Friday, January 30, 2009

On Drinking and Dying

Jacob posts about a paper that compares mortality rates from alcohol to age. The paper finds that there is a discontinuity in the graph at age 21, when alcohol becomes legal - the mortality rate spikes as young people celebrate their newfound freedom. That's a logical conclusion to draw. However, the researcher uses this as evidence that the drinking age should not be lowered to 18 as many college presidents are suggesting, citing the potential for higher mortality rates at age 18 than we currently see.

But look at the graph closely, and you'll note something:

1) The amount of drinking also spikes at age 21.

2) The mortality rate hardly varies between ages 19 and 23. The only deviation from a pretty-much-flat line is the hiccup at age 21, which tapers back to age-19 levels at 22.

Combined, we see that the increased drinking among those who have been of age for a while isn't leading to a significantly higher mortality rate among of-age drinkers. What that suggests is that moving the drinking age will change the numbers on the X-axis but leave the overall shape of the curve unchanged. Yes, lowering the drinking age to 18 will cause an increase in fatalities among 18-year-olds. But it will cause a roughly equivalent decrease in fatalities among 21-year-olds who, now having been of age for a while, will adopt the drinking patterns of the 23-year-olds in the current study.

So the study shows that moving the drinking age will have little effect on overall mortality, at least in the long run. (The study also suggests that you'll see a spike among 18-20 year olds for the first few months of the new lower drinking age.)

What the graph suggests to me is not that increased drinking causes increased mortality, but that the drinking age itself causes increased mortality. This is an intuitive result, as well - without a drinking age, there wouldn't be any social pressure to binge-drink on your birthday and drinking wouldn't be as baffling to someone recently of-age...

Friday, January 23, 2009


Let's see. In two days Obama has:

- Outlawed torture and ordered the repeal of every Bush executive order on interrogations
- Prevented the CIA from operating "black site" prisons
- Closed the detainee camp at Guantanamo, probably initiating a review for the detainees held there
- Asked government agencies to give FOIA requests the benefit of the doubt, which will free up a lot of government documents
- Disallowed ex-presidents from claiming executive privilege in order to hide their records

Spiffy. This more than makes up for the stimulus scam, in my mind.

Add to that this unexpected heaping helping of win from Congo (which is awesome for a multitude of reasons, not least of which it signals that Rwanda might quit trying to screw its neighbor over), and it's a pretty good week.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Inaugural

Thanks to the snow, I was able to actually watch Obama's inaugural address live yesterday. The speech was good, but something bugged me about it. Obama (along with most other politicians) has a habit of claiming crisis whenever there is a somewhat serious problem. The financial meltdown is a mess, but it's hardly a crisis. Terrorism is a threat, but it's hardly a major one.

Civil War? Crisis. World War II? Crisis. Missiles in Cuba? Crisis. 25% unemployment at the height of the Depression? Crisis. But while this financial mess is a crisis on an individual level for a lot of people, it's hardly a national emergency. It's basically the early '90s all over again, and we came out of that okay with a minimum of government intervention. And though we're due for another major terror attack involving Americans, terrorism is hardly an existential threat or a national crisis. From an American perspective, it rises to the level of "kinda annoying." (Israel, Iraq, and Afghanistan can legitimately consider terrorism a crisis. I'll let India and Pakistan slide. The rest of you? Quit bitching.) I can only think of one issue of the top of my head that deserves "crisis" consideration - securing loose nuclear weapons generated by the fall of the Soviet Union. Which, of course, none of our politicians talk much about.

So yeah, I appreciate Obama's determination, but I really wish he wouldn't make mountains out of relative molehills.

Appropriate Mencken quote of the day: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Canada's Mix Tape for Obama

CBC wants to make a 49-song playlist for the new US President, and here are the songs that are up for nomination. I'd like to point out that the songs include:

- "Canada's Really Big" by the Arrogant Worms, the point of which is basically that Canada has no defining characteristic other than its size.

- "One Great City!" by the Weakerthans (awesome band, imagine the offspring of TMBG and the Decemberists), which ends each verse with "I hate Winnipeg." Oh yeah, did I mention they're from Winnipeg?

- "Acadian Driftwood" by The Band, the first song on the list - the vocals of which are provided by a dude from Arkansas.

- "American Woman" by the Guess Who, because the first thing you want the new American President to hear is "American woman, get away from me..."

- "If I Had $1000000" by the Barenaked Ladies, which given the state of our economy should really add a few zeroes to the title. "If I had a trillion dollars, I'd pay down our debt..."

- "Rockin' in the Free World" by Neil Young, which blatantly lampoons Bush 41.

- A song by the Crash Test Dummies that isn't "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm"

- Not a single song by The Dears, which is a HUGE travesty.

I think we should send them a mix tape back... first on the list should be "Blame Canada."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

50-49 Really Isn't That Much Of A Majority... has been proved by the Tennessee House of Representatives, which despite its 50-49 GOP majority somehow allowed the Democrats to choose a moderate Republican speaker over the GOP's favored right-wing candidate. The speaker pro tem is a Democrat. Heaven only knows what the committee assignments are going to look like, since the Speaker gets to choose those and he's not exactly winning any popularity contests among the Tennessee Republicans nowadays.

Politics: more amusement than you ever thought possible.

What's In A Name?

The world is full of personal-liberty conundrums these days. Here's the latest.

On one hand, doesn't taking kids away from someone because you object to their political beliefs seem a little bit, well, fascist? On the other hand, naming a kid "Adolf Hitler Campbell" can be seen as dooming the child to a life of social ostracism and thus as a form of child abuse...

This government crap is harder than it looks, folks.

(Side note: could Social Services simply demand that the couple change the kids' names? And can a court reject a baby name because it's ridiculous?)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Warning: Foreboding Ahead

I voted for Obama, and I'm not too upset about the way his transition is going, but I can't help but think that this is a bad sign.

Or maybe Robertson has realized that the GOP is teh suck right now and if he still wants some relevance he should pretend to be a Democrat until this all blows over?

It's Not Really Alcohol If They Can't See It

Apologies to my Beehive State readers, but this kind of thing is the reason why the other 49 states laugh at your state. Don't get me wrong, I love Utah, I just shouldn't have to drink my beer out of a brown paper bag when I go there.

H/T Jacob

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Libertarian's Dilemma

I was talking about this puzzle at work today with a couple of libertarians, and since I ran across this story I figured I'd pose it to the often libertarian-leaning regulars here.

A hotel in Nashville fires a guy explicitly for being gay. Should they be allowed to do so? If so, is the man's right to live his own life the way he wants threatened by inaction on the part of the government? If not, are companies' rights to make their own personnel decisions threatened? Here I'm assuming most liberals (myself included) would come down on the side of an anti-discrimination law while most conservatives would be against it. But it seems like this is an issue where two libertarian ideals conflict... what of it?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Help! Help! I'm Being Oppressed!

I don't know why this list of Top Ten Instances of Christian-Bashing amuses me so much. Maybe it's because, while the ADL (the main anti-Semitism watchdog) deals with synagogues desecrated with swastikas and war protesters telling Jews to get back in the oven, the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission has... drunk ESPN anchors.

Seriously, Christian missionaries are getting murdered in India and you're whining about a Sarah Palin political cartoon? Cry me a river.

College Football Postmortem

Tell me: how many college football seasons have ended with us being less certain about who the best team in the country is than we were at the beginning? Remember when everyone thought Georgia would run all over everyone this season? Yeah, kinda makes me chuckle too. For a laugh, check out this preseason top 25 poll. Georgia's at the top, and they got Oklahoma, USC, and Florida vaguely right. But Clemson at #6? They couldn't even beat Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. Auburn is at #10... and didn't make a bowl game. Ditto with Tennessee at #14 and Arizona State at #15. And what genius thought Illinois should be ranked #19? Wrong Illinois team, dude - shoulda gone with Northwestern. Meanwhile, Penn State languishes at #24, and Utah isn't even on the radar.

(Side note here: I think I remember saying at the beginning of the season that Utah had a pretty good shot at going undefeated this year. They had scads of returning seniors, their only loss since September of last year was a close call to BYU in Provo, and all their tough games - TCU, BYU, Oregon State - were at home. Their only remotely difficult road games would be against always-mediocre Air Force and rebuilding Michigan. Why did no one else see this? Why?)

Anyway, we now know that the BCS will never die, because if anything could destroy it, it was this season. This season was like a giant nuclear bomb exploded directly over the BCS... and it's going to survive, despite yet another disputed national championship.

Of course, disputed national championships are nothing new. But can you remember a season that ended with four teams that all have a legitimate argument? Florida beat nine bowl teams, won the SEC, and only lost to a team that ended up ranked #14. Texas played a tough Big 12 schedule and only lost an away game at on-fire Texas Tech after having played three straight ranked teams. USC didn't play anyone, but dominated everyone outside Corvallis and gave us the biggest bowl smack-down of the year against a pretty good Penn State team. Utah beat four currently ranked teams and, oh yeah, didn't lose. Go ahead, you pick a winner. I think the Utes have the strongest argument (the whole undefeated thing), followed by UF, Texas, and USC, but reasonable people can disagree.

This isn't the first time more than one team could claim a championship in the BCS era. Auburn and Utah had claims in 2004 when USC took the hardware home (and Auburn, in fact, won the AP poll). So that's twice in five years where the BCS system has completely exploded. The BCS was meant to settle two-team debates like the 1997 season where Michigan and Nebraska finished undefeated but were unable to face each other because Michigan was tied to the Rose Bowl. It can't settle debates among more than two teams, so it was designed with a very short memory. More than two teams have laid claims on a national championship before - the goofy 1970 season ended with three consensus national champions and two other teams that had an argument - but with the exception of 1993 it hadn't happened recently.

So as college football parity increased at the beginning of the decade, the BCS was caught with its pants down. More and more large-conference teams began playing well enough to get a title. And the small conferences suddenly became relevant. Before the founding of the BCS, you almost never had a small-conference team lay a claim on a title. Since Army won the title in 1945, only once - BYU in 1984 - has a consensus national title been claimed by a team currently outside the major conferences. (SMU sorta had claims in 1981 and 1982.) It has happened three times in the past five years (Utah in 2004 and 2008 and Boise State in 2005). The more teams and conferences that are relevant, the more often you'll have arguments among three or more teams that didn't play each other during the regular season... which means BCS disaster.

So we get what we had this year, with a national champion that half the country thinks doesn't deserve it and a President-elect calling for a playoff and an entire state suing the system. And it'll happen again, because a playoff is the only system that could conceivably settle a multiple-team championship debate, and we're not getting a playoff.

The BCS is what it is - a means of getting around conference tie-ins so that two teams in the national championship argument can play each other. It just needs to drop the idea that it is the final word in college football, especially in years where five teams have national championship arguments going into the bowl season. By conferring an air of finality upon a clearly disputed national championship, the BCS makes the system worse. Lose the pretension, and the BCS is fine.

One final note. That preseason poll? It's actually pretty important because it helps set television schedules for the year. Utah's only game on national television was a less-than-impressive road win at patsy Michigan (yeah, that's not an oxymoron this year). It's completely inexplicable why national television wouldn't pick up a game between #8 and #12... yet Utah's game against TCU was banished to satellite. Utah's poor poll performance - as well as that of USC, whose games tend to finish after most of the East Coast is asleep - is almost certainly related to low exposure.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

In Real Life, Juno Took Place In Mississippi

USA Today has put out data on teen pregnancy that demonstrates that Northeastern teenagers don't get pregnant very much, while Southern and Southwestern teens do.

Of course, let the blathering over sex ed and TV and all that crapola continue. The correlation here is pretty simple. Let's look at the top three and bottom three states. I'll put the state's average income rank in parentheses.

1. Mississippi (51)
2. New Mexico (45)
3. Arkansas (49)

49. Massachusetts (7)
50. Vermont (22)
51. New Hampshire (6)

Vermont's a bit out of place, but otherwise? Looks like poverty is probably our biggest factor. North Dakota and Maine also buck the trend, of course, so poverty may not be everything. Perhaps it's pockets of concentrated poverty we're looking for?

"National Champion Utah" Has A Ring To It

Everybody, just listen to Rick Reilly. That is all.

Also, I think we can all agree that it was only a matter of time before this happened. You don't screw over half of a state (the other half roots for BYU) TWICE and expect everyone to be happy with it.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Eyeless in Gaza (Again)

Wow, it has been a while since I've posted. I didn't realize it until I looked at Jana's blog where she has the cool gadget that lists the time since the last post underneath everyone's name (yes, Trish, I know you have it too, I was just on Jana's blog first today), and it said "Jeff, 2 weeks ago." I don't think I've ever gone two weeks without posting. Sheesh. Anyway, my baby isn't throwing up everywhere anymore and the Middle East is exploding so now is as good a time to post as any.

So my wife and I were talking yesterday about the recent invasion of Gaza by Israeli ground troops. At first, we both thought that the invasion was pretty much unavoidable. I mean, if Cuba was firing rockets at Key West, even if they were total POSes like the Qassams, wouldn't we bomb them back to the Stone Age? I don't see how we can reasonably blame Israel for doing the same. However, my wife had a thought - wouldn't sending in the black ops be better?

Follow me here. Hamas operatives like to launch rockets from civilian-occupied buildings and use civilians as cover. That way, Israel has two conventional options - destroy the rockets and a bunch of civilians, or do nothing. The first option is what Israel chose, and it gets rid of the rockets but kills a lot of people and pisses off a bunch of other people who aren't really paying attention and so apparently didn't notice the rockets. The second option risks the lives of your own people... not cool either. The third option is better - treat it like a hostage situation because, really, that's what it is. Hamas rocketeers are holding civilians hostage by firing from their buildings.

I'm sure Israel has some black ops people lying around somewhere. Rumor has it they're pretty badass. How hard could it be to sneak into Gaza, pick off a couple of rocketeers, and come back? The rumors about the all-powerfulness of Israeli intelligence agents (probably all BS, because rumors have a tendency of getting out of hand when Jews are involved) work to Israel's advantage here, because after the black ops kill a few rocketeers, they'll start to freak out. The best part? No civilians get hurt, and no one has any excuse to complain. It's a win-win situation. Someone should tell whoever's running the show over there now.

Sick silver lining to this whole episode? If this war goes well for Israel and they basically lay waste to much of Gaza, it'll boost defense minister Ehud Barak's credibility among the hard-liners. That'll help Barak in the upcoming election, where currently hard-liner Binyamin Netanyahu holds a strong lead. And if Barak does get elected, he'll have all the political capital he needs to pursue peace (remember Barak was willing to give up a lot in 2000 but got shafted by the intransigent Yasser Arafat). And Hamas will be out of the way (at least temporarily) because they'll have just gotten their butts kicked in Gaza while Fatah and its West Bank base remained relatively unscathed. Should this war propel Barak into office, it may be the best chance for peace the region has seen in a long, long time.

A few other random thoughts:

- Rod Blagojevich belonged on the set of "Happy Days," not in the governor's office. Seriously, Illinois, the loss of a Senate seat is what you get for electing the Fonz.

- My teams are three for three on the bowl game front. 'Horns, don't screw this up. Speaking of college football, have you ever seen a season that will likely end with four teams (USC, Utah, Texas if they beat OSU, and whoever wins Fla-OU) who could legitimately lay claim to the title of "best team in the country"? Playoff. Now. Or else Obama says knock you OUT.

- Speaking of football, if you're wondering how you can gain 200 yards of total offense for a game, go 1-15 on third down, and win... you just play the only no-turnover, no-penalty game I think I have ever seen. And get really lucky on a punt play. Oh, and Who The Heck Is Larry Smith might turn out to be a decent QB down the road...

- Since it looks like Stuart Smalley won Minnesota's Senate race (which, incidentally, is the only statewide or national race I can think of that has ever pitted two Jews against one another), can we cut costs by combining the official Senate trips to Iraq and Afghanistan with the USO? Franken's still a pretty good stand-up comic, right? And who wouldn't want to see Kay Hagan do a little burlesque? Incidentally, if you're C-SPAN, wouldn't you be finding out when Franken is scheduled to deliver a speech on the Senate floor and advertise it? If they can encourage him to throw a little comedy in there, it could set ratings records for them. I know Franken's got a serious head for policy, but man, the possibilities of a stand-up comic in the Senate are endless.

- Just because:

That's our Selah... the next Brian Rosenworcel.