Thursday, December 24, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
The healthcare debate has gotten me thinking about the Filibuster (I'm not alone). The need for 60 votes had two nasty effects on this bill:
1) it ended up being less progressive than I would have liked.
2) the final negotiations resulted in provisions amounting to thinly veiled bribery
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
What I don't understand about climate change skeptics is that despite the fact that they're almost certainly wrong, they don't even recognize that probability. Even if there were no consensus about the science and the cause of global warming, wouldn't it still be worth doing something about it? If there were only a 50%, instead of well over 95%, chance that climate change has athropogenic roots, wouldn't it still be worth sacrificing 5% of our wealth now for a good chance at avoiding environmental and economic catastrophe later? It seems to me that even the worst deniers, even if they're right about the science by some freakish accident, are wrong about policy.
Friday, December 11, 2009
- An article in today's times about the Value Added Tax, and a follow-up blog post by it's author, Catherine Rampell
- Krugman's op-ed a couple weeks ago about a financial transaction tax
- A paragraph proposal from way back in the "Ideas" section of some magazine (Sam, help?) about heavily taxing just the undeveloped value of property.
I thought to set the tone, I'd write out my vows (Sam, feel free to reciprocate):
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Okay, for now I really have to write a paper. But get ready for plenty more to come. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The advantage rule should be modified to more closely resemble the one used in hockey. This change is so glaringly obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t been officially adopted yet. Currently, the advantage rule actually provides a positive incentive to foul in many instances, whereas, a priori, the laws of the game should be designed such that punishments for infringements are sufficient to overcome that incentive. These instances occur most commonly when an opponent makes a pass a sufficient distance—say 40 yards or more—from a defending player’s goal. If the defending player is close enough to the player making the pass and thinks the pass will be successful, he has a clear incentive to commit a foul. As long as his foul is not blatant enough to warrant a yellow card, the maximum punishment is a free kick far from his own goal. But, assuming the advantage is played, the benefit to fouling is to disrupt the player who just made the pass and eliminate him from attacking play, and, more generally, to get a chance to kick an opponent, annoy him, or possibly incite a retaliation, all without fear of further punishment. What should happen in this instance is to “play the advantage” for the duration of possession, and then award the original free kick once the advantage is lost, no matter how long its duration. The advantage rule as it currently stands is a detriment to attacking and encourages excessive and disruptive fouling. Why hasn’t it been changed?
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The rules of soccer, or “laws of the game,” are elegant, simple, and incredible. There are lots of ways you could set up a game where two teams kick a single ball toward opposite goals, but the way soccer is structured is a big reason it became and continues to be the “beautiful game.” The rules have served us very well over the years with only a few modifications, but they go largely unexamined. I think a few more changes might be in order.
Let's back up a little first. In soccer, there’s a perennial battle between “purists” and “realists” that takes on a distinctly moral character. I could describe it at length (more here!), but it basically boils down to this: sometimes, lots of the time, the team that plays “the best soccer” doesn't win. Purists simultaneously support those teams and want them to win while also wanting all teams to play more “attractive” soccer regardless of whether it helps their results. Realists think that winning is more important than any individual strategy and are willing to embrace a variety of tactics as means to that end.
But wait: isn’t “the best soccer” by definition the manner of playing that makes a team more likely to win? Yes and no. There are two reasons that what we call “good soccer” doesn’t always lead a team to victory. One is statistical, an artifact of soccer’s low-scoring-ness. Even though one team may be considerably better than another, it might only beat the other one 51% of the time because there are so few goals. The other reason is that the rules weren’t written to make playing in the most aesthetically pleasing way consistent with the most successful strategies and tactics.** I am acutely aware of this latter reason, often after watching a team like Barcelona lose a game: they played so well, it can’t possibly be their fault, so it must be soccer’s. [The second reason is admittedly related to the first insofar as the number of goals scored is related to way the game is set up, but they are still different in other ways.]
On the one hand, I really like this conflict, simply for providing an extra moral metaphor through which to view and play the game. Sports are full of moral metaphors that make for compelling viewing already, generally about your home team and its superiority to others. In soccer, there’s this extra dimension. You may never hear soccer commentators talk outright about the conflict I’ve described above, but they comment consistently and forcefully about which team “deserves” to score or win, and it’s the same idea. Even people who don’t fall squarely into one of the two opposing camps (as most don’t) feel the conflict, and it contributes to soccer’s popularity.
On the other hand, as a purist it gives me pretty constant anxiety about the direction soccer is going in when teams like Chelsea 2008, Greece 2004, Italy 2006, etc. have so much success.
Anyway, the rules and customs of soccer have obviously withstood the test of time, and therefore any changes I advocate are on the conservative and incremental side. Here are the things I think could use some tinkering, in ascending order of difficulty of implementation/problematic nature of proposed change. I’ll discuss them each in turn, and would love to hear other proposals along the way.
The advantage rule
Free kick placement
Persistent team fouling
Red card sendings off
Yellow cards for professional fouls
Penalty area size and penalty kicks
Offsides (not the rule, but enforcement thereof)
**Most of what we come to appreciate in athletes is defined, ad hoc, by the things they manage to do that further their aims of winning. While that’s true also in soccer, there is a great deal that we appreciate in soccer players that is only loosely related to winning. While this isn't true only of soccer, I think the extent to which it is true is unique to it.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Lately, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I eat meat. If you don’t share at least some of this discomfort, you either don't read enough, or have a really narrow conception of animal rights. Because unless you’re extremely scrupulous about where your meat comes from, you’re eating animals that are treated in ways you should find appalling. There’s also the questionable ethics of killing animals (e.g. pigs) whose cognitive differences with young children are largely just linguistic. I’m not trying to moralize, especially since I’m not even a vegetarian (yet?), but I’m trying to figure out when the animal rights movement will finally enter the mainstream of society or reach a tipping point. Right now its advocates repeat the kinds of things I just said, but are, on the whole, reluctant to excoriate anyone for eating meat. If enough people become vegetarians, I suspect a large portion of the population would follow relatively quickly. But how will we get to that point without a little moralizing?
When I consider the vegetarians I know, I realize I don’t even know why most of them are vegetarians. For ethical reasons, or environmental? Public/personal health? Other? Maybe they don’t like to talk about it, and I don’t blame them. No one wants antagonize family members over Thanksgiving dinner about the turkey. No one wants to be Lisa Simpson to Homer’s big BBBQ. But I suspect there are large swaths of people who—consciously or not—avoid thinking about the issue entirely, but would greatly reduce—or eliminate--their meat consumption if they encountered moderate social pressure. These people, like me, know or can be convinced that what’s going on in the meat industry is detestable, but don’t change their behavior because they don’t identify with a larger movement and don’t consider their individual actions consequential in its absence. At least that’s part of my lame excuse, the rest being covered by inconvenience, social and dietary. If people were more vocal, not just about the abuse of animals but also about their vegetarianism, I think a lot more people would join them.
A lot more people would dislike them too, people who may or may not agree on the moral question, but really don’t want to be pushed to change, and won’t do so without a lot of social pressure. Hopefully things will change politically too. Until a few minutes ago I didn't even know about Proposition 2, which passed in CA last year. So things aren't so black and white. But as noted here (about halfway down the page), it will be impossible to raise the sheer quantity of meat we consume without resorting to unsavory methods.
How much blame do I have to shoulder here as someone who claims to see a wrong in the world, but does little to correct it, even in my own behavior? [For the record, I’ve--almost entirely--stopped eating the swine-based meats, and plan to start buying the expensive, humanely raised meats, though I haven’t talked to my lovely awesome roommate about this yet. So there’s still plenty of blood on my hands.]
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Thierry Henry, who helped France to the World Cup courtesy of an extra-time forearm trap before a pass to goal-scorer William Gallas, might be fined or suspended? This is just like the Eduardo controversy from earlier this year, and it's absurd. For some reason the footballing authorities seem to think it's reasonable to hand out retroactive punishments that are harsher than the punishments that would have been given at the time.
If the referee had caught Eduardo's dive instead of calling a penalty, Eduardo would have been booked instead of being suspended for two games (the suspension was later overturned on appeal for other reasons). If the refs had spotted Henry's handball, he would have been booked and Ireland would have had a free kick in their own penalty area. Now Henry might be punished for the referees' mistake? Unfortunately, there's just no appropriate remedy. He made a mistake. Players handle the ball all the time, with varying degrees of intention. Henry's was hardly premeditated. It's too late to punish him for it.
Friday, December 4, 2009
The World Cup draw happened! World Cup fever builds…
Real soccer (hereafter, football) fans (hereafter, supporters) know that the best football is played at the club level in Europe. The World Cup can be such a disappointing and, above all, odd tournament (e.g. 2002 and 2006). Because of the elimination format, it often produces a winner that isn’t really the best team (theoretically, a team could win the tournament by tying every single game).
Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny the incredible awesomeness of the World Cup as an event. The whole world comes together for a mere month every four years (except for people in the USA and India) in recognition of the beautiful game. I can always hope for a great tournament in advance, right? Go USA (and Spain!!!)
It’s notoriously difficult/impossible to predict which teams will perform well, especially when I only saw a handful of qualifying games and friendlies in CONCACAF, Europe, Asia and South America, but here are my thoughts on the draw, which you can see here.
Spain and Brazil will end up on opposite sides of the draw if they both win their groups, setting up a potential dream final for the neutral observer. We all know how Spain will play (attack, attack, attack), but one can only hope Brazil decide to actually attack; it’s always a toss-up with them. They did in 2002, but in 2006 they set up defensively, and it was painful to watch.
Easy groups: A, C, F and H. We (the US) got a kind draw, but I’d be ecstatic if we made it to the knock-out stage. England, for once, should be a quality side. I haven’t seen the other two teams play, but Slovenia eliminated a very talented Russian team. Sad as it is to admit, that country of fewer than 3 million people may well be be better technically than we are.
Group G is the toughest: Ivory Coast, the most talented African nation, will probably fail to advance. But they could easily upset Brazil or Portugal.
Italy, even if they’re poor, should as usual find a way to squeak through.
Spain, without a real test in the first round, might not be ready for their knockout stage game against Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast. That would be really disappointing.
More thoughts later!
This fall I started a master’s program in piano performance. It’s been quite an adjustment coming from a world where I knew so few professionally-oriented musicians to one where I interact with them almost exclusively. And it’s made me realize that most people in the art-music world lazily and uncritically accept certain dogmatic ideas about how music should be performed.
For instance, musicians have a misplaced reverence for composers and their intentions. Now don’t get me wrong. I revere the great composers more than anyone. But it’s hard to go a day in music school without hearing about the importance of ever-so-closely following and respecting the immutable Score. There’s a common metaphor tossed around where the performer becomes a mere conduit between Score and audience. The metaphor comes in different forms, but the general picture is always the same: a composer takes an aural representation or image in his mind and commits it, to the best of his or her ability, to paper. The performer then is charged with the task of realizing that original representation.
This theory of performance (if I can call it that) is deeply flawed for a few reasons. First, there is the implicit claim that composers form only one representation for every piece they compose, and that it is stable over time. Secondly, even if one such representation existed, people overstate the possibility or plausibility of accurately divining it from a written document (or set of written documents, as the case may be). Thirdly, even if we could divine that one representation, people discount the possibility that composers would ever be open to improvements of their own music that they never themselves imagined or considered.
All of these are reasons to be deeply skeptical whenever a teacher tells you that the composer wanted this or that, so you should play it this or that way. They fall under the umbrella of the general objection, “how do you really know what the composer wanted, or what he would want were he still with us?”
Each of these arguments, which I’m sure would encounter no shortage of opposition, deserves its own exposition another time, but even more importantly, I think none of them is critical to my general objection, because even if we could truly know a composer’s intentions we should feel little obligation to follow them. Now I should immediately add the caveat that it often bugs me when (for example) people play Mozart andantes as adagios, or add all sorts of unnecessary dynamic inflections in Bach. But I don’t disapprove out of respect for Bach’s or Mozart’s intentions, but rather because those pieces sound awfully wrong to me the way those performers play them. Usually a composer’s own markings are a good starting reference for how to perform a piece, because (the good) composers are obviously excellent musicians and have a unique perspective on their own music. Unsurprisingly, their markings and notes, properly followed, improve their music, but are only useful as means to that end. Composers aren't infallible, and their music may sound appropriate/awesome/even better when played another way. Which is why I have no problem overriding a composer’s intuitions when mine are strong and convincing.
I don't mean to imply that everyone thinks exactly in the way that I've caricatured here. But I sense an uddercurrent of conformity, where people who seem to think more like me minimize their disagreements with others in order to not stick out too much.
I have a lot more to say about this argument: how it runs counter to the essentialist nature of human psychology; how it applies differently over time to different composers; how it gives more responsibility to performers, but is ultimately oriented toward audiences; how it applies to teaching music, how it is inspired by various performers, and how it is frustrated or denied by various teachers. Hopefully I’ll get some objections from my music friends too. Thoughts welcome!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Hi! Welcome to my new blog. In starting it, I find myself feeling extremely self-conscious. Do I really have anything useful or interesting to add to the obscene amount of information already on the internet? Am I really so conceited to think I’m not just adding one more voice to a chorus that’s already too loud and also kind of annoying?
I won’t worry too much about it yet, because if you’re reading this blog right now, you are almost certainly my mother. On the other hand, I expect to one day reach a significantly larger audience: that is, the other members of my immediate family. Can I really expect them to add me to their bloated RSS feeds?
For now I can at least hope. But luckily, this blog is really just an excuse for me to pretend I have an audience to write for. Because I realized some time after starting music school that I actually miss writing about all the awesome and interesting things in the world. And I’d hate to lose the ability to do so coherently (if I haven’t already).
So every so often I’ll write my thoughts about soccer, science, philosophy, music, or whatever else is on my mind. Especially when I have free time. But especially when I don’t, but need to procrastinate. And I’ll post links too (mostly taken from my sister’s facebook wall). I hope you enjoy, and I’d love to hear what you think either way.