January 24, 2015

Ichiro 3K? Yeah, maybe

Ichiro
I would love to seek Japanese import baseball great Ichiro get to 3,000 hits in MLB, so I'm glad that he's seemingly got a gig, even if it's with the Miami Marlins. (More on that "even" in a minute.)

But, I'm not holding my breath over him getting to 3,000 hits, even if commenters on sports blogs like Hardball Talk call me a Debbie Downer and downvote me for saying that.

First, unless he's pulling a Barry Bonds and seeing a Victor Conte for the clear and the cream, he doesn't have any magic fountain of youth in his back pocket.

To put it another way? Ichiro is almost 2 years older than Alex Rodriguez, whom many Yankee fans and GM Brian Cashman are willing to consider broken down.

Yeah, let that sink in. Ichiro — 2 years older than A-Rod.

He's been on a semi-steady decline over the past five years. He had an Indian summer of sorts in the last one third of 2012, after his trade from the Mariners to the Yankees. He had another last year, perhaps fueled in part by getting more rest in 2013.

He's gonna be 41 this year. And, he's probably at fifth outfielder, not fourth outfielder level, or maybe halfway between the two. In short, unless the Fish have at least as many outfield injuries this year as the Yankees did last year, he's not getting a lot of opportunities to swing the lumber.

My guesstimates? About 315 plate appearances, and about 300 at bats. If he's in the upper .240s on batting average, that gives him about 75 hits. That's a bit less than halfway from his current 2,844 to 3,000. This is reinforced by the fact that Miami's an NL team. Except for interleague play, there's no DH to give him additional at bats. (He's not done much DHing, because he's not a prototype DH, of course, but he has done a little.)

That said, Jerry Crasnick says my 300 ABs may be too high; he says more like 250.

Right now, the Fish are set for starters with the Iron Giant, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. All three are young, and thus, barring unexpected injury, unlikely to give Ichiro much playing time, even if he is the team's first OF option off the bench. And, I'll assume Mark Canha makes the big club out of spring training; he might wind up being the first OF off the bench by the end of the year himself, or a combination of him and Enrique Hernandez, even more an IF than Canha at AAA, but who can play OF as well.

Assuming a bit more decline, and a bit less playing time, in 2016, if an MLB team gives him a contract next year, and it's one he'll accept, that leaves him about 30 hits short of 3K at the end of 2016.

So, that assumes that some MLB team wants to pay his contractual freight in 2017, too.

Since, unlike Pete Rose when chasing Ty Cobb, the Fish aren't tabbing him as a player-manager, and it's doubtful that will happen next year, either, color me skeptical of him breaking that magic hits milestone. He can't force himself in the lineup.

Plus, even more than Rose, his hits are dependent on his speed. My 75 hits for him this year may be on the high side.

He'll be  HOFer anyway.

But, is he a slam dunk? For voters, he will be.

That said, in key sabermetric issues, for his MLB career, he's likely to be below 60 WAR and surely below 30 WAA.

What if he had played his whole career here?

Well, let's say he breaks into the US majors at age 23 instead of 27. I'll give him 900 more gross hits for those four extra early years, minus losing 100 from the extra wear of 4 US MLB years versus Japanese majors years. So, we're at about 3,600 hits. 500 stolen bases.

And, on sabermetrics, maybe 75 WAR and 38 WAA.

That's not quite a slam dunk, but, to stay with basketball terminology, it's an uncontested layup.

He'd probably be about No. 8 on the JAWS scale for RF, just ahead of its current occupant, Reggie Jackson.

That said, I don't think his career OPS+ would be above 115 (actual career 110), which is just not that good for a RF. In fact, assuming he gets in, he'll have the lowest OPS+ of any right fielder.

That said, the Mariners did play him a fair amount at CF in his earlier days. As for HOFers in that position? Richie Ashburn has a career OPS+ of 111, but he's only semi-deserving, if that. More legit, if not an uncontested layup, in center, Andre Dawson had a career OPS+ of 119.

So, Ichiro, if this year starts slow — and deteriorates from there — I hope you accept it and your future with grace. Find a way to end your career back in Seattle and bow out when you need to, when the time is right. Accept that BBWAA voters will know how to recognize you.

And, at the same time, blind Ichiro touters should look at that career OPS+. They should note the relative lack of doubles, even, even with his speed.

January 22, 2015

Marcus Borg and the sometimes theological wrongness of liberal Christianity

I can agree with a liberal critical scholar of Christianity like the just-deceased Marcus Borg, when he, or others like him, note that early Christianity (by early, I mean, before 200 CE) had nowhere near one agreed-upon reason as for why Jesus was crucified. And, beyond that, of course, had no one agreed-upon understanding of Jesus' metaphysical relationship to god, and how such relationship connected to his crucifixion.

However, sometimes, the likes of Borg doth critically protest too much. Like this:
“The notion of Jesus’ death as a substitute for our sins was not found in the first 1000 years of Christianity.”

Really?

Although it does not have a line-for-line spelling out, I'd argue that, say, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed does:

he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate
Now, it's true that, technically, it doesn't say why he was crucified.

In that point of the Creed, that is.

It makes it pretty clear, earlier on:

who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven
Our salvation from "what"? Erm, sin? 

And, how? Crucifixion.

OK, there, we're at least at the point of having to discuss theories of why he was crucified. And, I think any reasonably neutral mind, knowing the Tanakh/Old Testament sacrificial system, would think that the idea of a penalty-paying death, an "atonement," is a reasonable interpretation of the theology of that creed.

And, of course, that's long before the end of the first 1,000 years of Christianity.

The only question is, who was holding the theological bank ledger of guilt? To whom was this penalty-paying death due/

Now, one could read that as being described by the "ransom" theory of atonement, discussed here at Wikipedia with other atonement theories, and call Borg technically right, in noting that it wasn't until Anselm that a full-blown atonement theory was articulated.

However, as far as the "why Jesus had to die," there's no significant difference between the "ransom" and "substitute" theories. Certainly not, for the average Christian layperson.

As Wikipedia notes, both theories are grounded on the idea of human sinfulness causing collective human indebtedness; the only difference is, is that difference owed to Yahweh or Satan? And, the "ransom" view goes back to Irenaeus, who technically is pre-200.

No, actually, it goes back to two of the three Synoptics. Here's Matthew 20:28, which is paralleled by Mark 10:45:

Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Again, the Gospeler doesn't say to whom Jesus' life was a ransom, but he does say that it was a ransom, right down to the word!

So Borg is half right — if read narrowly, and with a connotative understanding of "substitute" only.

But, in reality, he's wrong.

Things like this were key to why, when I was leaving the conservative wing of Lutheranism, I realized I couldn't stop at the liberal wing.

Sure, the Borgs of the world may be right, even if we don't go all the way to John Crossan territory, in that Jesus was "actually" a Jewish social reform leader, and maybe even a social resistance leader.

But, a guy named Paul "hijacked" that idea, if you want to put it bluntly. And, by the time of Irenaeus, the majority of Christians was trying to work out what Jesus death meant in light of Paul first, Synoptic Gospels second, and Gospel of John third (albeit, perhaps it first in certain threads of what became Eastern Orthodoxy). 

By Constantinople, the idea of Jesus' death as a penalty payment of some sort, and worth infinite value because he was also infinite God, was the "orthodox" view. So, it was seen as a payment to Satan rather than to God; it was still a payment.

And, when people think, as Christian laypeople, about "substitution" or "atonement," they're thinking first about the payment. It's only much lower, if at all, if they're asking the "to whom" question.

Recognizing that liberal Christianity couldn't fully deal with the rise of Christianity if Jesus were just a social reform leader, and that it didn't deal so well with the Pauline "hijacking," either, is part of why I moved on past liberal Christianity. 

To take Acts 15 as representative of movements, not individuals: Why did Paul win (with a sidebar from John), Peter wind up semi-incorporated into Paul, and James and his Ebionites sidelined? We know that latter happened, and we suspect (rogue interpretations of the Dead Sea Scrolls aside) that it happened because of the rise of Paul, and even more a second rise along with the Pastoral Epistles.

But, why that second rise? There have been, after all, a lot more "failed" religions than "successful" ones.

If Jesus as social crusader was that successful, why did Paul feel the need to hijack this idea of Christianity? And, if it were not, why did he think this was the best budding away from the rootstock of Judaism into which to graft (punning on Romans) his take on Jesus?

Liberal Christianity, in its academic version, it seems tries to tap-dance around the Pauline success at times, and thus tap-dance around his basic doctrines, and then their interpretations from Irenaeus on to the Council of Constantinople.

It wasn't the only reason, but it was a reason.

Another? 

This statement by Borg, from that same link:
Jesus matters for Christians because he was for us the decisive disclosure of God.
Ahh, process or depth theology. Shouldn't it be capitalized as "Decisive Disclosure," like "Ground of Being"? What does that even mean? 

In reality, not a lot.

This is also why, in both critical and conservative Christianity, systematic theology is supposed to be a separate field from exegesis.

None of this is to deny that Borg was among scholars who has pushed for reinterpreting Jesus as a crusader for social reform, and just what he was challenging, including looking at Jesus' parables and sayings in a new, fresh light.

In that sense, yes, maybe he did get a lot of people to look at Jesus again for the first time, as noted here.

But, he never explained how the Jesus as perhaps accurately construed by the Jesus Seminar got trumped by Jesus the dying-rising Savior God.

That said, this is not the first time I've talked about liberal Christianity's wrongness. In the past, I mentioned that liberal Christianity, as well as even secularists, were wrong in claiming there's nothing outrightly anti-gay in the Old Testament, and making an even stronger claim to that end about the New Testament.

Final note. For anybody who claims there's one "pure" version of any or all of the great global religions, this blog post shows just how wrong you are about Christianity.

For Islam, considering the Sunni-Shi'ite split pretty much hardened by 75 years after Muhammad's death, you're wrong there.

And in Buddhism, assuming a historical Siddhartha Gautama, the forerunner of the Theravada-Mahayana split had started within a century of his death.


Needed in Texas — a goods and services tax

Houston Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson is right that Texas' franchise, or margin, tax, is flawed, even fatally so. He's also right that rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic won't solve the problem.

(He could have been right a third time, if he'd dipped his column's toes more explicitly into Texas GOP talking points and noted that neither the current arrangement of said deck chairs nor any revamp is likely to be very "transparent.)

There's several issues here.

First, all the lobbyist carve-outs on the current franchise tax, to dip this blog's toes very explicitly into Texas GOP talking points, raises one big one:

If Texas is such a great state in which to do business, then why does state government need to engage in so many business handouts?

Shorter answer: That's why, in the minds of Texas GOPers, it is such a great business state — precisely because of such handouts.

Now that that's been answered, let's tackle one other issue in his column.

Chris wants to kill the franchise tax. I'm there.

And replace it with more "fees."

First, if one looks at things like car registration renewal, and the various fees it adds on, including a "convenience fee" for online renewal, I'd say the last thing we need is the Lege nickel-and-diming us with yet more fees.

Second, fees are often regressive within the broader world of taxation.

Ideally, we'd amend the Texas constitution to allow an income tax, if more and more of the Joe and Jane Six Packs who vote tea party would realize they're the ones already getting stiffed by fees, fees, fees.

Of course, that ain't happening.

So, what about a New Mexico-style gross receipts tax? I'd argue it's not an income tax. But, I could structure it in a way where it covers a lot of the territory that Texas' current business margins tax does, and in a way that makes it a lot harder for lobbyists to loophole it, especially if we made it more explicitly like a European-style value added tax.

Mu to Camus on meanininglessness

Albert Camus famously or infamously said in "The Myth of Sisyphus" (summary and Wikipedia) that there is one ultimate issue in philosophy:
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.
Of course, that relates to, and cornerstones, issues in his absurdist philosophy, and in the related existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and others.

Theists, especially Christian apologists, have used this as a cudgel, whacking secular existentialists over the head with the idea that they, or we, claim that life is "meaningless" and that there is therefore no recourse at end but suicide.

Well, a new essay at Massimo Pigliucci's Scientia Salon, by John G. Messerly, deals with this issue in part. And, it's stimulated me to yet further thought, reflected in part, and starting with, my second comment on the essay.

That said, let's unpack this issue a bit further. I'll then get to the second half of that second comment and go from there.

Camus, of course, said suicide was not the answer — revolt was. Which might be true.

Modern humanistic psychologists of a secularist mindset say that meaning is what we bring to the table.

But, beyond that, what if "meaningless(ness)" as traditionally defined in philosophy and psychology isn't exactly the issue?

And now, to that comment.
I think Camus was asking the wrong question. 
 Life is neither meaningful nor meaningless, if we take “meaningless” to be the opposite of “meaningful.” 
 If we instead, talk about “without meaning” or “meaning-less” (sic) we can hopefully understand this not as an opposition to “meaningful” but simply that the issue of “meaning” is, if not a category mistake, one of those issues about which we should be silent, or even more, per logical positivism, a question that is itself … without meaning! 
 It’s true that, as part of our attempts to control our surroundings, we probably have “meaning seekers” as well as “pattern detectors” and “agency imputers” halfway hardwired into our brains. 
 But, per Hume’s is ≠ ought, that doesn’t mean that we have to follow them in falsely looking for agency — or falsely imputing meaning where it doesn’t exist, or falsely looking for it when it’s not part of the issue.
Let's go a bit further.

"Meaning" and "meaninglessness" also seems to be one of those polarities, like "free will" vs. "determinism," that's wrong in other ways.

First, it's presuming that a polarity should exist.

Second, it assumes that one should, in some degree at least, "reduce" to the other, rather than both be "unified" in a larger theory, just like general relativity and quantum theory will surely "unify" rather than having one reduce to the other.

Third, like the free will half of that first duality, a desire for meaning — or, a desire to frame ordering one's life around meaning, and trying to justify how to frame it without meaning — seems based in part on religion. I've said that this seems true to some degree of many secular defenders of classical free will, on religion and guilt connecting to free will.

Indeed, the Sparknotes summary, on the first link, puts this in is vs. ought terms, as far as how Camus treats Sisyphus:
As his starting point, Camus takes up the question of whether, on the one hand, we are free agents with souls and values, or if, on the other hand, we are just matter that moves about with mindless regularity. 
 Camus is interested in finding a third alternative. Can we acknowledge that life is meaningless without committing suicide? Do we have to at least hope that life has a meaning in order to live? Can we have values if we acknowledge that values are meaningless? Essentially, Camus is asking if the second of the two worldviews sketched above is livable.
But, just as I have repeatedly, most  notably here and in my own essay for Pigliucci, said that we should say “mu” to the traditional “free will versus determinism” polarity, I think we need to similarly “unask” Camus here.  (And Monty Python.)

So, per my pull quote from my comment at Massimo's, if life should not be viewed though a "meaning versus meaningless" filter, what should we then do?

Comic by URL link from Existential Comics
Well, the reference to Farmville, Candy Crush and other Facebook games aside, in this issue of Existentialist Comics, keeping an intelligent Sisyphus happy is probably harder than this. That's especially true for those like Camus and other professional and amateur philosophers who wrestle with these questions. We are "cursed" with intelligence, and speculative intelligence in general.

That said, where do we go from here, to find a better, more authentic contentment than Sisyphus?

To me, the original existentialism, or the Zen of the east from which I get my "mu" to Camus' question, is our starting point.

Recognizing that life simply "is," not in the scientific sense, but in a philosophical and a psychological sense, is the lodestar.

From there, finding contentment comes next. Contentment, to me, is both "deeper" psychologically and less ephemeral than "happiness."

And,, it's not necessarily based on old ideas of how we "have to" find meaning, or create meaning, to be happy.

Second, per the essay that I linked that sparked these comments, as one other commenter noted, "progress" is usually defined in teleological terms. People often define meaning in the same way, which of course is another problem, and one recognized in part by existentialist and absurdist philosophers.

If your meaning is defined from achieving a goal, then you are doomed to frustration in never achieving it, or, like Sisyphus, having your "achievement clock" reset, or new layers added to it, or whatever.

And, what if you do achieve a goal of teleologically-based progress? What then? In the modern West, often, "emptiness," followed by chasing after some new goal.

So, how do we break free?

That was Camus' $64,000 question. But, if we're saying "mu" to his original dichotomy, we may need to say "mu" to his answer, too.

"Revolt" might be one way of achieving this. But, I think it needs to be somewhat more comprehensive, maybe even somewhat more Cynical, as I discuss in calling for a neo-Cynicism, than Camus realized. The revolt has to include a revolt against teleology.

At the same time (heads up, Black Bloc!) it means questioning the idea of "revolt for revolt's sake" (sorry, any hyper-Camuseans) or any other "X for X's sake."

Even "authenticity" must be put under our Cynical microscope. Too often, "authenticity" is seen in a quasi-Platonic sense, as in "There's some ideal Me out there, and that's what I want to be."

Well, no there's not.

Each one of us is the result of massive contingency in a materialist universe. There's no way any ideal Me or You exists. Therefore, any authenticity based on chasing what is even more ephemeral than a Platonic shadow isn't going to work. Besides, without the Platonic equivalent of divine revelation, how do you know what "Me" is anyway?

So, what is "authenticity"?

Authenticity, in part, means rejecting the strictures of society that don't agree with deeper layers of our selves — before they become part of those deeper layers.

In other words, it's about "congruence."

I'm not a process theologian, or anything close.

But, I will call myself a sort of "process psychologist."

As such, meaning is created, not found. And, it's created on an ongoing, not a static basis. It's part of a dialogue between a changing self, a current moment, and a current moment that is part of a larger stream of time.

And thus, meaning changes throughout life. Why wouldn't it?

January 21, 2015

Corey Robin says: stop criticizing Obama and #SOTU: I'll pass

Well, technically, no, he didn't exactly say that.

He wants us to stop criticizing anything Obama said in the State of the Union Address that is dependent on the good will of Republicans:
I promise not to blame Obama for not doing what the Republicans prevent him from doing, not to exaggerate the power of the presidency, to acknowledge the constraints of a bicameral Congress, the reality of Blue Dogs and unreality of Green Lanterns, if… 
…you STFU about SOTU, POTUS, and the next presidential election. 
Deal? 
Not totally a deal, Corey. Here's why.

First, Obama had two years in his first term where he wasn't dependent on the GOP — including in the Senate, before Scott Brown replaced Ted Kennedy and a magic 60 votes were there.

That leads into what I said in comments to him:
So, Corey, there's a lot he could have done in 2009-11, with Dems in charge, that he didn't. 
Oh, like single payer. Or a neoliberal health care fix that actually worked better, especially the tech side. (Shocking for a Web 2.0 neoliberal to not actually keep a gimlet eye on how his "legacy" accomplishment was actually being put together, isn't it?) 
Or, more stimulus. 
Or, better stimulus. 
== 
Of course, there's things he could do today that don't depend on Congress. 
Like ending the war in Afghanistan. Full stop. Ending, not semi-ending. 
Like stop spying on us so much. 
Like stop continuing "renditions." 
You get the drift. 
== 
Of course, none of this addresses the ultimate issue, namely, that Barack Obama somehow seems more highly impressed with the mellifluous notes of his golden tongue than he should be. 
Or, as his predecessor said, "soft bigotry of low expectations," maybe? 
So, for those reasons and more, no, I won't stop ... "critiquing" Obama, from the left.
Speaking of ....


Remember those halcyon days when Dear Leader asked for people (why didn't he use the word "folks" way back then?) to criticize and critique him from the left?

Beyond that, per one other commenter, I didn't even watch. Like with Slick Willie and Shrub alike before him, a lot of the last 20 SOTUs have been about incrementalism. And political point-scoring via incrementalism.

Beyond that, even if they have no chance of adoption, Obama could still propose non-incremental ideas.

Like a carbon tax joined with a carbon tariff on imports. Right now, when oil prices are low, too! And, since he's a lame duck, he doesn't have to worry about expending "capital," either.

As for Corey's unreality of Green Lanterns, there is an actual Green Party. For which I do vote.

Also, per a Facebook comment, I think if presidents were smart, they'd go back to the time before Woodrow Wilson anyway. Deliver a print document SOTU; that then prevents opposition Congresscritters from giving a teevee rebuttal, one that is not specified by the Constitution anyway.

Senate Dems fail to offer right #KeystoneXL amendment

Yes, one of the two failed amendments to Senate Republicans' pushing of a KeystoneXL pipeline bill were both nice — use of US components only, although I really can't conceive of that much heavy steel being imported from China. The one that got OKed, about boosting energy efficiency, is also nice, but seems fairly toothless. The one about restricting tar sands oil coming through the pipeline to US use only? Meh.

None of these hit the right angle, though.

I've said before that, if nothing else, Alberta tar sands oil is better by pipeline than by rail.

That said, a better amendment would have forced the Department of Transportation to make its push for railroad companies to do a voluntary upgrade of their tanker cars into a mandated replacement with new models.

But, even that's only the second-best option Senate Dems had.

The best?

Link KeystoneXL approval to a carbon tax at home along with a carbon tariff on imports.

First, the domestic tax needs to be linked with the tariff on imports anyway; just a domestic tax is not sensical either environmentally or economically.

Second, to the degree that that Alberta tar sands oil is "dirtier" than US conventional oils, it would have a heavier tariff vs the domestic tax.

Sure, this amendment likely would have had zero chance. It probably would only get 20 Democratic votes.

But, it surely could have gotten at least two.

Hello, Bernie Sanders, Barbara Boxer, Ed Markey and other real "green" types. That's more than two of you — enough for an amendment's motion and seconding.

January 20, 2015

$45 oil — is that the US "breaking point"?

According to at least one Midland oilman, it is:
“At $45 a barrel, it shuts down nearly every project,” Steve J. McCoy, Latshaw Drilling’s director of business development, told Mr. Pruett and his guests. “The Saudis understand, and they are killing us.”

That said, it's interesting, or rather, it's "interesting," to see that what would be called "capitalism" when practiced in the US by American companies is called "conspiracy" when practiced by KSA and Saudi Aramco.

American exceptionalism hypocrisy strikes again!

As for the actuality of concerns? Per my previous blog post on this subject, talking about the possibility of $40 oil, right now, West Texas Intermediate is hovering right around that $45 mark. I'm sure my blog's "man of the year," Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi, is taking note.

Meanwhile, per that $40 blog post of mine, noting that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar probably hadn't looked too closely at ripple effects when issuing his report about state of Texas revenue for the 2015-16 biennium, the Times link at top reminds us of these ripple effects:
A Mexican restaurant has started a Sunday brunch to expand its revenues beyond dinner. A Mercedes dealer, anticipating reduced demand, is prepared to emphasize repairs and sales of used cars. And some well-off oil company managers are cutting back at home, rethinking their vacation plans and cutting the hours of their housemaids and gardeners.
Of course, Greg Abbott will soon tell us this is all Obama's fault, even as he prepares to launch his first suit as governor of the great state of all hat, no cattle miracles, or, as I call it, the Pointy Abandoned Object State™,  surely getting ready to once again sue Barack Obama, aka Dear Leader. 

Now, per the Times, and per Midland Mayor Jerry Morales, this is almost surely not going to be anywhere near as bad as the late 1990s. But, it could be about as bad, and for about as long, as the bubble-bursting at the start of the Great Recession.

More here, on the possible duration, at least related to China's economy:
"Heavy industrial overcapacity remains severe, and will take years, not quarters, to resolve. Generally, there is a large supply overhang problem which lower input prices cannot solve," wrote Brian Jackson, IHS Global Insight's China economist on Tuesday. "Most importantly, debt levels and shares continued to rise in 2014 – IHS estimates that China's debt-to-GDP ratio rose over 20 percentage points in 2014 to reach 247 percent." 
The latest on that end? Baker Hughes just announced 7,000 layoffs. And, it expects the second quarter of the year to be worse than the first quarter. And, it may close some facilities.

And, there's also the issue of whether sagging stock prices couldn't force publicly traded companies into even further cuts.

Meanwhile, Texas Monthly is now weighing in, saying there's a fair possibility of a 1980s-style full oil bust.

Update, Jan. 27: The situation is of concern enough within the oil patch that pipeline companies are merging. And six-month business projections look weak.

Hedge funds, meanwhile, are betting on continuing price weakness.

#Ebook stagnation — my thoughts on why

Note that in the US, the reading rate has plateaued even more than the buy rate.
Both in Australia and the UK, and here in the US, ebook sales have stagnated in the past year or two.

Is this a temporary glitch, and will ebook touters from a few years back eventually be proven right, or — at least in the current sales structure of ebooks — is it something permanent?

Before answering those questions, let's look at why the stagnation has happened.

I have several thoughts.

1. Early adopters have all done their early adopting, and middle adopters haven't jumped in yet; late adopters certainly haven't.

2. Ebook buyers from Amazon have pulled back from buying ebooks, with the lapse of "teaser" prices now having used books, after just 2 years, cheaper than ebook copies of the same, and often even new ebooks not that much cheaper than print.

3. Ebook buyers — or even more would-be ebook buyers — don't like their book choices being held hostage to wholesaling disputes like the Amazon-Hachette one.

4. Ebook readers — and even more, potential ebook readers — have grown wary of the fact that, at least in the US, one does not own ebooks. Rather, one owns the right to read an ebook stored by Amazon or whomever in a digital cloud, a right that can be, and has been, revoked.

5. Print readers are still holding out for more ease with the digital equivalent of underlining and otherwise marking up a book. (But, see No. 5.) Ditto for other issues related to this.

6. Ebook readers, in nonfiction, have gotten tired of problems with footnoting, indexes, etc.

If No. 1 is the primary issue, then, the plateau is only temporary. That's somewhat true if No. 6 is the primary issue, though that still has a trust issue involved.

If some combination of Nos. 2-5 is the problem, though, then the plateau is going to be around a while.

That's because all of the problems there, and subproblems within each point, are traceable in part to quasi-monopolistic issues in general, and business practices of Amazon in particular. And, even No. 6 in part relates to that — it's an issue of buyers tired of vendors in general being cheap with ebook production. (That said, that is probably more then publishing houses than Amazon, but, if Amazon really cared about the issue, it would lean on publishers to do better on their end. In nonfiction, if a book has at least 10 Amazon reviews, I generally offer 50-50 odds that one of the reviews is a complaint about ebook formatting issues.)

To me, No. 2 probably is not that big, though it's not negligible.

I think Nos. 3 and 4 are the biggies. Especially to people who don't have fondness for Bezos otherwise, on things like Amazon's sweatshop "fulfillment warehouses," Bezos looks like a potential John D. Rockefeller of digital publishing. Or worse.

For me, these two issues, plus the degree that No. 5 relates to No. 4, make me wary indeed of, if not ebooks in general, then the Amazon and Kindle world in specific.

Given that Bezos is showing ever more signs of turning the Washington Post into the nation's libertarian newspaper in five years (what — the Wall Street Journal isn't enough? let alone the Phil Anschutz "empire"?) I don't think Nos. 3 and 4 are changing any time soon.

I don't know if Amazon is as much a problem Down Under or in the UK. Maybe it is, and given that that US survey is from 2013, it just took Amazon wariness — and Amazon hamhandedness or worse that provoked it —an additional year to spread beyond the US.

January 19, 2015

Why did Ford pardon Nixon?

I reject ideas of any conspiracy between Jerry Ford and Dick Nixon in the last few days before Nixon's resignation, that Ford would someday pardon him as part of the step-down.

That said, I don't buy Ford's narrative about "national healing," and while accepting Jerry terHorst's line that "national healing" was bullshit when Ford wouldn't pardon Vietnam draft avoiders at the same time, I think that there's still a backstory that ter Hoorst may not have thought about.

It related to a new biography of Nino Scalia, who headed the Ford Administration Office of Legal Counsel. Specifically, it relates to his attempt to hide Nixon's presidential papers from outside purview.

Suppose there is no pardon, and Nixon goes on trial. And, some presidential papers — or White House tapes — somehow come out at trial. Or even without electromagnetic or paper trails available, it still comes out at trial.

What if we find out that Ford, pre-vice presidential nomination, had discussions with Nixon plotting House GOP strategy to spin Watergate? What if, as part of that, we find out that Ford knew more, pre-vice presidency, about Watergate than he told the public — or than he told Congress in his confirmation hearings?

And, what if this comes out before the 1976 general election?

So, without any "deal" with Nixon, Jerry Ford may still have had some "good" reasons to pardon Nixon.

We may never know. I half-read, half-skimmed — and generally disliked — John Dean's new book on the "complete" Nixon tapes. But, again, they don't cover every waking moment of Nixon's presidential life. And, Dean's book ends with July 16, 1973, other than a "summary" chapter beyond that. That's three months before Spiro Agnew resigned.

January 18, 2015

Top blog posts of 2014

We're halfway into January 2015, but I'm a roundup from last year for a slow Sunday.

1. Jan. 7, 2014: I note that movement skeptics have founded their own health website, but caution the general person to also be skeptical about it.
2. Jan. 9, 2014: I question the alleged genius of some master sabermetricians who have Baseball Hall of Fame voting rights.
3. Jan. 10, 2014: I explain the reality of alleged skeptic, and later convicted wire fraudster, Brian Dunning.
4. Jan. 15, 2014: I expose the depth of past — and seemingly current — pro-life views of Texas Democratic U.S. Senate candidate David Alameel. (True Texas Dems, file this one away, as the man is threatening to run again.) I discuss this further on Jan. 26 and even call him a flat-out liar on Jan. 29.
5. Jan. 30, 2014: Younger football Manning sibling Eli gets in my gunsights after a lawsuit over Super Bowl merchandise.

6. Feb. 4, 2014: Democrats all the time Dems, in Texas, don't like me after I question the reality of Wendy Davis' fundraising numbers. Turns out I'm right, and that in November, both she and Battleground Texas are big fat flops.
7. Feb. 18, 2014: I expose the puffery behind a piece claiming scientists are as religious as the general American public.

8. March 5, 2014: Pseudoskeptical fraudster Brian Dunning is convicted. I discuss the details of the case against him.
9. March 8, 2014: Talking baseball. I wonder if the St. Louis Cardinals shouldn't trade for then-Tampa Rays lefty David Price.
10: March 17, 2014: I talk about abortion as being a "Gordian knot" for many liberals. That includes me.
11: March 25, 2014: I critique problems with Neil deGrasse Tyson's reboot of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos."
12. March 27, 2014: I expose some lunacy in the attitudes of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other state-level GOP officeholders about the lesser prairie chicken in particular and protection of in-trouble wildlife in general.
13. March 29, 2014: I show that Carl Hart's new book on addiction is overhyped, probably driven by a mix of political libertarianism and the soft bigotry of low expectations.

14. April 4, 2014: Warren Buffett isn't so smart about newspapers in the digital age. I explain.
15. April 8, 2014: I actually defend something that looks like "social justice warrior" action, when Mozilla pushes out Brandon Eich.
16. Aprl 8, 2014: Disqus says it will push ads on its Internet commenting system. I barf.
17. April 12, 2014: I rake over the coals some Texas Greens' ideas to have Brandon Parmer "surrender" to Wendy Davis. (In retrospect, he did anyway.)
18. April 14, 2014: I take down the misuse of the word "potential."
19. April 19, 2014: I question whether Reds' rookie outfielder Billy Hamilton is "all that," and introduce the Pete Kozma Line, a sabermetric version of the Mendoza Line.

20. May 5, 2014: I critique modern health research and reporting, saying that researchers should tighten p-values and other research parameters.
21. May 12, 2014: I call for Managerial Wins Above Replacement as a needed way to better evaluate baseball managers.

22. June 19, 2014: I once again tell Boston Red Sox fans that David Ortiz is not a Hall of Famer.

23. July 27, 2014: The sad reality of modern America — big business tells explosion-damaged West, Texas to go fuck itself.

24. Aug. 9, 2014: I call out P.Z. Myers and other Gnu Atheists for creating straw men in their quest for nth-wave feminism.
25. Aug. 23, 2014: I reject the idea that non-hired academic Steven Salaita is worthy of any brouhaha on his behalf.

26. Sept. 25, 2014: Is the godfather of modern movement skepticism, James Randi, suffering from founder's syndrome? Given that I think he's overrated in some ways anyway, I have no problem saying that.

27. Nov. 17, 2014: As part of noting that atheism is just the lack of belief in the existence of any gods, I explain in detail, with examples. how atheism does not necessarily equate to political or social liberalism.
28. Nov. 28, 2014: I delve a bit into the personal and family history of Steve McQuilliams, the TeaParty type, possibly white nationalist type, Austin would-be bomber.

29. Dec. 26, 2014: I say "hasty lumbago" to Texas' departing governor, Rick Perry.