Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How News Becomes Bad (It's All About Clicks)

A dumb headline was introduced to the internet today, but because it's clickbait, every whore of a media outlet ran it. It involves false accusations, politics, and quotes taken out of context. And surprise, it's about Trump.

The Washington Post headline proclaimed that "Trump says Obama is helping to organize protests against his presidency." So did Fox, CNN, et. al. And of course he did. That's the narrative, so I believe it. Trump whines, lies, blames, and obfuscates - he doesn't fix. Of course he blamed Obama for the protests. 

Except, he didn't. And no one cared to point out that Trump didn't go on tv intending to blame Obama for inciting protests. Even though he didn't.

Trump isn't without blame here, but it was clearly Fox New's fault. Trump went on Fox and Friends this morning (AKA, the network's morning trio of hackery), and one of the hacks (I'm not going to bother learning the guy's name) floated that Obama's organization (and thus, the former President) was behind the large crowds at Congressional town halls. Hack #3 then goes on to talk about how it's not fair because all Presidents agree not to attack their replacements once they leave office.

At this point a reasonable person just shuts down the hack by saying they haven't heard that, but we need to squelch these rumors unless we have evidence; saying things for the sake of blaming our problems on the other side only hurts our democracy. Of course Trump doesn't - he just nods his head and agrees because he's incapable of resisting the power of suggestion. And that's a major failing on his part. But the headline there is "Trump Fails to Correct Accusations that Hacks at Fox Made Against Obama." Problem is, that doesn't have the same ring as "Trump Blames Obama." So rather than point to the source of the initial problem (Fox and Friends), CNN gins up a different but more intriguing problem guaranteed to get more clicks. And that's how the media loses credibility among a disenchanted independent.

I don't blame a guy for trying to make a buck. But that doesn't mean I won't judge him for how that buck is made. 

Edit: also in the news today: mass hysteria because KellyAnne Conway sat on a couch. I'm not even joking. This actually happened. Jon Stewart used to call Fox the fake outrage machine - I think Salon.com is trying to claim that mantle now.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Lesson of Donald Trump that Art Briles Failed to Heed

Art Briles is a jackass who shouldn't be allowed to coach football again, and any school that hires him should receive the death penalty, or at minimum a loss of scholarships and ban from postseason competition. His transgressions were at best turning a blind eye, and more than likely shielding players from sexual misconduct allegations at Baylor in order to keep them on the field (lawsuits against the school detail instances of victims being told to keep quiet by coaches and possibly being threatened to prevent them from going to the authorities). As such, a scarlet letter should be branded on the members of his coaching staff that were aware/participated in this as well. But the damnedest thing that happened when Briles was released from his position; turned around and filed suit against Baylor.

There's a lot of gumption involved here, and it went even higher. Ken Starr (yes, the same asshole you're thinking of) was Baylor's chancellor and eventually forced to step down due to his complicity. But back to Briles. A Philadelphia law firm hired by the school's Board of Regents concluded that Briles was responsible for creating essentially a black hole of accountability in which "reports of misconduct such as drug use, physical assault, domestic violence, brandishing of guns, indecent exposure and academic fraud disappeared." Delightful. Briles apparently didn't think this was fair, and sued the school for over $1 million because libel because his feelings got a sad.

Funny thing about suing someone for libel, and this is the lesson Trump (may have?) learned about a couple decades ago: your claims become open to investigation and that which you don't want to come out in discovery, comes out. For Trump, he sued an author who claimed Trump wasn't worth much money. Lo and behold, Trump was asked to prove the claim was false, and during discovery it was revealed Trump had grossly inflated his wealth. And this information became public as a matter of court record. (And Trump lost. Because lying.) The lesson: if you're suing someone for contradicting your version of the truth, make sure your version is right. And if your lies will be embarrassing when contradictory evidence comes out, you should probably just stop filing frivolous lawsuits.

Once again, back to Briles. So this fucktard sues Baylor because the school said they couldn't keep a coach that was shielding his rapist players. (And if the media accounts are to be believed, we're talking over 30 rapists in the program, with Briles having personal knowledge of at least one gang rape.) And guess what happens next: the man who sued the school for claiming he shielded rapists has to prove that the school's claim amount to libel, only to have the school provide the evidence that he shielded rapists. Briles dropped his lawsuit today after a small number of text messages and e-mails were released to the public that demonstrated his complicity. Good job: you got what you asked for by having the Regents defend themselves. So once more: if your lies will be embarrassing when contradictory evidence comes out, you should probably just stop filing frivolous lawsuits.

This rambling diatribe is mostly about calling people names to make me feel better about myself, but it also underlines a non-germane point: you're either part of the solution or part of the problem. After one of the gang rapes, Briles commented, "those are some bad dudes. Why was she around those guys?" This is the type of victim-blaming comment that fosters a rape culture, and you've fucked up on so many levels:

1. This completely deflects from the problem at hand. We've all put ourselves in dumb situations that, in hindsight, we shouldn't have. Lock your car doors, don't walk down that dark alley, keep your wits about you, etc. This is advice that should be dispensed. It shouldn't be considered a lesson learned. It's not 1900, and you don't get to blame the woman for being raped. You blame the rapist for being a rapist, and then you put him in jail. It really is that black and white.

2. The rape culture you've now fostered. Collegiate football players already have a certain expectation of leniency, begging the question, "how much can I actually get away with?" You protected rapists from being punished. Which sends a signal to those rapists, as well as their teammates, that you will protect rapists in the future. Unfortunately, legal repercussions are required to deter shitty behavior in some people, and you've removed such deterrence. You've now created an environment that allows rape. You may (acknowledge, may) be directly responsible for any future sexual assault that your players perpetrate. 

In sum, I'm glad this additional information just came out, I'm saddened that the news means victims must continue to relive the trauma they incurred, and I consider Briles lucky that there's no father with a shotgun pissed off enough to eliminate the life of someone who has no further value to provide society. That's not something I'm advocating. Just making the observation.

Also, the Board of Regents considered reinstating Briles last summer before the lawsuit. Those on the reinstatement side are also shitty people.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Should Government Pick Winners and Losers?

An interesting contradiction took place yesterday, and the next 4-8 years promises a whole slew more of'em. The specific one here is Trump claiming he's negotiated to keep almost half of the jobs at a Carrier plant which Carrier had previously pledge to move to Mexico, in Indiana. There are a number of reasons to dispute his claims, principally the fact that Indiana put up $7 million to pull this off. That's a state action, not a federal one. (Note that once he officially takes office, the number of governors Trump will be able to force to put up millions of dollars for manufacturers will dwindle from Mike Pence to zero.) But say Trump was actually responsible for negotiating this "deal" - can Republicans of principle defend him?

When I lived in Michigan during the financial crisis, the state was hemorrhaging jobs as the auto industry and everything around it looked like it would crumble. Governor Jennifer Granholm promoted various tax incentives meant to attract businesses to Michigan, and Republicans dismissed the efforts as a shell game (you give tax breaks one place, but tax another. Then in four years you'll repeal those tax breaks and put them somewhere else. Shell game.) The larger point was that the government shouldn't be in the business of picking winners and losers. And when Solyndra failed as part of the larger, largely successful Clean-Energy Technology program, conservatives said, "hey - why is the federal government picking winners and losers?" And when the State of New York put up close to a billion dollars to support the building of a solar plant in Buffalo, I said, "hey - should we be spending all this money picking winners and losers?"

The point is, Trump has signaled a willingness to get his hands dirty and pick winners and losers. We can expect a presidency full of similar stunts, claiming to save every manufacturing and coal job in America, regardless of the actual circumstances. And as he claims to pick winners and losers, will Republicans be consistent in pointing out that they don't believe it's the government's place to do so?

That's a rhetorical question.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Could Liberals' Hope in a Trump Presidency Lie With Mitch McConnell?

The Democratic Party anointed a candidate that couldn't beat a clown (apparently). While the Dems lost the White House, they also couldn't convince anyone to vote for a Democratic Senate, and obviously lost the gerrymandered House. That leaves the Presidency and both chambers of Congress in Republican control, and liberals chasing nightmares every time they close their eyes. With a conservative agenda ready to go and at least one Supreme Court seat to be filled in the coming years, could Mitch McConnell give Democrats their best hope of slowing down the upcoming onslaught of Republican policies?

McConnell has been a reclusive man this election, hiding an assumed disdain for Donald Trump in favor of a prototypical candidate. He avoided the cable news circuit and campaigns alike, utilizing his time to privately fundraise for Congressional Republicans. But now that he raised enough money to buy the Senate, he faces a problem: being responsible for governance. While the Senate leader never demonstrated an interest in working to develop smart policy or pass a responsible budget, he succeeded wildly in obstructing President Obama and running against his objectives.

McConnell seemed happy to play the role of obstructionist, and fundraised well doing it. Unfortunately, the goalposts have moved. Trump has demonstrated zero interest in policy development, suggesting he'll sign whatever Congress sends up as long as it can be sold as a big idea. If something goes wrong, or there's something McConnell doesn't want to do (fully repeal Obamacare?), there's only one place America (as well as Trump, assumedly) will point the finger - at Congress. Unless, that is, McConnell can create an alternative place to deposit blame. Whither the obstructionists?

Democrats eliminated many filibuster rules regarding Presidential appointments out of necessity, after Republicans in the Senate minority refused to allow anyone to be confirmed regardless of their merits because partisanship. It'll be hard for McConnell to sell his conference on reinstating that power, but filibusters of legislation will remain. So Senate Republican will to confirm Trump appointees (maybe a couple Republican will demonstrate the courage to oppose those appointees that refuse to uphold the constitution, but we'll see), but Democrats will retain the power to impede controversial legislation. And though the filibuster can technically be eliminated, McConnell would be strategically smart not to infringe on the ability to use it.

Democratic opposition via filibuster is important to both sides. Democrats need small victories and the ability to claim they're fighting the machine. Republicans need an opposition to fundraise against (expect this e-mail in your inbox soon: "We could fix healthcare if only those dastardly Democrats would stop trying to shove their death panels down our throats! Won't you donate $25 today to help America show those liberals we won't stand for their bullying ways?") McConnell has shown himself as a politician first. A smart politician would open the system to Democrats to obstruct a legislative agenda, and give Republicans something to run on in 2018. We'll see if liberals are (un)lucky enough for this to happen.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Alex Gordon's .219 Batting Average Is Zero Cause For Concern

On January 6 of this year, the Royals announced free agent Alex Gordon would remain in Kansas City. Kansas City, a franchise with a grand history of drafting and developing players to be traded for cash every July. Kansas City, the proud owners of a 29-year playoff drought. Yes, Kansas City was resigning a franchise player following a World Series victory. And how has the man repaid the Royals thus far? With a .219 batting average through August 18 and a stint on the DL earlier this year due to a fractured wrist. So KC fans, how's that $72 million, four-year contract looking now? I say it's still worth it.

I watched my first Royals game in about a long time on Monday, and in Gordon's first at-bat he was walked. People who follow the team should know where I'm going here. After first taking a called strike, Gordo sat back and watched three straight balls go by. And when a 90 mph fastball came in, he watched that strike slide by as well. Sitting now at 3-2, Gordon fouls off two more pitches before taking a base on the fourth ball of the battle. An 8-pitch gem of an appearance, and the start to just another day at the office for Alex Gordon.

Gordon had an otherwise decent night with two hits and a run scored, but that second inning battle is what makes him the player the Royals need. While historically low enough to believe he'll bounce back, the .219 batting average is bad. How bad? Gordon hasn't played enough games to qualify for statistical comparison in the MLB, but if he did he would rank second to last in the AL - only Chicago's Todd Frazier is worse and currently sits at #77 among qualified batters with a .210 average. Yet Frazier and Gordon aren't comparable, and it's not even close.

Despite the abysmal batting average, Alex Gordon has an on-base percentage of .321 - a full ten percent greater. He ranks 37th in walks with 38 this season despite missing June. (That's 38 walks in 86 games - a walk in almost 50 percent of games played.)

Walks aren't just important because they get a player on base. Unlike a single, they don't advance a player from third to home. However, they WEAR PITCHERS DOWN. Alcides Escobar can secure the occasional first pitch hit (if you recall, the very first pitch of the 2015 World Series was a fastball over the plate that resulted in an inside-the-park home run). However, in this era of micromanaged pitch counts and overburdened bullpens, an 8-pitch at-bat is one of the best weapons a team can have.

After Gordon hit a double in the sixth inning on the sixth pitch of the at-bat after taking three balls, and Detroit's pitcher was lifted. Daniel Norris had only thrown 88 pitches, and Gordon had seen 16 of them. If you're counting at home, that's 19 percent of the team's time in the box with Norris.

Alex Gordon can snatch the occasional home run, will steal a base or two (six so far this year), and be a smart baseball player. As a four-time gold glove winner and 2014 platinum glove winner (an award whose creation I remain dubious to), his defensive skills are beyond reproach. Yet he can't be valued as just a great defensive player. His lifetime batting average is .265, and as a 32-year-old we know that number isn't going to finish anywhere close to .300 at the end of his career. Yet Gordon is not a replacement level bat. Gordon takes pitchers out of the game because he makes them tired. He doesn't jack home runs regularly, but creates the conditions under which Moustakas and Hosmer can. And that's why he's still worth every penny he's getting paid.

Oh yeah, here's that lead-off, inside-the-park home run that Escobar jacked off Matt Harvey in the World Series when the Royals beat the Mets in five games and were the best team in the world and made everyone happy.

September 9 Update: Out of curiosity I looked up Gordon's stats this afternoon. In the past thirty days he ranks seventh among all qualified outfielders (and first among left fielders) with a .394 on-base percentage. He's also 10th in both batting average (.305) and slugging (.547) among outfielders. Not MVP numbers, but certainly indicative of a player on the right track. Once again, Gordon's BA of .219 as of August 18 was zero cause for concern.