Monday, November 28, 2005

One Important Discussion and Three Unimportant Snippets

I got to talking about the issue of our health care system the other day with my friend Mike and my wife, while we were watching in football. In fairness, the game sucked. Anyway, my wife, a noted liberal, and Mike, who also pitches from the left side, are both big fans of socialized medicine. I, as you might gather from my various conservative and ultra-conservative rants and rambles, am not.

Here's the thing: most of us can agree that the health care system in this country, such as it is, is not perfect. In fact, it's pretty damned imperfect. Millions of Americans (I've heard 40 million, but question the veracity of that number) are uninsured and therefore have minimal access to anything beyond emergency-based health care. Obviously, that's a problem. Our system has historically relied upon employers to shoulder the burden for this, with government benefits only for the poor (Medicaid) and ancient (Medicare). But with costs rising, many employers are reducing or eliminating such benefits, since they do not have to, by law, provide them. And since some employers are doing this, the pressure on competing employers to continue providing benefits decreases, as the need to use this rather expensive benefit to lure quality employees similarly decreases. So basically, the number and percent of uninsureds in this country is likely to increase substantially in light of this trend. That's a problem.

The knee-jerk response to this, of course, is socialized medicine. If employers won't pay for coverage, let the government do it! In theory, this is a fine idea. In practice, not so much. Our experiment with socialized health care in this country has failed catastrophically. Medicare and Medicaid are facing tremendous shortfalls over the next 30 years, thanks mostly to the same bugaboo that faces Social Security (too few paying in, too many taking out) and rising costs. And "but it works in Canada" no longer flies as an explanation. The Canadian health care system has been plagued by spiraling costs and wait times for care, and threatens to topple the Martin government. Wait times in Canada have always been an issue, and they're even greater now.

Here's where the disconnect between me and my liberal friends comes in, and the disconnect lies in something both Mike and I are fond of saying. When you have a project of some kind, there are three factors you're looking for: you can have high quality, you can have it done quickly, or you can have it done cheaply. Most of the time, you can get two of those three things, but not three. If you want something done fast and want it done well, it's going to cost more. If you want it fast and cheap, it's going to be crappy. If you want it done well and cheap, it's going to take more time. This can be applied to anything. Even a health care system.

In the United States, our health care is of high quality and is readily available, but it costs more. In Canada, the health care is of high quality, and is cheaper, but it takes longer to get treatment. So basically, the question is, how do you want it? Most people would agree that with health care, quality is the most important feature and cannot be sacrificed. Fine. (Personally, I would argue that the long-term effects of socialized medicine may have the impact of decreasing quality, but that's an argument for another time.) So either you can have it cost less, or you can have it now. Not both.

Both approaches have validity to them. And both systems have big problems right now. I'm not going to tell you that I have all the answers. I don't. Long-term, there needs to be some sort of change in our system, whether it's a decrease in costs that results from increased competition (and personally, I think this is what will ultimately happen; there's just too much money in this racket for more people not to get involved), a decrease in costs from less treatment (this is already happening), or even some sort of federally-funded plan (an idea I loathe, but must admit is possible).

I do have a plan for how to curb the uninsured problem in this country. It's half-baked with next to no research performed and it's nearly certain to never, ever be implemented. But it's a good plan. I'll share it next time.

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I don't know whether to rejoice or cry about the fact that the Phins are 4-7 and still very much alive for the AFC East title. Although as I outlined in this article, less alive than some might think.
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Tony Dungy says he's resting his starters as soon as the Colts stop have meaningful games (i.e. lock up home field throughout the AFC playoffs). Doesn't he know what this will do to fantasy teams all over the world? You know, like MINE? The one with Edge James and Peyton Manning? The guy who traded me Manning did so largely because he was afraid the Colts would be too good, and Manning would be useless for the playoffs. I'd love to tell you I'm smart enough to have that brand of foresight, but I don't.
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Finally, I think Stephan Pastis is onto one hell of an idea.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

10 Things I Hate About NFL Announcing

I love the NFL. You love the NFL. We all love the NFL. However, the popularity of the league has come with a cost; the announcing is generally terrible. Watch a game sometime, and write down the number of asinine stats, stories, quotes, comments and camera angles. You'll have a list of 20 or 30 things by the end of the game.

It's not a terrible thing, of course. Every major sport has something about it that bothers fans. Football has the announcers. Basketball has the officiating. Baseball has the players union. NASCAR has other fans. Hockey has...well, no one gives a damn about hockey anymore, so I guess there's nothing to be upset about. So out of all those things, I'd probably take idiot announcers over those other fundamental problems.

Of course, that doesn't mean I can't get my fair share of griping in. So, without further ado, these are the 10 things I hate most about NFL announcing (in no particular order).

10. Homer announcers and studio hosts - I once went on a cross country killing spree after listening to Chris Berman talking about "circling the wagons" one too many times. I wore a gas station attendant's head as a hat through three states. Okay, maybe I just dropped a couple F-bombs and hit the mute button. Either way, I wasn't happy.

However, there have been announcers that have been just as bad. When Steve Tasker was in the booth, he was a shameless homer for the Bills. In his defense, at least he played for the team, unlike Berman. Joe Namath wasn't so much a homer as he was blatantly jealous of any QB better than he was (i.e. Dan Marino, John Elway, Joe Montana). And, to be perfectly fair, a lot of people around here thought Bob Trumpy had it in for the Bills. They might have had a point; I don't think I ever heard Bob say a good word about Jim Kelly.

(By the way, in no possible way does this apply to Michael Irvin talking about "THE U!")

9. Endless and meaningless stats - Actually, these don't bother me so much, but they drive my father-in-law nuts. And since his complaining lessens my football experience, they make the list. I'd talk more about this, but it ties into another one below, as you'll see shortly.

8. Overdramatization - There are two forms of this. The first is Kevin Harlan's voice. Every word is enunciated to the utmost degree, every syllable pronounced as loud and clear as humanly possible. If Kevin sent you an instant message, I can guarantee it would be in ALL CAPS. WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!

The second, and perhaps more egregious, is Brent Musberger. Yes, I know, Brent does college football, not the pros, but it's my list, so there. Listen to Brent sometime; he's so bad you can't help but laugh. Here's a garden variety Musberger quote: "and this is an absolutely crucial third down for the Ohio State Buckeyes. They have got to convert here or they're in big trouble." Brent could bust out this line at any time. It could be two minutes remaining with OSU down 4, or it could be midway through the first quarter of a scoreless game. It matters not at all to him.

7. Usage of terms that have no meaning whatsoever in the real world - Has your boss ever told you, in a performance review, that you need a greater "sense of urgency"? Have you been asked on a daily basis how you're "overcoming adversity"? If Mel Kiper comes onto ESPN and compliments a guy by saying he's "a Football Player", should you take it well if a co-worker comes up to you and says "you're an Accountant"?

6. Verbal fellatio - Just once, I'd love to hear an announcer shout, "what on earth was Favre thinking? That is an absolute bonehead play by Brett Favre, and he should know better." There is a list of players (almost exclusively quarterbacks) that can do absolutely no wrong whatsoever. Favre tops the list, followed closely by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb are on there too, which at least strikes a blow for racial harmony. At every possible opportunity, an announcer will gush over their "brilliant leadership" or "fantastic athleticism". Coaches get this too. At least they do if their last name rhymes with "Elichick".

5. Failure to call a spade a spade - It's very rare that an announcer will call a bad team bad, or a bad player bad. You may hear them say things like "Reggie Howard has struggled in coverage this year", when the truth is closer to, "Reggie Howard has been toasted, scorched, burned, blackened, flame-broiled, and roasted on a spit by opposing receivers this year." I'm not saying they have to be mean-spirited, but for God's sake, it's not kindergarten. These guys are pros, and if they stink, say so. I'll note that studio hosts are much less reluctant to do this than the game announcers.

4. Rhetorical questions - "You wanna talk about a guy who's motivated?"
Um, I don't know, do I?
"You wanna talk about a guy who's playing his heart out right now?"
Sure, I guess.
"Michael Strahan is absolutely playing his heart out right now."
Fine. Couldn't you have skipped the previous two questions and said exactly that?

3. Meaningless cliches and obvious generalities - I mind these less coming from coaches, because most coaches don't want to talk about their game plan any more than they have to. But we all know that the team that runs the most effectively usually wins. We all know that the team that commits fewer turnovers usually wins. I actually caught an announcer the other day saying, "well, they just win games by outscoring the other team." Huh, well I'll be damned. That's a fascinating concept.

2. Tony Siragusa - Either be a sideline reporter or a third man in the booth. Not both. Tony is a sideline reporter who butts into conversations between Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston whenever the mood strikes him, which is often. The only reason for that I can think of is that Dick and Daryl told the FOX guys they were quitting if they had to share the rather small announcer's box with Tony's fat ass. The guy adds nothing but volume to the proceedings and seems primarily concerned with just getting as much air time as humanly possible. It's gotten to the point that I won't watch a game that he's announcing unless it's a REALLY good game.

1. Confusion of cause and effect - This has recently become my number one pet peeve. Here's an example of what I mean: after a turnover, Troy Aikman said, "when you're a bad team, things like that just seem to happen." While the statement itself is technically true, the meaning behind it is totally wrong. There's not some magic power that makes bad teams fumble more; they're a bad team BECAUSE they fumble a lot.

It's wonderful when you see some sort of stat that confuses cause and effect and looks really authoritative, something like "the Jaguars are 23-6 when Fred Taylor rushes 25 or more times". This implies that Jack Del Rio could hand it to Fred the first 25 plays of the game, and significantly increase his chances of winning. In fact, if the Jags are playing well, they're probably handing the ball off more because they're ahead.

Just once, I'd love to hear one of these announcers point out, "of course, if you're throwing for 300 yards, it's usually because you're behind by a lot." But no, we just get: "the Rams are 3-12 when Marc Bulger throws for over 300 yards". So, once Bulger passes that magic 300 point, should Rams fans turn off the TV and find something better to do with their Sunday afternoon? Should Torry Holt let a few passes hit the turf to avoid getting to 300 yards passing? Maybe opposing defenses should just leave the Rams' receivers uncovered for the first half, virtually ensuring that Bulger hits 300 yards, thus dramatically cutting into the Rams chances of winning.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

History's Great Losers

OK, I haven't posted in a week. Hey, it's free entertainment, and sometimes you get what you pay for.

I've been reading the book Napoleon by Frank McLynn. Fascinating stuff. Though McLynn concentrates a bit more than I'd like on Napoleon's romantic endeavors (i.e. nailing half the women in Europe at the time), his analysis into the man himself is really in-depth and balanced.

One of the important points he makes several times is this: history has generally regarded Bonaparte as a great villain. And there's some merit to that: he marched hundreds of thousands of soldiers to their deaths in a war of conquest that he pushed forward mostly because he could. However, what's ignored in that analysis is that Napoleon actually didn't start the war; England did. Unreasonable diplomatic demands, failure to abide by the treaty of Amiens and their conscious support of Russian territorial demands while refusing French territorial demands that were arguably more reasonable essentially were England's way of picking a fight with France. Of course, the counterpoint to that was that it was essentially a pre-emptive strike; they knew war with France was inevitable and thought it best to fight it on their terms, and not Bonaparte's.

In any event, this has put me in something of a historical mindset, which I'll share with you...whether you like it or not. It got me thinking about what countries have most been screwed over by the twists and turns of history. I'm sure I'll forget plenty of good candidates and my list will probably be a bit Western-oriented, since that's the history I'm most familiar with.

Poland - A friend of mine, of Polish descent, once told me that Poland has ceased to exist on four separate occasions. Though I've never researched that, I'm fairly certain it's true. That's not like Italy or Germany, nations that have been loose confederations at various points in time; I'm talking about being completely wiped off the map and incorporated by someone else. Poland has the misfortune of being located directly between two historically powerful and ultra-belligerent nations: Russia and Germany. Pisser. It's small wonder that when Germany was unified, a poll of Poles found that they were overwhelmingly against the idea.

Korea - Another country victimized by geography. China's power has ebbed and flowed, but Japan has always been dominant in the Far East either economically or militarily and Korea has usually been a victim of that. And as an added bonus, the country was split up as part of the Cold War chess match between East and West. South Korea made out just fine, but the North...eh, not so much. Of course, now South Korea has to live with a crazed dictator with nuclear weapons just a few miles away.

Ireland - A friend of mine in law school once called the Irish the only oppressed white people in history. Although many of my Jewish friends would (rightly) take issue with that, the larger point remains. It's a country that's mostly been famous for the people who have left it, not those who have stayed. As Liam Neeson said in the brilliant (and underappreciated) movie Michael Collins, after showing up late for the ceremony marking the beginning of Irish self-rule, "we waited 700 years for our freedom. You can wait seven minutes." And even when Ireland got its freedom, the English still hung onto the North, causing both religious and secular divisiveness.

The entire continent of Africa - They were exploited for hundreds of years by colonial powers, and when the West pulled out en masse, they took whatever stability was left with them and everyone's been fighting ever since. One year it's Rwanda, another Congo/Zaire, another Liberia. The list is endless and depressing as hell.

Israel/Palestine - The Jews, of course, have been the other oppressed white people. No need to delve much farther into that. But what no one really mentions much anymore is that the last country to disappear completely from the face of the earth by diplomatic means was Palestine. Palestine was turned into Israel in 1947 by a UN resolution, causing no small amount of upheaval. I don't think anyone feels the Palestinians should be deprived of a homeland, nor that the Jews should be deprived of one (except for the PLO). Whose homeland is it? In truth, both peoples. But everyone involved has been tearing it apart for thousands of years, to the unmitigated glee of their neighbors, who would just as soon see both Jews and Palestinians gone. Syria, Egypt, Jordan and etc. have only been interested in supporting the Palestinians to the extent that they're opposing Israel. In truth, Palestinians are considered the unloved stepchildren of the Arab world. To that end, Israelis and Palestinians should (theoretically) be natural allies, not enemies, since they've historically been surrounded by hostile nations.

France - Yup, France. Their track record in their numerous wars against England is about as good as Sideshow Bob's against Bart Simpson. They got kicked out of Africa, they got kicked out of Asia, and aside from a couple brief periods of glory (mostly due to the guy I mentioned above), they're famous for losing wars, not winning them. But most importantly, when France has lost, the whole world has ended up as a loser. Best example was the Franco-Prussian war. France stupidly picked a fight with Prussia. The Prussians handed their heads to them, captured the Emperor, starved Paris into submission and imposed a humiliating peace that included the loss of Alcase and Lorraine. It also provided the glue for Prussia to unite its neighboring countries into something called "Germany". France went to war 40 years later to get those provinces back. They won, but the seeds for Hitler's rise to power were planted in Germany's defeat in World War I. And of course, we all know what happened after that. If France had simply avoided going to war in 1870, there likely would have been no World War I, no World War II, no Cold War, and no Holocaust. Nice work, guys.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I Used To Like Ralph Nader...

...after all, he certainly helped deliver the White House to the GOP in 2000. But this newest defense of Terrell Owens is embarassing.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000103&sid=aaln.spebWZU&refer=us

The crux of Nader's argument is that the Eagles' actions run counter to the First Amendment. That is, they're suspending Owens for exercising his First Amendment rights to be a jerk.

Actually, that's not true. I watched Sportscenter last night, and they itemized the laundry list of things Owens has done to merit his suspension. Apart from feuding with Donovan McNabb and calling the team classless, Owens has also been disrespectful to his coaches, including telling Andy Reid to "shut up", has parked in coaches' parking spots and handicapped spots at the training facility, told his coaches he wasn't going to give full effort and picked a fight with former Eagle and current radio announcer Hugh Douglas in the locker room.

But apart from all that, the First Amendment argument itself doesn't hold water. The First Amendment says "CONGRESS shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech..." and so on. I haven't watched the news recently, but I'm reasonably certain that Andy Reid and Jeffrey Lurie are neither elected officials nor acting under color of United States law.

To be fair, Nader did concede that though First Amendment protection doesn't extend to the workplace, but employees still shouldn't be penalized for speaking out. Oh, okay, that makes it better. So if you go and call your boss a classless jerk and continually antagnoize the most productive employee in your office, you shouldn't be disciplined at all. I know there's little connection between the sports world and the real world, but try that one out at your office and see how it goes. I'm sure Ralph will jump to your defense.

But hey, thanks for Florida, Ralph.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

How Do You Define "Uptight"?

One man's definition of "uptight": two NFL cheerleaders having sex in a bar bathroom...and people outside getting angry that they're holding up the line.

How long do you think it will take those two to put a sex tape on the internet? A week? Maybe two? Getting fired by the Panthers is probably the best thing that's happened to their careers.

By the way, the Pittsburgh Steelers do not have cheerleaders and if anyone defines "uptight", it's Dan Rooney. Given this incident, it's probably not happening in his lifetime. (No Lan, they don't. I told you so.)

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Sounds like I was wrong about the Dems and Alito.

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Last night's "Arrested Development" was possibly my favorite hour of television this year...excluding any given one-hour segment of the Miami-Virginia Tech game. I fully intend to use the term "MRF" whenever possible.

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Finally, a belated welcome back to the one and only TSO. Like MacArthur, TSO swore he'd be back, and indeed, he rolled into town last week to a full 21-gun salute and Air Force flyover.

Okay, maybe none of that previous sentence is true, but he should have, damn it. He's that important.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Just How Widespread is Illiteracy in the Coaching Ranks?

There's a few different ways to look at former NHL coach Jacques Demers' recent announcement that he's illiterate. The first is to say, "wow, what a shame that he has had to go through life like that, and what a piece of crap his father is."

The second is to say, "wow, that's really impressive that he carved out a pretty impressive coaching career, complete with a Stanley Cup, despite that."

The third is to say, "this might explain the problems Mike Tice is having."

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Julio Franco?!? Geez, why aren't they looking at Keith Hernandez? Or even Ed Kranepool?

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The Dems are pushing Judge Alito's confirmation hearings into January, citing a need for more time to look at the nominee. This is preposterous. For one, he's been on the Third Circuit bench for 15 years. It's not like they don't have the requisite "paper trail" to examine. For another, they've almost certainly been doing research on this guy for the last six months, since he's consistently been near the top of any rumored list of Supreme Court Justice nominees. They're looking for dirt, haven't found it, and want two more months to find something. The rest of this, in the words of Lt. Weinberg, is just smoke-filled coffeehouse crap.

By the way, I still think the Dems filibuster Alito. I don't think they feel they can afford to have O'Connor's vote replaced by a conservative. You know, someone who might actually interpret the Constitution as it was written and not according to the whims of the day.

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I can't believe I never thought of this Halloween costume. Apparently the Green Lantern tried to break up the fight and failed. Maybe someone was wearing yellow.

And now that I've exposed my comic book geek side, let's just move on...

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Bill Simmons' NBA preview is always a must-read, but this year, it's especially good. Even if you're not a hoops fan, you've got to read the stuff about Kobe Bryant's new nickname. It's about 5/8 of the way down the page. It is the ultimate intersection of hilarious, arrogant and downright disturbing.

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Only the French could possibly screw this up.

Read down to the end of the page. The police union has proposed a curfew and a military presence to stop the rioting in Paris. Most people would call this a "reasonable solution", given that this has gone on for eight straight nights. (Say what you will about GWB, but if this stuff happened in DC, there would have been martial law within 48 hours, and that would be the end of it.) The Socialist Party has suggested that police should WITHDRAW ENTIRELY from these rioting communities!

Even when the enemy is internal, undermanned, outnumbered and flat-out wrong, the French want to surrender.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The World's Shortest Personality Test and More Thoughts That Kept Me Out of the Really Good Schools

Your Personality Profile
You are elegant, withdrawn, and brilliant.Your mind is a weapon, able to solve any puzzle.You are also great at poking holes in arguments and common beliefs.
For you, comfort and calm are very important.You tend to thrive on your own and shrug off most affection.You prefer to protect your emotions and stay strong.

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I used to eat a lot of natural foods until I learned that most people die of natural causes.

Gardening Rule: When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.

The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to buy a replacement.

Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

There are two kinds of pedestrians: the quick and the dead.

Life is sexually transmitted.

Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.

Some people are like Slinkies. Not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs.

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.

In the 60 's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink whatever comes out?" And who was the first person to say, "See that chicken there?I'm gonna eat the next thing that comes outta its butt."

Why is there a light in the fridge and not in the freezer?

If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?

Why do people point to their wrist when asking for the time, but don't point to their crotch when they ask where the bathroom is?

Why does your OB-GYN leave the room when you get undressed if they are going to look up there anyway?

Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs!

If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that Acme crap, why didn't he just buy dinner?

If quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, then what is baby oil made from?

If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?

Does pushing the elevator button more than once make it arrive faster?

Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?