught up on on his “I'm going to stick by my guys” thing, which is occasionally a problem. I don't think Mozeliak wants Grichuk up here just to have a good seat in the dugout.
Ditto for SGS and Garcia, Bernie says:
The only way to find out about Garcia is to play him, and frankly I'd really be surprised to see Matheny put aside his “I'm sticking with my guy” sentiment to play Garcia over Descalso.
Wunderbar. As I said a week ago, maybe Mozeliak needs to start "leaning" on Matheny more.

This photo was NOT found on Carlos Martinez' Twitter stream
As for who Matheny's guys are? To me, it seems like it's the "straight arrow" types who also follow orders. Oscar Taveras doesn't follow orders, so he's still in Memphis while Randal Grichuk is called up. Per Jeff Gordon, if Taveras isn't called up in early June, it's time to raise eyebrows indeed.

Martinez has a funky Twitter account, and probably wouldn't draw Christian fish symbols and crosses on the mound at Busch, so he's still not a starter. 

Meanwhile, Matheny still hasn't cut down totally on boneheaded running decisions. Matt Carpenter made one a couple of days ago, and dumb baserunning seems to be in Jay's genes. Craig is slowly improving at the plate, but he's still currently below the Kozma Line. And, per Miklasz, until he starts hitting fastballs better, he's not going to get too much above it.

Update, May 12: Martinez had a bad relief outing a couple of days ago, but Lyons is having a teh suck as starter tonight.

This issue of player favorites is one I've tackled with more depth before. Meanwhile, I'm not the only fan to question Matheny over "my guys." 

By the end of this year, he'll have three full years and I can apply my WAR for managers idea to judge his actual performance. 

Given that we're right now three or four games below Pythagorean for the year, I certainly don't expect this year's Cards team to make the World Series. I don't even expect it to make the NLCS. And I'll put a full 25 percent of that at the feet of our Sub-Genius Skipper.

#ClimateChange is real — even oil companies agree

A lot of people have surely already seen this, but it's worth noting on these pages anyway.

The Obama Administration has just released a major new report on the impacts of anthropogenic climate change within these United States.

And, it's not pretty. Without getting into exact percentages of causation, it lays part of the problem of some major regional short-term climatic effects, like drought in California and the Southwest, at the foot of climate change.
Scientists are reluctant to attribute any of these specific events to human-caused climate change, but they say that such heavy rains are consistent with what they expect in a warming climate.
They also refute the "snowpocalypse" and similar nuttery that Faux News likes to trot out almost every chance it can:
The new report emphasized, however, that people should not expect global warming to happen at a steady pace, or at the same rate throughout the country. Bitterly cold winters will continue to occur, the report said, even as they become somewhat less likely.
Indeed. In fact, almost no all-time record lows were set this winter. Some 30 years ago, winter 2014 would have been seen as on the low edge of normal and not much worse.

Related? Not just to variability in climate change, but politics? This:
And the regional pattern varies for many effects beyond precipitation: for instance, while most of the country has warmed sharply over the past century, the Deep South has barely warmed at all, and a section of southern Alabama has even cooled slightly. In general, colder, more northerly regions are warming faster.
The Deep South is red-state ground zero, of course. Even more than the light and white northern High Plains. That said, Texas has seen more change, at least on precipitation, than the traditional cis-Mississippi Deep South. Ditto for Oklahoma. But they, too, have not had, overall, massive temperature increases.

So, especially if the older phrase of "global warming" gets used, Faux and its Amen corner find it easy to shoot that down in a mental circle jerk. But, to the degree flooding intensity and other such things can be connected to "climate change," it's a different story.

Per the NYT's story, the advisory committee behind this includes a supply chain representative of ConocoPhillips and an environmental adviser with Chevron. The secretariat includes a senior fellow from Monsanto, which, unless it can quickly engineer a line of drought-resistant grains, has a lot riding on climate change.

The story notes that some Republicans who aren't total wingnuts accept the reality of the change and, at least to some degree, the man-made degree of it. But, they and many moderate-to-conservative Democrats as well (and isn't that describing more and more Democrats these days) fret about the cost in jobs and dollars of addressing this.

To me, this is like the old 1970s-80s Fram commercial. We can pay a little bit (relatively speaking) now, or a whole lot later.
“Yes, climate change is already here,” said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in writing the report but reviewed a late draft. “But the costs so far are still on the low side compared to what will be coming under business as usual by late in this century.”
That said, Dear Leader, preoccupied by offering us a head fake on real health insurance reform and underestimating the size of the Great Recession, never did or would give full focus on climate change. Big business was ready to sign off on a carbon tax bill, even, rather than cap-and-trade.

And, speaking of, per the Chinese carbon beast in the corner, I reiterate, and reiterate that I said it before Paul Krugman — the WTO, as I read it, allows for carbon tariffs on imports.

Beyond that, how do we "market" the need to take action to people who are conservative, but not wingnut, and "sell" them on the idea that we need serious action before we face serious costs?

The Pentagon has talked up the national security issue for some time. However, Smithsonian has a piece (with a few historical and analogical flaws) saying that's not the best angle. Its author says talk about climate change as a public health issue.

In the US, it could well increase malaria. We've already seen struggles with West Nile virus the past few years. Other tropical and subtropical diseases could also hit us harder. And, reduced water supplies are public health matters, too.

At the same time, we must avoid "selling" the technocratic solution, one that falls under my rubric of "salvific technologism." Climate engineering is not the answer. It could, like the massive transportation of species to non-native habitats in the last century or so, massively backfire.

That said, per the start of this piece, there are still countless numbers of wingnuts out there who believe fighting climate change is socialism, or even part of the alleged secret part of the UN's Agenda 21. Two of them are out in force on the Smithsonian piece. I've rhetorically wondered before, and I'll put it in more detail now. Do right-wing think tanks pay trolls like this to go hunting for pieces like the Smithsonian's?

And, they exemplify every stereotype. Verbal bullies. Logorrhea that a dictionary fermented in Kaopectate couldn't cure.

I'll usually engage in two, maybe three, rounds of comments with such folks. I'll then post a general-level snarky comment, then disengage.

Of course, that's what the pseudoscientist verbal bullies like. They think they've "won" when people stop responding.

And, beyond the wingnuts, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, with Rick Perry-appointed oversight wingnuts, also remains in denialist mode, claiming this is part of war against "Big Coal."
“It is clear that the science of global warming is far from settled,” the TCEQ countered. For example, reducing coal use, the agency said, would raise energy prices, especially on the poor.

“This is the true environmental impact of the war on coal,” the TCEQ said.
That's even though a Texas Tech professor was on the committee, too. Not everybody in this state is a wingnut. Just the majority, about all the time, and a great majority, much of the time.

May 05, 2014

Jeter falls below the Kozma Line

I never jumped on the Yankees tout bandwagon for this year. Beyond knowing that their big four of free agent signings — Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury at the plate and Masahiro Tanaka on the mound — all had to do well, even as Ellsbury came off a career year and we all knew Beltran is aging, I knew that the Bombers had to have two other things go right. McCann's been struggling all around so far, Beltran's got a low BA and OBP but is still hitting for power, and Ellsbury's done as well as a year ago if not better. We all know what Tanaka's doing. So, overall, not bad on the free agent market; in fact, probably about as well as could reasonably be expected.

But, to go anywhere after September, the Yankees needed two holdovers to do something, too.

First, CC Sabathia, slimmed-down and all, had to, at least, not lose more velocity on his fastball. Well, we see how that's turned out.

Second, The Cap'n, Derek Jeter, had to be some semblance of his 2012 self. And, since he can't hit a fastball anymore, he's officially fallen below the Kozma Line, the sabermetric version of the Mendoza Line honoring Pete Kozma instead of Mario Mendoza and his struggles to bat more than .200.

Not only is Jeter below a .600 OPS, thus officially being below the Kozma Line, his isolated slugging is worse than last year. He still hasn't hit a home run. Now, The Capn's defenders will say "too small of a sample size."

Really? Our sample size is half again as big as last year's broken-ankle season. And, as part of failing to be able to hit any fastball much above Jamie Moyer speed (or should I say CC speed?), Jeter's already struck out twice as much as last year. He's likely guessing more and more on pitches, leaving himself vulnerable. If it's any small consolation, he's no worse a fielder than last year, at least.

That said, he's officially below replacement level, and isn't likely to get above it before the end of the year. And, his 2012 season is looking more and more like a fluke; Fangraphs appears to confirm that, noting that Jeter had a definite jump that year on batting average on balls in play.

And, I'm not alone. Joel Sherman writes that Joe Girardi will have no problem pointing out a spot on the bench.

That said, two days later, now he's above the Kozma Line again. But, I think this wasn't just a short-term swoon. Major bat-speed loss on fastballs is not a short-term issue. Stay tuned.

So, ankle aside, Jeter made the smart move to retire this year.

What's healthy, what's not? Fix the p-values and we might, maybe know

Long, long ago, we Americans hear that "fat was bad."

Then more research said, maybe just saturated fats.

Now, with more consensus (for now), it's that trans fats are definitely bad.

Meanwhile contrarians like Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz are claiming that not only are we eating too many carbs, adn that more fats as well as proteins may be good, but specifically, that more saturated fats are good.

Teicholz is the latest contrarian to deliberately overreact and not only criticize but demonize more traditional research.
This shift seemed like a good idea at the time, but it brought many potential health problems in its wake. In those early clinical trials, people on diets high in vegetable oil ... were more likely to die from violent accidents and suicides."
Teicholz then futher undercuts her own credibility by claiming the possibility, even the likelihood, of causal correlation from vegetable oils changing brain chemistry.

Beyond that, it looks like there's a BUNCH of errors and problems behind the latest research Teicholz cites to support her claims. Outright errors run through the filter of meta-analysis is a sure prescription for bad interpretation.

Also, I've generally found that the likes of Tabues and Teicholz fail to distinguish between simple and complex carbohydrates. It's true that the likes of Ancel Keys, along with all of his  research ethics issues in leading the crusade against saturated fats, also did the same. But, that was 60 years ago. There's no excuse for that today.

The real problem? The p-value of 0.05 in medical research is too high, just as it is in social sciences, and is almost surely a leading contributor to the problem of replicability in psychology and sociology.

I understand why it was set as high as it is, compared to the 0.0001 in modern natural sciences. Researchers wanted a loose value so as to not screen out potentially lifesaving, or health- or mental health-saving treatments and protocols.

However, our accuracy of research, plus the number of researchers, especially in health and medicine, plus the compiled history of past research, all tell us that we don't need such loose standards today. If anything, they tell us that such loose standards may even be harmful.

They confuse people on what really is best medical practice.

In addition, they give contrarian diet writers like the above more loopholes to write contrarian books.

And, especially in mental health, but also elsewhere, the loose p-value gives Big Pharma more room to make dubious claims about the effectiveness of many prescriptions.

And, as a combination of Nos. 2 and 3, they cause the US as a whole to waste a bunch of medical spending. 

That said, I'm not going to argue that the current "medical establishment," minus the Big Pharma part, doesn't have some financial vested interests itself. Are they, relative to the overall size of the medical issues involved, of the same degree of financial interest as Big Pharma or contrarians, though? I don't think so.

And, I just mentioned people like Gary Taubes. The folks like Joseph Mercola use the looseness of p-values, and other, related issues, to drive Mack trucks laden with gold through them on the way to their personal Fort Knoxes. These fixes alone won't shut up Mercola, but they'll force the likes of him to rely on studies that are not only more clearly fringe ones, but outdated ones, too.

So, a simple suggestion?

Cut the p-value in health/medicine tighter. Say, 0.03 instead of 0.05. That's still plenty loose enough to not screen out "edgy" but true findings.

The feds, via the National Institutes of Health and the National Institutes of Mental health, have the power to make this happen. Stop funding research that don't adopt the tighter standard.

Will tighter p-values alone make a huge difference?   Maybe not a huge difference, but, they will make a difference. The feds could also stop funding most research that uses meta-analysis, and tighten up other data-related issues, many of which, such as confidence levels, are themselves at least loosely correlated with p-values. All of that together would make a big difference indeed.

And, changing what we readily can on statistical tightness, starting with p-values, would be a signal to the health and medicine fields on the one hand, and social science on the other, that it's a new day in the research world. The tighter standards would signal a need for tighter research in general. And, the requirement of special justification for the use of meta-analysis would signal that the days of cherry-picking are over.

May 04, 2014

Teddy Roosevelt - the bully behind 'bully'

I just got done reading The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin's new mix of dual biography of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, mixed with looking at muckraking journalism in what was the cornerstone of investigative reporting, as started by S.S. McClure of McClure's magazine, with Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and Ray Stannard Baker as its leading lights.

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of JournalismThe Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's not bad overall, for being a Goodwin book. Hey, have to be honest. She's not that great, even with allowance for her being a "popular" and not an academic historian. "Team of Rivals" missed the main points of why Lincoln named all those "rivals" to his cabinet. Anyway, back to this book.

I learned more about Taft than TR in this book. Of course, Roosevelt, arguably  the initiator of the modern presidency, for both better and worse, has been a far, far more covered person.

On Taft?
The main thing is that I didn't realize that he had explicitly pushed for Congress to pass the 16th Amendment to send to states, along with starting the federal corporate income tax, in exchange for accepting the flawed "lowering" of tariff rates in the Payne-Aldrich tariff bill. Willingness to tackle the tariff, let alone get this much out of it, makes him more progressive (and more courageous) than TR in some ways right there.

Second major thing I learned was more about the details behind Taft's sacking of Gifford Pinchot. Taft partially caused this by not keeping John Garfield as holdover Interior Secretary, being dithering in making this decision and not telling Garfield exactly why.

That said, most of the actual precipitating events, from Pinchot's conflicts with Garfield's replacement, Richard Ballinger, indirectly proved part of Taft's reasoning right and also show that Pinchot largely shot himself in the foot. Pinchot's replacement, plus Ballinger, actually eventually and with better legal footing, "reserved" more forest lands from private development than did TR/Pinchot/Garfield.

In essence, forest reserve issues are one of the clearest issues of TR's arbitrary nature as president. We should be glad he didn't run for a second elected term in 1908, let alone get elected in 1912. When WWI started, he probably would have become more dictatorial in waging war than Woodrow Wilson ever was. And I sincerely believe that, and though not any facts involved, Goodwin's book was a trigger for that thought.

I think TR would have done everything he could to have us in the war by 1915. Then, I think he would have tried, with Germa
n-Americans, as his cousin did one war later with Japanese-Americans, doing preventative detention concentration camps. I have no doubt he would have hired a George Creel or worse for pro-war, pro-Allied propaganda.

That said, the book lacks focus. That's in part because Goodwin's trying to do too much and spread herself too thin. Having read a bio of Lincoln Steffens and other books about the muckrakers, I know that she tried to cram in too much about them.

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