Monthly Archives: August 2010

East St. Louis is of the few cities city in the US that can make Detroit look decent by comparison. On a scale from 1-100, East Illinois scores a 3 on crime. Detroit is a 4 and Memphis is 2, though violent crime in East St. Louis surpasses that in Memphis and every other city I can find with over 17 violent crimes per 1,000 residents. I read not long ago the town is cutting its police force by one third:

“I want our citizens to know we have some of the bravest police officers and firefighters in the country,” Parks said. “But we don’t have the money to pay them. We have to have fiscal responsibility.”

City officials wanted police and fire unions to accept a furlough program that would have required employees to take two unpaid days in each twice monthly pay period. If accepted, emergency responders would have seen a pay cut of about 20 percent for the rest of the year.

Parks said the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement. On Friday, he stared at a standing-room only crowd and told his emergency response chiefs words they didn’t want to hear: “Tell your workers to start packing their things.”

The sheriff’s department does not appear willing to step in. It’s likely that Illinois has budget problems of its own.

My introduction to East St. Louis was when I discovered that it was the inspiration behind Hub City, home of DC’s The Question for a time. The picture it painted was quite bleak. At the end of the series, there’s nothing really left for the mayor to govern as The Question and a few remaining citizens fly out by helicopter, defeated. There is a point earlier in the series where the Governor’s office refuses to render aid to the city as it can’t save a city from itself. The scene was supposed to make them heartless and evil (and they were crass about it, if I recall), but it was hard to argue with.

It brings to mind the much bigger question of what, if anything, we can do about places like Detroit or East St. Louis. Places that exist, have buildings already built, but are for various reasons beyond dysfunction. Of course, at the rate we’re going, we may soon be asking ourselves that question about entire states. It would be nice if places came with a Start Over button.

Category: Courthouse, Newsroom

The Associated Press reports that sexting-extortion is on the rise:

INDIANAPOLIS – The nightmare began with a party: three teenage girls with a webcam, visiting an Internet chatroom and yielding to requests to flash their breasts. A week later, one of the girls, a 17-year-old from Indiana, started getting threatening e-mails.

A stranger said he had captured her image on the webcam and would post the pictures to her MySpace friends unless she posed for more explicit pictures and videos for him. On at least two occasions, the teen did what her blackmailer demanded. Finally, police and federal authorities became involved and indicted a 19-year-old Maryland man in June on charges of sexual exploitation.

Federal prosecutors and child safety advocates say they’re seeing an upswing in such cases of online sexual extortion. They say teens who text nude cell phone photos of themselves or show off their bodies on the Internet are being contacted by pornographers who threaten to expose their behavior to friends and family unless they pose for more explicit porn, creating a vicious cycle of exploitation.

A lot of bloggers have been pointing out the absurdity of law enforcement for going after 15 year old girls who take pictures of themselves or the boys that they send the pictures to. In one case, though I can’t find a link, they prosecuted a boy who had deleted the picture from his phone on the basis that they knew he had it at one point. But it brings to light some rather interesting questions: how do you deal with some of this stuff?

Prosecuting girls for taking pictures of themselves and even sending them around, absent some sort of complaint on the part of who she is sending it to, is indeed quite absurd. And though less absurd it doesn’t seem particularly fair to go after the boys that they send them to if they’re not passing it on. And in some cases even when they are passing it on, they may be guilty of some unsavory behavior but they’re not really comparable to those aiding and abetting an industry devoted to exploiting young girls. I would just shrug it off to prosecutorial discretion (if the girl or guy is not making money off of it or doing it maliciously, treat them different from someone in the industry or doing what the above guy is doing), but when it comes to sex crimes involving minors I am not sure how much faith in prosecutors I have. Yet the distinctions between people with malicious intent and those that have a picture of the girlfriend they’ve seen nude with regularity is something difficult to codify into law.

Category: Newsroom

Tony Pierce suspects that this sort of thing happens all across the country, but I’m really not sure it does. I think that most of the time, crosswalks like this either have (a) a lot less traffic or (b) pedestrian lights. In fact, when I first saw the video I was outraged because I thought that the undercover cop was ignoring the crosswalk lights as part of a ticket-making machine. But then when they said (or I observed, I can’t remember which happened first) that there were no lights it became something of a muddier issue. If they’re not going to put lights up there because it’s not a good and proper intersection, I suppose they’re doing what needs to be done. Pedestrians do have the right of way and it’s not an unimportant rule for people to abide by. I have some sympathy for that car that was passing while the cop was behind that truck (the driver might could have seen him, but probably didn’t), but generally speaking the people that got tickets probably deserved them. It’s too much to ask pedestrians to wait for an opening when there likely is none.

Of course, I have to wonder how much of an imposition it is to scotch the sidewalk and ask pedestrians to walk to the nearest actual intersection. It’s hard to tell from the video where that might be. If it’s somewhere close, it really might be better to force pedestrians over rather than put them in harm’s way. Otherwise, they need to stick a light in there. There are lots of crosswalks without lights, of course, but by and large where I have seen them have been places where there’s not the regular flow of traffic.

One other thing worth noting is that as long as they are making money off of this current arrangement, that kind of provides a disincentive for them to actually rectify the situation, doesn’t it? What are a few pedestrian accidents compared to 60 tickets in a single day?

Category: Road

Pacific 10/12 Conference (Pac-10) – The Pac-10 recently invited both Utah and Colorado into their conference, making twelve. As with the Big Ten, this presents logistical problems when it comes to dividing the schools. Their three options are north-south, east-west (more-or-less), or divisions devoid of geography. The N/S would have the Washington and Oregon schools combining with the two newbies for one division and the California/Arizona schools in another. This is exactly what the California schools want, but the other schools want to be able to play in recruit-rich California as often as possible and would be dead-set against being in a division that won’t have them playing in California every year and will have them playing in southern California only 2 of every 6 years. An east-west division would put the socal schools in a division with the Arizona schools and the newbies. The California schools won’t like that because they want to all play one another every year.

The last option is to go ageographical that split up all of the rivals (USC vs UCLA, Cal vs Stanford, Washington vs WSU, Oregon vs OSU, Arizona vs ASU, and Utah vs Colorado) and have them playing cross-conference every season. This is not unlike what the Atlantic Coast Conference does. Of course, the ACC had visions of Florida State and Miami playing one another every year for the championship and instead got Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.

What I Think the Pac-10 Should Do: Go east-west. The California schools will still play one another frequently and schools outside of California are also likely to be satisfied. It’s the ultimate split-the-difference. Going ageographical makes divisional standings much more difficult to remember and follow (I follow college football and the ACC and still couldn’t tell you which schools are in the “Atlantic Division” and which are in the “Coastal Division”). It’s not perfect because it does put the socal schools together with Arizona (the second best recruitment area in the conference), but it’s still worth a shot. If it becomes too imbalanced, as the Big-12 did, you can explore other options later.

What I Think the Pac-10 Will Do: Ageographical. I think they think that everyone is so fascinated with their conference that they will remember the divisional alignment.


Big Ten Conference (Big Ten) – The Big Ten recently added Nebraska as its twelfth team. This means divisions and a conference championship. The problem is that if you divide the teams up east-west (the only way that makes geographic sense), you have three of their best teams (Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State) in one division and only one first-class team (Nebraska) in the other. The only other option is to disregard geography, which carries all of the problems listed under Pac-10.

What I Think the Big Ten Should Do: Go ahead and give east-west a try. Consider changing it later if it doesn’t work. The Big 12’s problems (where its Texas-based southern division dominated) was systemic because so many of the recruits come from Texas. The divisions in the Big 12 started out equal but became more segregated over time. I think the opposite is possible for the Big Ten. Having their own division will give the western schools room to get better. And, while the top-tier teams split 3-1 in favor of the east, the second-tier teams (Wisconsin and Iowa) are both in the west with Northwestern (also in the west) not far behind. Given time and room, they could become much better programs.

What I Think the Big Ten Will Do: Ageography. Like the Pac-10, they believe everyone is obessed with them. Their argument is actually stronger than the Pac-10’s (despite the fact they are an inferior conference), but I still don’t think it’s true.


BYU (Brigham Young University)
– The key player in all of the MWC-WAC chaos. Having been left behind by Utah, which is headed for the Pac-10, they decided to go independent for football rather than remain members of the MWC. The MWC does not allow for members that do not play for four core sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, and volleyball) in the conference, so BYU was going to join the WAC for all other sports. When the MWC secured the membership of two prime WAC teams, however, the plan fell by the wayside. Now BYU has to make the decision to stay with the MWC or to go independent with the rest of their sports joining a football-free conference called the West Coast Conference (WCC), which mostly consists of small, private, religious colleges.

What I Think BYU Should Do: It depends entirely on the numbers. Going independent can create some logistical nightmares. BYU is one of the few schools that could pull it off and financially excel, but it’s not a given that they will be better off. It depends mostly on scheduling. Every team will want to host BYU, but few of the big boys will want to go to Provo, Utah. The BYU’s flirtations with the WAC were an attempt to address this issue with a mutual agreement to play 4-6 WAC opponents per year. With the WAC possibly insolvent and the MWC piqued at them, they will have lost most of their regional opponents (who would gladly go to Provo for a chance at hosting BYU). The Pac-10 is all that’s left. Even before all of this with only 4 OOC games, BYU has had scheduling troubles. This will likely make it worse. However, if ESPN throws millions of dollars at them a year, it could be worth it anyway. If I am BYU and I am looking at 4 million dollars a year in TV revenue, I probably take the risk. Probably.

What I Think BYU Will Do: I think they’re going to do it. Maybe not this year, but next. The key thing to look out for is if the MWC immediately expands to 12 if they stay. If so, the MWC is expecting them to stick around (and probably has a reason to do so). if they stand pat at 11 (a terrible number for a conference, too many for a round-robin schedule but too few for a championship game) then they’re expecting BYU to depart once they have their act together. For the 2011 season, they have to make a decision by 9/1.


Mountain West Conference (MWC) – The Mountain West Conference was formed when long-serving members were dissatisfied with a cumbersome 16-team WAC with a lot of new programs that they had no real bond with. So essentially the best WAC programs formed the MWC back in the late 90’s. The MWC was on the cusp of having a shot at BCS status (the ability to play in premier bowls year in and year out and not, as currently, just when their champ has an undefeated season), but when Utah left for the Pac-10 those hopes were damaged. The MWC invited Boise State from the WAC earlier this year. When they got word that BYU‘s departure was imminent, they invited the remaing two WAC powerhouses (Fresno State and Nevada) and sent (rejected) overtures to a mediocre team in BYU’s footprint (Utah State) and cut the WAC of at the knees. Their plan was successful in that BYU is reconsidering its options. However, if BYU stays then they have 11 teams, which is not desirable. Then, depending on whether they think BYU is going to stay for the long haul or not, they can stay at 11 and wait for the shoe to drop or they can expand to 12 by picking up one of four candidates from the WAC or Conference USA (Utah State, UTEP, Houston, or SMU). If BYU does leave, they can either stand pat at 10 or they can expand by two from the same pool of candidates.

What I Think the MWC Should Do: If BYU goes, hold tight at 10 for now and find out what adding two schools will do for you. If you have to expand by two, Houston and UTEP are the two most attractive candidates. Don’t take USU unless (b) Utah State’s addition is part of their contract with their sports network and keeping USU keeps them from having to undergo an unfavorable renegotiation (this is the rumor in some circles, the Utah is one of the states that they must have a team in to avoid renegotiation). If BYU stays and is looking to stay indefinitely, add Houston. If Houston does not accept, add UTEP. Don’t invite Utah State unless either BYU demands it. If they do demand it, you should probably do it.

What I Think the MWC Will Do: Probably exactly what I’ve described except that they might invite Utah State even if BYU doesn’t demand it. Utah State fits the conference profile far better than Houston or UTEP and they may be comfortable with “one of their own.” On the other hand, they did invite TCU last time around and the same applies to them.


Western Athletic Conference (WAC) – The WAC has been around for a lot of time, initially including most of the current MWC. They’ve been the victim of every realignment that has occurred since the 90’s. They lost the MWC schools in 1998, lost a bunch of schools to Conference USA in 2005, and have now lost their three remaining good programs. In the past, they have always had candidates with which to reload, but this time they don’t. They currently have six teams and need 8. Their candidates are mostly teams in the I-AA division (the next one down) looking to make a transition: UC-Davis, Cal Poly, Texas State, the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), Montana, and Montana State.

With the exception of Montana, there is little reason to believe that any of these schools are going to be able to compete at the next level (UTSA doesn’t even have a team yet). But they can keep the conference alive. Maybe. If Utah State gets an invite to the MWC, they’re down to five teams. If one Conference USA team (Houston, UTEP, or SMU) gets an invite, they likely lose their eastern-most team, Louisiana Tech, to Conference USA. At that point, you may have to bolt the doors to prevent New Mexico State from going back to its previous conference, the Sun belt, and keep Hawaii from going independent.

The real losers here are Idaho, San Jose State, and either Louisiana Tech or Utah State if they don’t get invited. Louisiana Tech can almost certainly get into the southern-based Sun Belt, but for a variety of reasons it simply doesn’t want to go there. Utah State and Idaho are former Sun belt members themselves, but that was when the Sun Belt was desperate enough to take any team that they could to get up to the number 8. They’re comfortably at 8 now and I don’t know that they are enthusiastic anymore about taking the far-flung teams. Given the goodwill that Utah State has amongst both the WAC and the MWC, they may be able to schedule independence. Idaho, meanwhile, may have to drop back down to I-AA football. The good news for Idaho is that they actually won games at that level. San Jose State recently almost killed their football program. Choosing to do so now will almost certainly be a consideration.

What I Think the WAC Should Do: Pray. Hard.

What I Think the WAC Will Do: Pray. Hard.


Conference USA (C*USA) – Conference USA was founded as a pan-eastern league primarily located in large cities. When they were looted by the Big East in 2005, they became a mostly southern-based conference (with UTEP in the southwest and Marshall in West Virginia). They’re considerably better than the lowly Sun Belt Conference, but worse than both the MWC and WAC on the field. However, they have programs that had a lot of success in the past and some stellar academic institutions. Their role in all of this is whether they take Louisiana Tech from the WAC. Louisiana Tech was a candidate during the last expansion, but was edged out by UTEP. If a vacancy opens up, Louisiana Tech is one of three possible candidates along with Temple (which has the disadvantages of only bringing their mediocre football program and geography) and Charlotte (which has the disadvantage of not having a football program yet). There are also a couple of Sun Belt Conference teams they could grab, such as Troy and Middle Tennessee, but while they have good (for the SBC) football programs they generally lack athletic or academic prestige. If Conference USA has two openings, they may stand pat at 10.

What I Think C*USA Should Do: If they have one opening, invite Louisiana Tech. It’s not a really big school and doesn’t serve a huge market, but it’s primely located and has the potential to be a really good program. If the Big East raids C*USA again, it’ll likely be from the east and they won’t want Temple out in Philadelphia all by itself (or with Marshall out there alone). It’s the safe choice and their primary goal has to be stability. As such, if they lose two teams, they should probably stay at 10.

What I Think C*USA Will Do: If they have one opening, I suspect it’s either Louisiana Tech or Temple. The eastern schools in C*USA are somewhat isolated and would love another one out there. So that works in Temple’s favorite, football-only or no. The western schools are probably thinking what I am thinking about wanting more geographical consolidation. It could go either way. If they have two openings, I suspect that they do indeed stay at 10.


Bowl Championship Series (BCS) – More than once, I’ve seen people blame the MWC-WAC chaos on the BCS. While I support the BCS over the playoff alternative, I am willing to admit that the BCS causes problems. This is not one of them, though. BYU‘s going independent does not help their BCS game odds. In fact, it makes it harder for them. As a member of the MWC, they go to a BCS bowl any time they go undefeated. As an independent, that’s less likely to be the case. This is about money. Network TV money. This all started when Nebraska left one BCS conference for another, so it obviously wasn’t in play then. And as with Nebraska, BYU is leaving one BCS-poor situation for a worse one. In both cases, monetary and prestige were the motivating factors. Neither improved their chances of getting into a BCS game. In fact, both hurt their chances. Even if that were not true, however, an 8-team playoff system would actually make BYU more desperate to get out of the MWC because their chances of getting into a 10-team BCS allows for room that an 8-team playoff system might not. The MWC champ gets in under most 16-team playoff scenarios (ugh), but then you still have the financial considerations that drove Nebraska.

Category: Theater

Massawyrm’s review of Post-Grad is priceless:

The really mind-numbing thing about this is the romantic thrust of the film. You see, Bledel has herself a gay best friend. He doesn’t know he’s gay. He thinks he’s in love with Bledel who only giggles and gives him the brush off every time he caresses her and tells her that he is madly in love with her. And you totally get why she does. He’s handsome, charming, a pre-law grad accepted into Columbia University and, if that don’t beat all, he’s also the lead singer of a band. I know, I know. Total pussy repellant. Honestly, who the fuck wants to date a good looking, funny, lead singer with a law degree to fall back on?

Let me ask you something guys? Have YOU ever known a lead singer that HASN’T fucked every chick in a five block radius of any point at which he is standing? Have you ever known a good looking law student that hasn’t TRIED to fuck every chick within a five block radius of wherever he is standing? I sure as fuck haven’t, and I’ve known plenty of both. But apparently when you put these two stereotypical serial rapists in the body of one down home guy, all he wants to do is stay comfy in the friend zone of some frigid, whiney college grad who hasn’t yet discovered her own vagina. Can I believe in a world where a guy like that can really exist? I sure can. It also has magic swords and robots that shoot fucking lasers out of their eyes.

The movie happened to be playing on one of my flights several months ago. I watched up at it periodically but never plugged the sound in. Sound wasn’t really necessary to follow the plot, as it turned out. My last flight included another movie in that was even less appealing. They generally run “family movies” on flights, but by “family” they mean “16-19 year old girls”.

Phi also commented on Post-Grad:

The {movie} wasn’t exceptional either way, but I was struck by what I can’t help but regard as the irresponsible behavior of the female protagonist. In the middle of a weak hiring market, she walks away with no notice from her dream job and flies off to the opposite coast to pursue a boy she wasn’t interested in when he lived next door. This seems to happen a lot in the movies; I remember how Winona Ryder’s character in Reality Bites did something similar in the last recession. Are girls really that irresponsible? I’ve clung to the same company for my entire adult life and felt damn lucky for it.

One of the great scenes in Men of a Certain Age that was almost sufficient to keep me watching the series, one of the main characters has a heart attack. He’s in the hospital, telling his wife that he just can’t stand one more day of his job and that he wants to find something else to do. Instead of the heartwarming scene wherein she tells him that of course they will get by while he figures out what he wants to do with his life, she essentially points out that they are adults with responsibilities and bills to pay and adults with responsibilities and bills to pay don’t do that sort of thing. They go to work.

I was thinking about making a comment about how it seems that women in particular make these particularly irresponsible decisions (sacrificing one’s future solvency for a boy or to “follow her dreams”) on TV shows and movies. I generally think it’s true and am a little curious as to (a) whether women notice this and (b) whether they view it as women following their dreams and a good thing or women unserious about their careers and a bad thing? My suspicions that it’s something that women do more often could be off-base, however. I’ve seen subplots for men, too.

Category: Theater

Oklahoma has apparently been toying with the idea of using traffic cameras to ticket drivers of cars that aren’t insured:

Meacham said legislators should get the appropriate language passed during next year’s session. Also by then, technology may be in place to allow a company to have the ability to check insurance verification data of all 50 states.

The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has voiced concerns about the proposal, saying privacy rights of Oklahomans could be violated.

In the meantime, state and local law officers will continue to use Oklahoma’s computerized system that lets law officers know in real time whether vehicles licensed in the state are covered by qualifying liability insurance. It’s been estimated about 20 percent of Oklahoma motorists are driving vehicles without liability insurance.

I support this plan entirely as unlike with speeding and red light camera enforcement, lack of insurance is a law that I never break intentionally or unintentionally. Okay, that’s not really why.

Here at Hit Coffee, we are skeptical of a lot of traffic camera activity. This, however, I don’t actually mind so much. The primary arguments against red-light and speeding cameras is that the tickets are often trumped up with traffic engineering designed not for safety but for revenue-generation. If you want to catch people speeding you simply rig the speed limits by making them artificially low or by having sudden drops in the speed limit at places where it’s difficult to slow down and/or speed limit signs and cops are not particularly easy to see. You can rig red light cameras by shortening yellow lights. Red light cameras have the additional disadvantage of having debatable safety returns (but not debatable revenue returns). Oh, and in both cases you don’t know who is driving the car so you could be ticketing the wrong person.

Insurance, though, is something of a different matter. Either the car is insured or you are not. It doesn’t matter who is driving it. The only way you can rig the system is by having incomplete information and then ticketing drivers blindly and giving them the burden of proof to demonstrate that they are insured. That’s a bit of a concern, but not much of one. Oklahoma has actually put their plans on hold because they don’t have great access to the data. They’re working on it. I get the sense that if they tried to move forward by saying they only update their information quarterly, they’re likely to run into *a lot* of resistance. But absent that, I do not share the concerns of the ACLU that there is a serious infringement of liberty here. When driving on the public road, we do not really have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to checking license plates and whatnot. Nor is having records as to who is and is not insured a particular privacy concern.

In fact, I think that perhaps they should go a step further and also run checks for vehicle registration. That way we can put an end to Steve Jobs’s scofflaw ways should he ever make his way to the OK state.

Category: Courthouse, Road

A couple of articles recently have centered around the subject of women’s athletics at the college and professional levels. First, Christina Hoff Summers:

Diana Nyad, sports show host for National Public Radio affiliate KCRW and a celebrated distance swimming champion, was moved to write a special introduction to the latest report: “Women’s athletic skill levels have risen astronomically over the past twenty years … It is time for television news and highlights shows to keep pace with this revolution.” She describes the neglect of women’s sports as “unfathomable and unacceptable.”

But the heavy focus of news and highlights shows on men’s sports is not only fathomable but obvious—that is where the fans are. And that is where advertisers expect to find customers for “male” products such as beer, razors, and cars. Men’s professional sports are a fascination (obsession is more like it) to many millions of men, because they offer extreme competition, performance, and heroics. Women’s professional sports, however skilled and admirable, cannot compare in Promethean drama.

Even women prefer watching male teams. Few women follow the sports pages and ESPN, but many enjoy attending live games—featuring male athletes. According to Sports Business Daily, 31 percent of the NFL’s “avid fans” are women.

By and large, men want to watch men play. Most sports fans are men. But women that are interested in sports usually want to watch what the men are watching. This is true in part because it was likely their father or brother or husband that got them into sports in the first place. So they are introduced primarily to men’s sports. There are some exceptions to this, such as gymnastics and ice-skating, but it still remains generally so.

Once interested in the NBA of NCAA MBB, there’s no reason for them not to branch off to women’s basketball or, for that matter, volleyball. But sports are, generally speaking, a social activity. It’s not as fun to watch a sport that nobody cares about because, apart from Internet chatting, there’s nobody to talk to about it. So while Lacrosse may be a perfectly respectable sport, if you try to talk to anybody about the National Lacrosse League you’re simply going to bore them. I run into the same thing when it comes to non-alumni of Southern Tech University athletics. They’re not national players. Their conference is not one of the three or four premier conferences. Better to be able to talk about the wildly successful Delosa Panthers who draw 80k a game than the Southern Tech Packers who struggle to draw half of that.

That’s why a lot of universities that have difficulty succeeding in football or men’s basketball don’t just switch to another sport that they can dominate. A few have done so, but is the fact that the University of Denver and Alabama-Huntsville have stellar hockey teams something that registers at all? Did you even know that they had really good hockey teams? Or that Cal State-Fullerton has a really good baseball team? Given how hopeless it would be for these universities to build good football programs, going the hockey route may indeed be the best option for them, but collegiate hockey and women’s basketball are never going to really dominate our interest and so it’s not worthwhile to throw a whole lot of investment that way.

Of course, to some extent they don’t have a choice when it comes to women’s basketball or softball or soccer. Title IX requires that they field teams and that these teams are funded adequately. A lot of people like to rip on Title IX, but was (perhaps an overreaching) solution to a real problem. My father-in-law was actually the first coach of the Vandalia Fighting Vandals women’s basketball team many years ago. The pre-T9 accommodations were nothing short of pathetic. Since the reason for college athletics is ostensibly to support student athletes, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be adequately funded in some relation to the way that men’s athletics are funded. That’s not to say that Title IX couldn’t use some tweaking – I would argue that revenues brought in by men’s sports should count for something – but I consider a lot of the criticisms off-base.

Less off-base, though, than complaints about the media. Other than perhaps soccer, no sport has ever been pumped up by the sports media more than women’s basketball. Indeed, when I was growing up there were three major college sports and women’s basketball was one of them. Now there are two major sports and two secondary ones with women’s basketball in the latter category along with college baseball. A few years ago I wondered exactly what happened to women’s basketball. What I discovered is that there was really a lack of interest. Why did interest decline? I don’t think it did. I think that the interest was never there. ESPN and the like just spent a whole lot of time and effort trying to build the interest. Sports media wants there to be more popular sports. Nothing would please them more than a robust women’s college basketball system because it would give them more stuff to sell you and it would increase leverage with Atlantic 10 men’s basketball to be able to play off Big East women’s basketball against it (“If you don’t take this paltry sum, we’ll just show this other thing instead!”). Attempts by ESPN and Fox Sports and the like to build sport interest are spotty. Particularly women’s sports, though there was a push for hockey a few years back that was unsuccessful as well. The only successful one I can think of is Poker.

The second article (teaser, really) on the subject I’ve read is one about a Division III conference getting in trouble for playing the women’s game before the men’s in double-headers. Like James Joyner, I initially thought the objection was that it was demeaning to the women athletes to have to open up for the men. If that were the case, my response would be the above. While it’s good that women are given an equal chance to play as men, we can’t just pretend that there is or could be equal interest. And having them as the “opening act” probably goes them a greater service than having them play on different nights. I was a JV basketball player at the junior high level and we benefited greatly by playing before the varsity squad and drew better crowds than varsity women’s who played on a different night. As it turns out, that’s only part of the object. The other part, that earlier games cut more into class times than later ones, is a more valid objection. In that case, it might actually be better for them to play on different nights.

Category: Downtown

This week the good folks from Dishstar* are coming to install a satellite dish… somewhere. This will be the first time I have really had cable or satellite since back when I was rooming with Dennis. Dennis wanted cable so that he could watch WWE. While we had it, I piped it into my room, too, though I rarely actually watched it. After The Great Might Ducks Three Debacle when Dennis skipped town and Karl and I had to find some other place to live, we decided not to get cable. It was a good thing since I never even bothered setting up my TV so that I wouldn’t end up watching it with KK and probably wouldn’t have if I’d had cable, either. I guess we did mooch cable when we were living with the Cranston basement in Deseret, though again I almost never watched it since the TV was inconveniently placed.

It’s all kind of odd since cable was one of the things that I was absolutely sure I could never live without when I was younger. Then the Internet came along and I barely watched anything. When I started getting TV again, I could watch most of what I wanted on the Internet or from the backlog from Netflix. So even when I was taking customer service calls for satellite provider CignalTV, I didn’t actually have the product I was pushing. It was only when we moved out here that it became important. The primary reason is so that I can watch college football. In Estacado and Cascadia, I got by because I could watch ESPN360. Sadly, none of the Internet providers out here carry it. It’ll be nice to be able to watch DVRed programs as they come out, though. Also unfortunately, I am way outside the southern pocket when it comes to regionally televised games, so it’s either get cable/satellite or resign myself to Pac-10 action.

I decided pretty early on that I wanted satellite over cable so that I could get the ESPN GamePlan. I decided that I wanted to go with CignalTV out of loyalty to the company I used to take calls for and that served my family faithfully for so long. More practically, CignalTV offers the Sky Sports Network, which carries Skyline Conference football, which I follow more closely than other conferences due to where I live and where I’ve lived. Unfortunately, CignalTV’s presence in Callie is limited. Though they do have a local dealer, all the dealer does is call CignalTV out in Redstone and they send someone. Dishstar, on the other hand, has a local retailer that’s actually local and that I could go and talk to and who, if there was a problem installing the dish, could easily drive to HQ and back and get the right equipment.

Equipment is an issue because our landlords really don’t want me to get satellite. I cleared it with the property manager when we signed the lease, but then the house was sold while we were moving down, the property manager was dismissed, and I had nothing in writing. The landlord’s agreed to let me have a dish if (a) they don’t put it on the roof, (b) don’t put anything in the ground, and (c) don’t put it on the grass anywhere. That pretty severely limits our options since the side of the house is siding and couldn’t support a dish. We decided it would go on a giant wooden post that’s just kind of sitting there. CignalTV’s rep (I called them anyway) was very unhelpful, saying basically that they would install it wherever they chose to install it and if I declined to sign up for the contract they would charge me for the service call. I was never that rude when I took calls for Cignal. Well, almost never. There was this one guy…

The folks at Dishstar were not rude so much as skittish. They couldn’t put it on a wooden pole for some reason or another to do with the wind (I wonder if they realize how big this poll is?). But they at least wanted to work with me. Absent the post, though, I wasn’t sure what to do until I got home and looked and found the perfect spot for a tri-pod. Kind of out of the way, out of the grass, and with the requisite view of the southern sky. Essentially, it’s in the rock bed with the post. The thought occurred to me that since I had a good tripod place, I could actually go with CignalTV if I wanted to. While the guy on the phone didn’t mention it, the woman at the not-really-a-dealer in Callie said that was always an options. But the way I figure it, Dishstar has earned my business in a way that Cignal didn’t. If I decide that I must have the Sky Sports Network, I can always change in a couple of years when my contact expires.

In the meantime, I am actually going to have access to all the channels that I watch so feverishly when I am in Delosa. I am going to have to be careful not to let it suck me in. But the way I looked at it, I could watch feverishly when I was in Delosa precisely because of its limited availability. I watched more TV there than I do in Arapaho despite having all sorts of much more interesting options out here. Having the DVR will also be cool so that I don’t have to wait for shows to become available on Hulu or wherever else. The only downside to having gone with Satellite, other than the cost, is that I am on the hook for a two year contract. If I had cable, I could just turn it on for the football season and then turn it off the rest of the year. Part of me, though, is pleased not to have that option so that I can justify having it available year-around.

* – Pseudonyms since I worked for one of these companies.

Category: Theater

It’s often said that people that cannot pay their own way should not have children. This is something I used to believe very fervently. I still do believe it, but I have come to believe it’s a lot more complicated than people make it out to be. This post is about the problematic nature of that broad statement. For the purposes of this post, I am going to rely on the following assumptions:

  1. If we restrict trade imports, it will lead to a decline in outsourcing and an increase in American jobs. As a result, there will be more jobs and the wages of those jobs will be higher than they currently are because the workers will not be competing with Asians willing to work for pennies on the dollar.
  2. If we restrict immigration (legal and illegal), it will lead to fewer candidates for each position. As a result, there will be more jobs available for actual Americans and the wages of those jobs will be higher than they currently are because the workers will not be competing with immigrants who do not have the leverage to ask for better pay.
  3. If we increase the minimum wage to a livable wage, it will lead to higher wages that allow more people to make a livable wage and fewer people will rely on welfare.
  4. If we increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, it will lead to more people making a living wage through the pay they receive from their employer and the tax breaks and credits they receive.
  5. Government works programs have the ability to create jobs that result in a net increase in the total number of jobs. As a result, the worker-to-vacancy ratio decreases, more people are working, and wages increase.

Whether these assumptions are actually true or not is subject to debate. I don’t believe they are all true (though some are at least partially true). For the sake of tihs post I assume these things simply to avoid the discussion getting sidetracked. Most likely, each of you (except Larry and other fervent libertarians) believe that at least one or two of the above is true. That’s all that is important. Now, back to the subject at hand.

Whether one is actually paying their own way depends on a number of factors. It depends on the talent or intelligence someone has, the skills they are willing and able to develop, their personal drive, and (this is the important part) the opportunities available to him or her. While the overall strength of the economy is also important, that last part is crucial because in many cases the opportunities available to them depend on the very same government that, in the absence of their ability to find a job, will help them get by through more direct support.

If one is a hard-core, cut-throat libertarian and does not believe that any of the above are legitimate, then the number of people that are truly paying their own way may be very small indeed. To some extent, it means that everyone whose job is under threat because of immigrants or outsourcing but whose job is saved is actually dependent on the government for their livable wage. This is not to argue against these policies. From a non-libertarian’s perspective, the fact that the government might have needed to intervene in order to protect jobs elicits a strong “So what?”. People who are given a job to do (that pays a livable wage).

But that’s the rub. Those that are not given a job to do because the government has declined to intervene or those that do not take jobs that would not support their families or those that have to take jobs and can’t support their families on them are not always going to be substantively different – from an ethical perspective – from those of us fortunate enough to have the skills, connection, and luck to find jobs that do pay well enough to support oneself. Now, we could argue that things in the US are good enough that anyone with a degree of intelligence and werewithal can make a living wage if they so chose. That may be true, but it is not necessarily so.

What do we do about the cases of people that are perfectly willing to work and would prefer to support themselves if given the opportunity but simply lack the opportunity? Do we say that these people should not reproduce? Simply because society has not found a way for them to contribute? Maybe you’re thinking “it’s not society’s job to help people find ways to contribute”, though if you believe any of the Six Assumptions are true and support those policies on that basis, you have to some degree determined that it is indeed the government’s domain to help people find ways to contribute. Maybe you’re thinking “well, to some extent maybe, but not to help everybody.” If so, you’re determining the ability to reproduce based on who you think should be assisted in supporting themselves and you’re using the fact that they can support themselves (with our assistence) to justify their reproduction over those that cannot support themselves without our assistence. (Keep in mind, I am not talking about people that refuse to work or have no interest in working.) It’s a lottery, of sorts. And maybe from a government perspective that is a good idea if you can only help some but not all of those that would be able to support themselves with job protection or assistence, but in terms of fairness or morality towards and between individuals that do not have the right skills in the right economy, it doesn’t hold much water.

To repeat an important point, the question of whether the position that only people that pay their own way should be reproducing is a fair and reasonable one to take is also dependent on how one views the American economy. If you believe that people are being left behind due to circumstances outside their control and their abilities and that the only way to rectify this is through some of the Six Assumptions, you’re standing on weak ground. If you look at the American economy and believe that anyone that wants to make it here can, then that position makes a good deal of sense.

However, even if that was the case yesterday and is the case today, (or if that would be the case if we would just change some policy or another) it is not necessarily the case tomorrow regardless of our policy decisions (unless we go Luddite). One can easily imagine a future in which automation results in an increasing number of Americans being made redundant. That our manufacturing employment sector is struggling is hard to dispute, but our manufacturing output is actually quite strong. The difference is that machines are making things more than people are. This could continue to the service sector as well. Then, by the end, we have a whole lot of engineer-types that are still useful and only menial-types (and artistic-types) that have the connections to get one of the very, very few jobs in their sector. So imagine for a moment where we reach the point where 40% of the population would be better off if the bottom 60% disappeared tomorrow. Does that mean that the bottom 60% should not be reproducing?

Now, even if you do not believe that this high-tech future could come to pass for one reason or another, the policy implications on the Six Assumptions can still be there. Or at least the first two. Imagine that some combination of 30% of Americans including but not limited to most of America’s best and brightest can work it out so that they can give the remaining 70% of Americans their walking papers and be better. They can simply import talent that they can export just as soon as they stop being useful. They can outsource everything except what they do. As a result, as employers they can get by paying their employees considerably less. The products they buy and services they get are cheaper because the labor required to produce (or pick or mine) them are cheaper. Life for them – and remember that they are by and large the maximum producers and capital holders – is dramatically improved. The Bottom 70% are not paying their own way since their very existence makes life slightly less convenient for the Top 30%.

The primary counterargument would be that the Bottom 70% comprise the majority and therefore it is their livelihood, and not that of the Top 30%, that should be taken more into account. Maybe so, but it’s unlikely that this happens all at once. Most likely it’s the Bottom 20% that first stops being able to reproduce. Then it’s the next 20% (in all likelihood the next 20% – and maybe the first – includes intelligent but uncharismatic or personally difficult people). And so on and so on. But beyond that, where precisely do you draw the line. Is the Top 60% really acceptable so that getting rid of the Bottom 40% making their life somewhat better is worthwhile simply because 60% comprises a majority?

Your mileage may vary greatly, but here are my three main takeaways from this line of thinking:

First, the ability to pay one’s own way is highly dependent on factors beyond one’s control. A person that sails in one society sinks in another. Some people will sail in any society and others will sink in any society, but beyond that it’s really quite variable and dependent on matters of economy and government policy. As such, the moral distinction between being able to pay one’s own way versus not being able to is marginal unless one lives in a society where everyone that works hard can pay their own way.

Therefore, if a society is wealthy enough that it can help people support themselves that otherwise would not have a place to, it should do so. This is one of the things that I believe we have society for. I am not advocating welfare or foodstamps here, because the primary distinction ought not be between those that can pay their own way and those that can’t, but rather between those that are willing to try work hard and exhibit reasonable discipline to try to do so. It’s not about wealth distribution per se (because I am including trade policy and immigration policy, to the extent that they help). It’s an imperative to to the extent that society can, it should find a way for as many people as possible to contribute however they can and allowing them to live a respectable life for doing so.

Third, If a society simply cannot support the weight of its redundant but able workforce, then that’s a different matter but an unfortunate one for those that are ultimately excluded. And we should bear in mind that those we are excluding are often going to be victims of circumstance rather than lazy bums.

Now, this post is more political than I usually get here at Hit Coffee, but I’ve kept it abstract for a reason. I don’t want to get to debating the merits of individual proposals for How To Save The Middle And Working Classes or anything like that. Everyone has their theories. I have my doubts about at least a few of the Six Assumptions, so don’t take this post to mean that I am advocating any of those policies. I mention policies from the right and left merely to cover more ground. While I am aware that there are reasons put forth to restrict immigration having nothing to do with jobs or wage-suppression, this post is not about those other reasons. Also, this post is looking at those that cannot pay their own way that are generally well-behaved. The negative externality of crime is not applicable here as that could theoretically be addressed without regard to one’s ability to pay one’s own way.

Update: I make a reference to “Six Assumptions” in the most. I am referring to the five above. There were originally six, though I eliminated the 6th and can’t remember what it was. Also, a big thanks to Web who fixed an HTML problem on my part and made the post readable.

Update II: Maria is contesting the notion that (outside of the immigration population) there is a problem with the lower end of the economic spectrum reproducing in especially high numbers. Honestly, the Idiocracy meme is almost so hardwired it hadn’t even really occurred to me that it might be illusory. A collection of anecdotes where my intelligent but largely non-reproducing family and social network could be something of an exception and the babies that Clancy delivered or stood in the deliver room for the past decade or so might be distorting our perspective. So As it is always good to question the assumptions we sometimes erroneously take for granted, I’m going to look into it.

Update III: Okay, it took me about two minutes to find links demonstrating that birth-rate indeed negatively correlates with education (and thus likely means). What I can’t find, though, is any indication that this is a trend that is becoming more significant. In fact, according to the links I have found, we were dysgenic all of last century. Before the Pill, before the the New Deal, before the Great Society, before abortion. Anyone with any data on how this trend is accelerating or decelerating would be greatly appreciated. It appears as though it is cyclical with the economy with the correlation being strongest during bad economic times. But I’ve only seen references to that as a trend. No data references.

Category: Coffeehouse

I had lunch with Tom Baker, an acquaintance through Clancy’s work. He is a businessman with a track record of success who, like me, moved here for his wife’s job. He’s looking to start a software business and was wondering what my level of interest would be (and how I might be able to contribute). Along the way, he commented that he had hoped to make this new business an Arapaho institution to provide local jobs and bring money into the local economy, but he discovered that the IT-sector in Arapaho is virtually non-existent. Worse yet, the state university system is mostly uninterested in having strong computer science programs. And, of course, Callie is a small town and the nearest “city”, Redstone, is a rusty sort of town that educated people are typically interested in leaving. As such, if this business takes off and expands, he will most likely have to contract out the software development to a region that has IT people or, if he’s going to contract out anyway, to India. Now, some of this is merely a product of our specific location within the state, but even before this conversation I found it interested the comparative disinterest in technology compared to Delosa and even Deseret.

On the other hand, to some extent I suppose it makes sense. If there’s not an industry to support the jobs, the result is that you end up educating people who end up leaving and contributing to the economies of other states. Delosa and Colosse have been great beneficiaries of this. Delosa has a number of really good computer science programs and engineering programs, but a lot of talent is imported from neighboring states without the jobs to support their graduates. Muscogea State University, in the state north of Delosa, is a particularly good example of this. They have excellent computer science and engineering programs and upon graduation most of them seem to immediately move to Colosse. The Musco State Wildcats have almost as big a following in Colosse as the Delosa Panthers. At some point, the legislators in Muscogea have to be asking what the point is of spending all of this money educating people when they’re just going to move away. On the other hand, if they don’t supply graduates, if virtually assures that aspiring IT companies are going to pop up in Delosa rather than Muscogea.

Deseret has similar issues with an excess of talent. Its three largest universities have computer science programs with master’s degrees (though one of them is limited in scope) and at least one of the schools has a quite good program. Deseret also tends to turn out high school graduates that are actually reasonably education. But outside its capital city, the jobs aren’t really there and even inside the capital city they’re not easy to come by. They manage to hold on to the talent in a way that would be difficult for Arapaho because its Mormon population really doesn’t want to leave the state and will take low-paying jobs to stay in the Promised Land and near all of the family that also hasn’t moved. So Deseret has a stickiness that Arapaho and Muscogea lack.

If the business takes off (these things are always an uphill climb, but Tom has a pretty strong track record), it is not inconceivable that it could open up an office in Mocum, where I worked in Deseret and where I know there are a lot of tech-savvy people that are underemployed, and be only a two or three hour drive from operations. I suspect that India would make more sense. Or the West Coast.

Outside the world of IT, there is actually a similar operation. A national breadmaking operation has its corporate headquarters in Callie but neither makes nor (directly) sells bread here. Unlike with a software company, I don’t now entirely why that is as the process of breadmaking does not seem to require particularly specialized labor. I suppose they don’t make it here because of the lack of wheat fields (though I’m not sure why the land can’t be used for wheat. There’s a similar climate in Deseret and a cereal company had a major wheat-harvesting operation there. Not that this has anything to do with the main post, but I found it interesting regardless.

Category: Market