Thursday, October 04, 2012

Debate... sigh

I predicted prior to last nights debate-- I mean, debacle, that Obama could essentially close out the campaign with a strong performance. And by strong, I meant more or less human. He needed only to be warm and personable, maybe challenge Romney on any lies he told, and bam! the horrifically inept Romney campaign would be essentially dead in the water.

Sigh. That's obviously not what happened last night. Obama let Romney get by with some real whoppers. The President acted oddly, looking down at his podium and notes most of the time while Romney was speaking. His one joke line that I noticed, about Donald Trump, fell flat, since he hadn't showed any levity to that point and no one was sure it was a joke. He didn't  hammer Romney on why Romneycare was good but Obamacare is bad. He didn't hammer Romney on his bullshit tax policy lies. Didn't  hammer Romney on suddenly being for the 10th fucking Amendment all of a sudden when he and the Republicans don't give a shit about it when it comes to gay marriage or abortion. He let Romney get away with suddenly reversing course on several issues. It was a damned disaster.

Where was the 47%? Why wasn't he talking about all the issues on which Romney has been getting his own damned position wrong in the past month. Obama mentioned math, echoing Bill Clinton's brilliant convention speech, but didn't really go anywhere with it. He didn't do a good enough job highlighting how ridiculous an idea it is that you can cut taxes on the wealthy and have absolutely no revenue enhancements and yet somehow balance the budget.

He didn't hammer Romney on his bullshit contention that he spent "fifteen years" in business as if he's run a small business. Romney hasn't had a paying job in the private sector since the fucking nineties, for Christ sake, and then he just had a plum job running a venture capital firm. That's not job creation and it's not starting a business from the damned ground up. Of course Romney doesn't understand tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas; he's never fucking created a job in his life!

Why did Obama let Romney get away with pretending that it was Obama's fault that Obamacare wasn't done in a bipartisan manner? Did Obama forget that Mitch McConnell gave the fucking game away when he admitted that the Republicans' main task these past four years was to deny Obama a second term? Obama pissed me and a lot of other liberals off by trying so goddamned hard to work with an intransigent Republican party who had no intention of letting anything get accomplished on his watch. And now he doesn't even take credit for it? Jesus.

Why didn't he mention Romney's refusal to release his tax returns and the fact that Romney has consistently lied about them? That Romney himself said that if he'd paid more taxes than he was required to, he wouldn't be qualified to be President, but that Romney fucking did pay more taxes than he was required to last year because if he took all his deductions he'd have paid less than the 13% he says he has always paid?

Argh. Some of my friends echoed Al Sharpton, who said on MSNBC last night that Obama is playing a long game, and this is just part of it. I hope that's true. But I don't really believe it. Obama screwed the pooch last night and gave the Romney campaign a second wind. Romney should already be down for the count. And now, he's not.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Romney Campaign

Have you been keeping up with the awesomeness that is the Romney campaign? Peggy Noonan, a conservative, called it a "rolling calamity." The incompetence is breathtaking.

I mean, he put on self-tanner to go talk to a Latino audience. And check out this video, where Joe Scarborough facepalms and can only say, "sweet Jesus," after watching some footage of Romney and Ryan acting like fools at an Ohio campaign event:

Rachel Maddow has pointed out that for weeks after the Republican convention, every time Romney did an interview his campaign had to walk back at least one statement he made, and so they started hiding their candidate. In the home stretch! No, wait, not hiding him. He was "doing debate prep." Yeah. Maddow also pointed out that he has spent a lot of time still fundraising rather than campaigning in the swing states. His campaign already has more money than God. He doesn't need more money. He needs to be out campaigning.

And then there was the great airplane window thing. Romney doesn't understand why the windows on passenger jets don't roll down. It's because the goddamned plane is pressurized, dumbass, and if you roll the windows down everyone will suffocate. There's not enough oxygen up there to breathe. (You won't actually get sucked out the window, BTW. They tested that on "Mythbusters.")

A few months ago, it looked like this was an election, given the state of the economy and the President's approval rating that this was an election the Republicans should win. But now Romney, rather than being the tide that raises all boats, is the dam break that beaches them, is pulling down Republicans running in statewide races such that it is not only likely the Democrats will remain the majority in the Senate (I refuse to say "control the Senate" since any party with fewer than 60 votes there does not "control" it in any meaningful way), but they may actually retake the House. Mid-term elections are almost always disasters for the President's party. But Romney is sooooo bad a candidate that he is managing to trump all the these factors in order to lose.

I can't prove this, 'cause I didn't make a post, but I told my girlfriend that the Democratic Convention would give Obama a 5-point bump. The pundits were saying 1 or 2 points, if any. Well, guess what? The bump was 5 points. So now, mark my words: the first debate will pretty much be the end of the Romney campaign. He is going to get clobbered, and he won't be able to recover. No way.

Oh, and did you see that Romney is down by 12 points in Wisconsin??? Paul Ryan's home state, and the state that put Scott "fuck the unions" Walker back in the governor's mansion? And Romney is losing there? Jesus, his campaign is just fucking awful.

I Might Lose My Mind

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in a press conference on September 19th, (scroll to the bottom),  Freedom of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose. When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way." 

Oh my fucking Jesus Haploid Christ. What kind of freedom of expression can there possibly be if you can't criticize or attack others' values and beliefs? And values and beliefs people hold are not the fucking same as the people who hold them. Ban Ki-Moon is conflating two separate things here. It is not possible to provoke or humiliate a value or a belief. Values and beliefs are not animate things. For that matter, they are not material things, but anyway. Attacking a value or belief may make people holding them feel attacked, but they are not, in fact an attack on those people. 

Someone may choose to feel humiliated or provoked when their values or beliefs are attacked. I know sometimes I do; I'm human, it happens. But just because someone feels they are being attacked doesn't mean that we have to respect that feeling and agree they were attacked. When my family decides to argue politics with me and they attack Obama and his policies, for instance, I feel attacked. But they aren't actually attacking me. My feeling is wrong. I am associating myself too closely with my beliefs. How can issues even get discussed if criticism of beliefs and values is not allowed?

And what's especially vexing is that Ban Ki-Moon would actually give values and beliefs greater protection from criticism than actual goddamned people. Because virtually everyone agrees freedom of speech and expression includes the right to criticize others. I'm sure Ban Ki-Moon doesn't deny I have the right to criticize him, for instance. So it's okay to criticize an actual flesh-and-blood person, but not a value or belief? Simply because a lot of people hold it? That's bullshit. A value or belief doesn't become more true or have more value the more people who hold it. No matter how many people believe Saddam was behind 9/11, that Obama wasn't born in the US, or that Mitt Romney follows Satan because he's Mormon, it still isn't fucking true. And no matter how many people believe it, I have the right to criticize it.

I mean, a lot of Americans, perhaps even a majority, have some pretty fucked up views of Islam. They think that all Muslims are required to try to put Sharia law in place, and to kill infidels, and all sorts of other bullshit. Some Muslims believe these things are true, but most don't. But if we were to take the position that values and beliefs are sacrosanct, then we couldn't even point out what bullshit those beliefs are. Because we'd be "provoking" and "humiliating" the ignoramuses who hold them. That's bullshit too.

Many Muslims get angry and feel attacked when anyone says anything critical of Mohammed. Fair enough. I get angry sometimes when people criticize "Doctor Who" or "Community." You know what? Tough shit. My right to freedom of speech cannot be controlled by how angry it might make someone one else, even if they're a big group like Muslims, no more than anyone else's freedom of speech can curtailed because I don't like people criticizing "Doctor Who." 

Religious values and beliefs are no better or worse than any other kind, no matter how fervently their adherents cling to them. They deserve no special protection. When they make truth claims, as they often due, those claims can and should be scrutinized just as any other truth claim. It may be vitally important to Muslims to believe that Mohammed flew to Jerusalem and ascended to Heaven from the Temple Mount, but that doesn't change the fact that he never set foot in Jerusalem his entire life. And it shouldn't be illegal for me to say Mohammed never set foot in Jerusalem just because it might hurt someone else's feelings.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Holy crap!

I've never actually been involved in the atheism or "skeptic" movement in any significant way. I'm not a member of American Atheists or any skeptic society. I'm not much of a joiner, for one thing -- I probably wouldn't have joined any costuming groups, either, if not for the events you can only go to if you are a member. Plus, given that atheism is just lack of belief in a god or god(s), there's not much of a thread to hold an atheist community together. And it's not like atheists necessarily have much in common with each other, just by virtue of being atheists.

I mean, at least in Star Wars costuming, I have in common with the other people an enjoyment of Star Wars. There's at least one interest we have in common to talk about. And even then, I've met a lot of people at Star Wars costuming events that I haven't had a damned thing to talk about with outside of Star Wars because otherwise our interests don't intersect. And I can't tell you how often I've gone to events with the 501st (the "bad guy" Star Wars costuming group) where the entire discussion revolves around armor (Stormtrooper armor, Snowtrooper armor, Boba Fett armor, etc., etc.), the making of armor, the wearing of armor, etc. And, since I don't wear armor or make armor, and my expertise in costuming construction is in sewing, which the armor guys don't know anything about, I end up being bored and finding no one to have a conversation with, even when we have Star Wars in common.

But just because someone else is an atheist doesn't mean I have much in common with them at all. I mean, virtually every adult I interact with on a daily basis lacks belief in Santa Claus, but that's not much to base a relationship on. Atheism doesn't really define much about a person either. Different people don't even get to atheism by the same routes, so they don't necessarily even care about the same things. My concerns as an atheist who never was really a theist at all are different than, say, the concerns of a former theist who became an atheist due to a scandal in their former religious institution. Prominent atheist Sam Harris is, according to many accounts, very anti-Islam, seeing it as a throwback that is worse than other religions. I think Islam, from my perspective as an outsider, is barely any different than the other Abrahamic religions and that extremist Muslims have a lot more in common with extremist Christians than they do with moderate Muslims. My focus and concerns are very, very different than his.

Atheists aren't even necessarily skeptics or rationalists. Bill Maher is an atheist but he is completely unhinged on the topic of health care and medicine. He believes in all kinds of crazy medical woo and his objections to Western medicine are just as irrational and harmful as the beliefs of any crazy right-wing Christian. Some atheists believe in the vaccine conspiracy crap about vaccines causing autism. Some atheists still believe in other supernatural things like ghosts or astrology. I don't feel a lot of kinship for people who simply believe in some other irrational bullshit just because they don't believe in god(s).

So I didn't know about the controversy in the atheism/skeptic community that began last year because a woman named Rebecca Watson had the temerity to say on Youtube video that guys shouldn't proposition women at conventions when they're alone together in a hotel elevator at 4 am. You can check out the video here: Watson video. Her actual comment about this was to say, mildly, "Don't do that." And all fucking hell broke loose in a shitstorm that is still going on today, over a year later.

I guess, now, I'm kind of glad I never became involved in the wider atheism/skeptic community. Who wants to be part of a community which has so many assholes in it that it becomes a big thing when someone says you shouldn't proposition women late at night at conventions in the elevator? It really wouldn't occur to me to proposition someone in the elevator in the first place. Even at Dragon*Con, a convention where hooking up is so common that during a panel about the convention the panelists said, verbatim, "If you don't get laid at Dragon*Con you didn't leave your room," I still wouldn't proposition someone in the elevator. Who thinks that it would be a good idea to do something potentially off-putting and awkward in an enclosed space from which you can't leave?

Hell, even if I didn't give a crap if the person I was propositioning would feel creeped-out or threatened by being propositioned in an elevator late at night, I still wouldn't do it because if she says no, I would want to be able to leave. What if she thinks I'm a huge knob and decides to use the rest of the elevator ride to tell me so? That would suck. (I know. I once was stuck as a passenger in a car with a girl who'd been told by someone else that I was going to ask her out -- which I wasn't. She decided to preempt me by telling me why she wasn't interested, in graphic detail, while I was trapped in the car with her. Trust me, that did suck).

I've read some of the backlash, which includes people questioning whether this incident, dubbed "elevatorgate", ever really happened, Richard Dawkins telling Watson that since women are being abused in far worse ways in the third world that she should shut the hell up, people acting like if you can't proposition people in the elevator at cons that no one will ever have sex anywhere ever again, and that the only way the incident was "creepy" is if you think all men are rapists or something. It's just dumbfounding to me.

I guess it's no surprise that atheists and skeptics can be assholes just like everyone else. But, my god, I never would have guesses that something so innocuous could create such a split in that community. I thought it was stupid and ridiculous that people in the Star Wars costuming community take sides and fight with each other on the basis of what costumes they wear, but I think it is even more ridiculous that a community could be torn asunder over the issue of whether it is okay for someone to be creeped out by a guy propositioning her in an elevator at 4 am. How is that even a thing?

Monday, July 30, 2012


I hadn't heard the term "mansplaining" before but I ran into it today. It's when a man, assuming he knows more than a woman without asking, explains something to a woman that the woman already knows. Best done with a dollop of condescension and paternalism.

My father used to do this all the time to my mother. He took a six-week emergency medical course in the sixties as training to be a medic in the National Guard. He never actually used any of that training. My mother, on the other hand, got her bachelor's in Nursing, was a certified Critical Care Registered Nurse, and worked in a hospital for over a decade. But my father would still explain medical things to my mother, since his six weeks of training made him an expert. Or something.

I'm pretty sure that if I were a woman and this happened to me a lot, it would drive me nuts. Since it drives me nuts now when people explain stuff I already know to me, and that's without the extra condescension and paternalism involved in mansplaining.

The reverse of this happens to me a lot at fabric stores. Women who work at fabric stores (or yarn stores) seem to assume any guy who wanders in is lost, looking for his girlfriend/wife, or completely confused and overwhelmed in his ignorance. One time, I was replicating a costume from a film that was made of linen. I got some linen that matched pretty well and took it to the cutting counter. And got a five minute lecture from the woman about the properties and appropriate uses of linen before she would cut the fabric for me.

I couldn't get a word in. She finally wound down by noting that linen wrinkles easily (a fact I was quite aware of already), and said, "Now that you know all that, is this what you want?"

I said, "Well, since the costume I'm replicating was made of linen, and I'm making a screen-accurate reproduction, I don't think it would make sense to randomly pick some other fabric, would it?"

I actually know so much about fabrics that I have ended up helping other customers pick out what fabrics they should use. But still the women at the fabric store assume I am some poor befuddled idiot man-child like the they see on TV sitcoms and take it upon themselves to enlighten me about fabric because I couldn't possibly know what I'm doing.

It gets to be annoying after a while. If what happens to me sometimes at fabric stores happened to me a lot more generally, in the world at large, I think I would probably become very irate.

Another quick example: Just last summer, after ten years or so of sewing, I went into a fabric store in Ohio and the women saw fit to test me when I claimed I knew what I was doing! One said, "Okay, when you are ordering fabric, what measurement do you use?"

For a second I was confused because it was such an easy question that I thought it was a trick or something. So then I said, "Yards." Only then did they accept that I knew what I was talking about.

So, I can only imagine how much it would piss me off if this happened to me all the time. I'd probably be tempted to coin a term for it too.

I wonder if I've been guilty of it myself, but I think technically I probably haven't. That is to say, I have most certainly (on any number of occasions) explained something to someone that it turns out they already knew, not bothering find out if they knew it first. Some of those people, certainly, have been women. But I didn't do it because I thought that I, as a man, knew more than her, as a woman. It's because I generally think (sometimes incorrectly, I admit) that I, as me, know more than anyone else -- man or woman -- as not me. I have the more general failing of thinking I know more than everyone else instead of the more limited failing of thinking I know more than women. So, technically, I don't think I'm guilty of mansplaining, though I suppose the difference is pretty academic.


One other funny example of reverse mansplaining I have experienced: A few years ago I moved to a new state to join my girlfriend. We were driving to the bookstore or something and drove by the local mall. She says to me, "Here's the mall. You should avoid this area around Christmas. It gets really busy here around that time."

I replied, "It gets busy at the mall at Christmas time? Really? I'm shocked. Oh, no, wait, I'm not, because I've actually lived in America before."

Who doesn't know it gets busy at the mall at Christmas? Jeez.

Those Goalposts Are Heavy

You should never discuss politics or religion with your family. But my damned parents can't seem to stop themselves. It wouldn't be so bad if they could actually discuss things in a reasonable, logical manner without resorting to logical fallacies. But they just can't.

On a recent visit, my parents brought up a recent case where a woman in Connecticut filmed a traffic stop from her own front yard and the cops hassled her, took her camera away, and arrested her, because, basically, they didn't like being filmed. A clear violation of civil liberties. On this, my parents and I agreed. But then...

My father says, "Well, those cops are going to get fired and she'll end up owning that town after she sues."

Well, I read a lot of blogs that focus on these kinds of issues, such as The Agitator, and the truth is that cops very, very rarely get fired for even egregious violations of civil rights. Police unions close ranks and protect the offenders and make sure they get nothing more than a slap on the wrist (if that). 

So, I point this out to my father.

He says, "Oh, no, they'll all get fired when the Feds come in and take over."


When the Feds come in and take over? What? The Federal Government can only come in and take control over local policing when there's a long-term pattern of corruption and civil rights abuses, like in Compton (CA). Not over an incident like this and not over a single incident no matter how egregious. There's exactly 0% chance that the Federal Government will step in over the case in Connecticut.

So, I point this out to my father.

He says, "That's not true. They do it all the time. Look at what happened in Florida with that Trayvon Martin thing."


Wait, what?

First off, we were talking about how often the Federal Government takes control over local policing in response to civil rights abuses by the local police. To support his claim that the Federal Government does this quite often, my father brings up a case about a civilian shooting and not about local police violating civil rights. A case in which the Federal Government did not, in fact, come in and take control over local policing anyway. In other words, he brought up a case not relevant to the one we were discussing in which what he claims happens all the time didn't even happen.

So, I point this out to my father.

And he says, "Well, they threatened to because the guy was black."


Okay. Leaving out the casual racism...

In a case not about civil rights violations by local police, the Federal Government didn't come in and take control over local policing. But because they threatened to (which I don't think is true anyway), it somehow supports my father's thesis that in cases of civil rights violations by the local police the Federal Government often comes in and takes control over local policing, even after only a single incident. 

That's some hefty goalpost-shifting there. 

And they don't even realize how illogical and irrational their arguments are. They are blinded by partisanship to the point that these ill-founded arguments somehow make sense to them. The fact that my father couldn't actually come up with an example of when the Federal Government took control of local policing and fired the offending cops after a single civil rights incident did not trouble him at all. The fact that in his own example what he claimed was common didn't happen bothered him not at all. The fact that his own example wasn't even an example of the kind of situation we were discussing was unimportant. It still, somehow, in his mind, proved his point. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Also at the You Are Not So Smart blog is an article on the introspection delusion. That's the delusion that you always know why you feel how you do or act how you do, when often you don't. And that, when asked about feelings or actions you've taken, you will actually make up a story to explain your feelings and behavior that you may actually believe, but is total bullshit.

This one is interesting to me because I have known for a long time that I often don't know why I did something or why I felt a certain way. I've even said, in conversation, "Well, I think that's why I did it. I'm not sure, I could just be making it up." And I've caught myself making up stories about why I did things, too. Often, when I've taken action X, and someone says, "Why didn't you just do Y," I will find myself coming up with a reason, on the spot, why I didn't do Y. It'll be something that is logical and makes sense but is just a story. Because the real reason is that I just didn't think to do Y, but for some reason I never want to admit that. I don't know why.

It's not like I think, "Oh, crap, I didn't think of that. I better make something up!" Instead, I immediately think of the story and start telling it without ever really even considering just admitting I didn't think of action Y. In fact, on a few occasions I have even told the story, then immediately afterwards thought to myself, "What the hell did I say that for? Why didn't I just say I didn't think of it?" and then said, "Wait, that's wrong, what I just told you. I don't know why I said that. In fact, I just didn't think to do Y." But it's hit or miss whether I actually admit that or not. And it's also hit or miss how quickly I realize I've just made up a story. Sometimes I make up the story and later realize that the story wasn't true.

But I have no earthly clue why I do that. Why, somewhere inside my mind, I think rationalizing a reason for why I didn't do something is better than admitting I just didn't think to do it.

But I've long known that the causes of many of my actions and emotional states are opaque to me. Which is very frustrating, especially when I've done something stupid or when my emotional state is causing me to think or do stupid things. And, because many people are unaware of the introspection delusion and think they always know the reason for their actions and feelings, I have often had people accuse me of being "difficult" or "too complicated" when I admit to being unable to explain my actions or feelings. Since they think they always know why they think and feel the way they do, everyone does, and so if you don't, you are weird or there's something wrong with. People get frustrated when you can't explain yourself if they think they always can.

Conversely, I have sometimes caught myself making up a story for my actions -- to myself -- when I actually do know, but don't like, the actual reasons. Not just rationalizing, but just wholesale coming up with a whole other explanation that is more palatable. I'm not sure if this ever works, if I managed to convince myself of the story instead of the actual explanation, because I don't think I could know if it did. But I suspect I must have been successful in the past or I wouldn't keep catching myself doing it. If I have been successful, then I have actually managed to induce the introspection delusion in myself.

Anyway, it's interesting how the mind works. One of the funny things I have noticed in the comments at the You Are Not So Smart blog is that a lot of people post to say that they don't fall for whatever delusion the post is on, despite the fact that part of the whole point of self-delusions is that you often aren't aware of them! And a lot of times people demonstrate the delusion in their defense of themselves as not having fallen for the delusion. It's a fascinating feedback loop going on there.


I was reading about the Illusion of Transparency at the You Are Not So Smart blog, and it made me think about something that happened during a poker tournament I played in Biloxi, MI last year. The Illusion of Transparency is the illusion that your emotional states are obvious to others when they actually aren't. Conversely, lots of people, and poker players in particular, overrate their ability to read the body language of others.

In this particular instance, I was playing at a table with a guy from Australia who I had played with in an earlier tournament that week. He was a very self-assured, fairly successful player, apparently pretty well-known on the tournament circuit (but not a TV name). He was good and he let the other players at the table know it right away. I, on the other hand, take a different tack: I downplay my abilities and attempt, as best I can, not to give away what skill I possess. I've been doing this for years in other games, like Star Fleet Battles (a guy actually went to the tournament staff during an SFB tournament complaining that it was somehow unfair or wrong of me to have pretended not to know how to play; they told him, basically, "tough"), and so it was natural to continue in poker.

Mike Caro, perhaps my favorite poker author, also endorses this strategy. He notes that people will make mistakes against someone they perceive to be less skilled, thinking that bad players won't know to take advantage of them. Whereas, if they think you are a good player, they won't think they can take advantage of you and won't make those plays. (Also, in poker as opposed to other games, where you get to decide who to play hands against, appearing to be skilled may discourage poor players you want to play against from playing hands against you). The other advantage Caro doesn't really talk about, but which is actually the reason I adopted this strategy in the first place, is that when you are playing against a boastful player, acting humble works whether I win or lose: if I lose, well, then, I never talked big, so I don't get any of that, "Oh, you thought you were so good, look what happened!" type talk. And if I win, it's more satisfying, because poor little ol' me took down the big-talker.

So, anyway, in my play with this Australian guy I had talked myself down, saying I didn't want to get into hands against him (though this was true, in the sense that since I could see he actually was a good player it doesn't make sense to play any more hands against him than I have to), that I wasn't up to his level, etc. etc., feeding into his ego. And he listened to this, what I was saying, more than he noticed my actual play. (I did pretty well at the two tables I played at with him in the earlier tournament, and was doing pretty well at the table this day I'm talking about). This was the one big hole in his skill, from what I saw of him: he never got a good read on me because of his own ego and failing to really notice what was going on, as what I am about to talk about will illustrate.

(Side note: not all egotistic but good players make this mistake. I played with another pretty well-known -- but not TV know -- pro at this same tournament series at several tables who is a well-know egomaniac. And while, at first, he did buy into my act, he eventually caught on. I intentionally handle my chips poorly at the table, because lots of players take that to mean you are a newbie or an internet player they can take advantage of. Well, at the third or fourth table I played with this pro at, I fumbled my chips and, as if a light came on, he said (not until the hand was over, of course), "You're trying to look incompetent on purpose, aren't you? 'Cause I think I've seen you make too many good plays for you to be that unskilled." I made sure no one else was paying attention and gave him a little smile and a nod -- no point continuing the ruse against him, at least, when he'd caught on. Later, in another tournament, he was a table next to mine and I heard him say to another player (about me), "That guy is really smart in a subtle way. He's better than he lets on.")

So, anyway, back to this Australian guy. So, I pick up ATo in late position and make a standard (3xBB) raise. He calls from the big blind, saying something to the effect of, "You don't want to play against me," to which I agreed. The flop comes, rainbow, all undercards. I decide not to continuation bet because I don't want to build a big pot with a marginal, easily dominated hand against a good player. He bets out something like 2/3 the pot. He's in the BB, but he could have called with anything, including hands that might have hit that flop. Of course, since I checked, he's probably betting there something like 80% of the time with any two cards, which is why I probably should have made the continuation bet. But, anyway, I think about it for a while, whether to check-raise him since there's a good chance he's bluffing. But it's near the dinner break and I have a good stack, so I decide to let it go.

He turns over something like A5o to show the bluff. I'm not surprised or upset by this, since it's about what I thought he probably had. So I can't imagine I reacted, outwardly, much to his showing his cards.

But still, he thinks, apparently, he saw something. So then, he says, "Ha! I got you to fold JJ, didn't I? That's what I put you on." Now, that's just ridiculous. I'm never folding JJ there. And that's exactly what I'm thinking when he says, "Ha! I'm right, aren't I? You turned white when I said it!"

I can't imagine what he thought he saw. Because my only reaction to his claim that I had JJ was that it was a ridiculous read because I'd never fold JJ there. So I can't imagine I had a striking outward reaction to what he said. I certainly can't imagine I blanched or turned white. In fact, I was so surprised by how bad his read was and how certain he was that I'd given it away, I said, "No, I had AT."

And he just laughed at me and said, "Yeah. No, you had JJ. It's all over your face."

I shrugged and said nothing else, as I realized that if he thought a) I was such a weak player that I'd fold JJ there and b) that he had a good read on me, that my act was working, and I shouldn't spoil it. It was working in an unexpected way when I wasn't even really trying to be deceptive, but working.

Unfortunately, our table broke soon afterwards so I didn't get to take advantage of his bad read on me. But it did teach me a couple important lessons. One, that not only can pretty good players misread me, but in surprising and spectacularly bad ways, probably helped along by my act. Two, that you should never tell the other player what you put him on. If your read is right, it might intimidate him, but it'll also warn him you are a good player and make him shore up his game and less likely to get into hands against you. If it is wrong, however, especially if it is spectacularly wrong as in this case, it gives your opponent an important window into how you think he plays. Once I knew this guy thought he could push me off JJ in a situation like that, that he thought I was that weak, I can now set up a similar situation and use it to trap him into making a big bluff when I have him crushed (for instance). It gives away important information for little gain.

Similarly, at a couple other tournaments, one in Biloxi and one in Atlantic City, after a hand the person I was playing against started talking to another player about how they thought I played, as if I couldn't hear them! In both cases this gave me invaluable information. In both cases they had completely mis-read how I was playing, but afterwards, knowing what they thought I was doing, I was able to trap them with that information, and in both cases I ended up busting that player out of the tournament. But it was interesting to hear how they incorrectly judged my play and also that, I guess due to my act, they figured I either wouldn't pay attention to or be able to use the information they were giving away against them. I can't imagine how they think even a bad player wouldn't notice someone talking about how they play and use it, but still..

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Affordable Care Act Decision

I am, and have been, troubled by the individual mandate included in the Affordable Care Act. I'm not sure I want the government to be able, either through the Commerce Clause or the Taxing Power, to make me enter into a business agreement with a private entity (like an insurance company).

Now, I do get the argument that the tax penalty one incurs for failing to maintain health insurance is really no different than the credit one gets for a mortgage or for dependents. If one makes payments on a mortgage they pay less tax; if one has children or dependents one pays less tax; if one maintains health coverage one pays less tax. Viewed in this way, the mandate isn't really a big deal. Of course, I have also always been troubled by tax credits for mortgages and dependents too. Why should a renter pay higher taxes than someone who takes out a mortgage? Why should a childless person pay more taxes than someone who has kids? Especially since people who have mortgages and kids are, in my opinion, more likely to benefit from things that are paid for with taxes. People without kids aren't adding to the costs of the schools by creating more kids needing education. People with mortgages benefit more proportionally from fire and police protection, since they have a bigger investment they need those services to protect. Etc., etc. So, while I agree that the individual mandate isn't functionally different than many tax incentives already built into the tax code, my concerns about the mandate aren't greatly lessened by that line of argument.

And, while I have difficulty believing the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to compel citizens into commerce, I do agree that the so-called 'activity/inactivity distinction' does not actually appear in the Constitution. That is to say, while I wouldn't read the Commerce Clause as allowing Congress to compel commerce, that's just my interpretation, as the Constitution doesn't indicate whether "regulating" commerce includes or does not include the power to compel citizens to engage in commerce. On the other hand, I am not a fan of the Supreme Court's Commerce Clause jurisprudence over the past 150 years anyway. I think Wickard and Raich were both wrongly decided. I don't think the Commerce Clause should allow Congress to reach intra-state commerce by simply asserting that it has an "impact" on interstate commerce. Of course, that ship has sailed, but I am nevertheless troubled by the reach the Court has given the Federal government through its interpretation of the Commerce Clause.

This is by way of explaining that I have, therefore, been ambivalent about the outcome of this case. On the one hand, I kind of wanted the ACA to be upheld because it would have been such a blow to the President and the Democrats if it were struck down. (Yes, naked partisanship, but I am not immune to sometimes wanting my team to win even when I'm not sure they should). On the other hand, I wasn't entirely sure that 'my team' should win. And it did really bother me that the mandate was an invention of the right (the Heritage Foundation first proposed it) and supported by the right (including by Romney when he enacted it in Massachusetts) until Obama came to agree with them. And then, suddenly, the mandate was a tyrannical attack on freedom. The height of hypocrisy. Of course, on the other hand, Obama opposed an individual mandate when running for President in 2008. I'm not sure, really, if he opposed the mandate in 2008 simply because Hillary supported it, or if he truly opposed it in 2008 but embraced it later because it was a necessary compromise to get the ACA passed. (Or he could also just be a hypocrite too).

So, what do I think of the decision? I was surprised by it, for one thing. I thought, as did most of us on the left, that the ACA would be struck down. I was also surprised that it survived by the tax argument and not the Commerce Clause argument. The tax argument was widely believed the weaker of the two arguments and not likely to succeed. And I was surprised that Roberts was the swing vote to uphold the law.

I agree with Roberts' (and the liberal justices') view that since the mandate penalty would clearly be constitutional if it were construed as a tax, and that the penalty is part of the tax code collected by the IRS and is functionally identical to a tax, that it therefore doesn't matter that Congress called it a "penalty" instead of a tax. It functions, for constitutional purposes, as a tax, and therefore is a tax, regardless of what it was called. I think this is right. I don't think whether something is constitutional or not should be subject to a "magic words" test, where a law can be struck down because Congress didn't use the right "magic words," that is to say, the word "tax." After all, no one thinks Congress should be able to pass anything they want by calling the measure a "tax" even if it clearly isn't. Using the magic word "tax" doesn't make something clearly not a tax okay under the Taxing Power, so conversely, it shouldn't matter whether something that operates as a tax under the Taxing Power is actually called a "tax" or not. The question is whether the thing at question actually functions as a tax or not, not what Congress calls it. I think this is clearly correct.

So, on the merits, and the legal arguments, I think Roberts has it right that the mandate is constitutional as an exercise of Congress' power to tax. I'm not sure Roberts (and the conservative dissenters) have it right that the mandate fails under the Commerce Clause. I think the mandate should fail under the Commerce Clause because the Commerce Clause shouldn't be interpreted as allowing Congress to compel commerce. But that's just my opinion on the Commerce Clause, and since the Constitution doesn't actually say that Congress can't compel commerce under the Commerce Clause, there's a colorable argument that Congress does have the power to compel commerce under the Commerce Clause. Congress shouldn't have that power. But I'm not convinced that the Constitution absolutely positively doesn't grant Congress that power.

So, I'm all over the place on this one. I'm kinda happy the ACA was upheld because it would be such a blow to the Obama Administration if it were struck down. (Of course, I'm moderately displeased with the Obama administration for a whole host of reasons, but since I don't want Obama replaced by Romney, I have to continue to support Obama). But I'm not sure if the ACA is, in the end, a good thing or if it is just a giveaway to the insurance companies. Also, I'm more than half convinced that the ACA being struck down would lead, more quickly, to the adoption of a single-payer system, which is probably what we should have. The ACA will delay that, and not necessarily to our good. So, in that sense, I'm not happy that the ACA was upheld.

The only unalloyed good thing to come out of the ACA decision is the Schadenfreude I am enjoying at the kvetching of the tea partiers and others on the right who are calling the ACA ruling the end of the republic and the death of freedom. I am enjoying their salty tears immensely, because while I am troubled by aspects of the ACA and the jurisprudence surrounding it, on no account do I think it is the the end of the world. So I can at least enjoy the right's pain at the decision if nothing else.

(I am also experiencing the cognitive dissonance many on the left are experiencing right now in our opinion of Roberts after this ruling. He has been pretty damned partisan in his rulings up to this and signed on to some whoppers of bad rulings including Citizens United. But now, all of a sudden, he not only becomes the swing justice upholding the Obama Administration's signature achievement, but is the center of a storm of controversy because he supposedly changed his mind mid-stream, abandoning the conservatives on the Court to side with the liberals? Who is this guy? Does he really just "call balls and strikes," as he claimed in his confirmation hearings, or is he a partisan hack? Did he change his mind because he thought the conservatives were wrong or going too far, or was he influenced by worries about his legacy or by supposed "pressure" from the liberal media? Who knows? I really don't know what to think of Roberts after this. But I am enjoying how he is suddenly persona non-grata amongst conservatives who now think he's a traitor to the cause despite his very conservative record up until now).

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Some Things I Didn't Know About the US Constitution

I was just looking at some stuff about the US Constitution on wikipedia, and learned a few interesting things.

I did not know that the most recent amendment to the Constitution, the Twenty-Seventh, was originally proposed in 1789 but only ratified and added to the Constitution in 1992, over 200 years later! Unless a time limit is specifically placed on the ratification of an Amendment, it apparently remains before the States forever. In fact, there are apparently some Amendments still technically awaiting ratification, including the Titles of Nobility Amendment (approved by Congress in 1810 which was ratified by 12 States) and the Child Labor Amendment (approved by Congress on 1924 and ratified by 28 States). Apparently, if 26 more States ratified the Titles of Nobility Amendment or 10 more the Child Labor Amendment, they would become part of the Constitution. Who knew?

The first amendment proposed to the Constitution, called the "Article the First," which wasn't adopted, set how many people a Representative in Congress could represent in his or her district. Had the Article been adopted, with the current US population, there would be around 6,000 members in the House of Representatives! People think Congress doesn't do much now, can you imagine?

Right now there's a bill stalled in the House to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives. It's probably unconstitutional, since the Constitution doesn't allow for non-States to have voting members in Congress. What I didn't realize is that a Constitutional amendment was proposed back in the Seventies to give DC a representative, but it failed to get ratified before it expired in 1984.

The Constitution requires an Amendment to be ratified by three-fourths of the States (either by the legislature or by a constitutional convention in each State). It doesn't say anything, however, about whether a State can rescind ratification after it has ratified an Amendment. Congress has decided that they can't, and the Supreme Court has ruled that it isn't something the Courts can decide. So, as it stands, it appears that States can reject an Amendment at first but then later ratify it, but they can't rescind ratification once given. Interesting.

Just some things I didn't know.