Archive for July, 2009

I Hate to Say I Told You So…..

Actually, I don’t hate it at all. In fact, it makes me feel vindicated and smugly satisfied: I told you so.

Stewart! Kristol! It’s Health Care Debate 2009 on Comedy Central!

tdskristolThis video has been makings its way around the old internets recently, like so many of Jon Stewart’s interviews do these days. It features William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, discussing his issues with Obama’s health care plan in a responsible, reasoned manner…and I mean that in most sarcastic way possible.

Kristol is, of course, spewing conservative talking points and Stewart, as he often does, get him to stumble a little over them. The real knock-out line that liberals have seized on is Kristol’s admission that the military deserves better health care than average American citizens do. Since military health care is public, Stewart twists this into an admission that government-run health care is better than private health care.

I don’t like Bill Kristol and I don’t think he handles himself well here, but I think he is kind of right. First of all, of course the government insures soldiers. That goes along with America’s (ridiculous) employer-provided health care system, since soldiers, like elected officials (who also have a government-run plan), are government employees. Rather than paying for a private insurer the Defense Department runs the Military Health Service itself. Continue reading

Is Billy Beane a Good GM?

Up until recently, the answer to this question would be quick: “Well, obviously.” The more relevant question had always been, “Is Billy Beane baseball’s best GM?”

Billy Beane runs the Oakland Athletics, a team in a small market with a low payroll (26th out of 30 in 2009), yet he managed to assemble a consistent contender, as the A’s made the playoffs four years running (2000-2003) and the ALCS in 2006. In that time, Beane became a mini-celebrity, thanks to being the subject of Michael Lewis’ 2003 best-seller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The book was so successful that a movie adaptation was slated to be made by Steven Soderbergh, with Brad Pitt playing Beane.

Recently, however, Beane’s reputation has started to suffer. The A’s have had two consecutive losing seasons since being swept in the ’06 ALCS, and in 2009 are on pace to have their worst season since Beane took over in 1998.

Now, it should be stated right away that this is not a polemical, anti-Moneyball tirade. The book, which detailed Beane’s use of so-called “sabermetrics” to identify undervalued players, garnered a lot of knee-jerk reaction and criticism, since Beane was seen as bucking tradition (which he was). Continue reading

Ranking The Bill of Rights, Number 8: The Eighth Amendment

I am not a supporter of cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, I prefer my punishments humane and usual. While I had negative views on the Second Amendment and neutral views (well, assuming you interpret pointlessness as a neutral description) on the Tenth, at this point, my views on the 8th amendment are generally positive. Nonetheless, it has some negative characteristics that cause its eighth place finish.

The Eighth Amendment reads: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Continue reading

Give the Tutorial System a Chance

The Lecture and Its Drawbacks:
The lecture is a systemic feature of the American university system. Let me be clear: I have a fairly broad definition of the lecture. It could consist of anywhere from 15 to over 1,000 students. The primary feature of the lecture is that the professor controls all of the talking, and each individual student only participates when called upon or when he needs to clarify points made in the lecture. Sure, there are seminars and independent studies available, but the basis of the American university system is the lecture.

The lecture has two obvious advantages. First, it’s efficient: A single professor can teach many students at once. Second, it reinforces what you learn: Some students are not as good at learning information from textbooks, so having them learn a solid chunk of the material from a live lecturer may be beneficial.
Continue reading

Meet (and Rank) the Beatles’ Albums, Part 2: The Top Five

5) Rubber Soul, 1965

John S (3): Rubber Soul is the band’s first truly great album; it features the beginning of the band’s more sophisticated songwriting (“You Won’t See Me,” for example, was the longest song the band had recorded to that point, coming it at a whopping 3:22), both in terms of lyrical depth and musical arrangements, and them finally finding the right equilibrium of their wide-ranging sensibilities. The first four songs (“Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “Nowhere Man”) may constitute the best balance of Lennon and McCartney’s different styles in The Beatles’ entire oeuvre—at least until the “Penny Lane”/“Strawberry Fields Forever” double A-side. Both of Harrison’s songs, “Think For Yourself” and “If I Needed Someone” are great, and even the token Ringo song (“What Goes On”) is an exciting stylistic change of pace (though Josh disagrees). The album’s finale, “Run For Your Life,” is maybe the most underrated song in the Beatles’ canon. Also, the vocals at the end of “In My Life” are beautiful.

Josh (7): This is my most controversial rank and—frankly—I feel a bit badly about it. I have a bias towards later albums largely because I love the Beatles’ more psychedelic work: that’s why I ranked Magical Mystery Tour higher in my own rankings. There is no doubt that this was a huge leap for the Beatles, shifting from a more lighthearted pop style in Help! to a more sophisticated style in Rubber Soul. But I think Side Two is a bit weak. With the exceptions of “In My Life” and “I’m Looking Through You,” all of the side two songs are mediocre (once again, by Beatles’ standards) at best, bad at worst (“What Goes On” comes to mind). Side One is very good though: “Think For Yourself” is the most underrated George Harrison song and the harmonies in “Nowhere Man” are beautiful. But, the fact that it’s fairly brief and contains a number of subpar songs gives Rubber Soul its relatively low rank. Continue reading

Meet (and Rank) the Beatles’ Albums, Part 1

We here at NPI aren’t exactly breaking new ground or going out on a limb when we say that The Beatles are the greatest band of all-time, but we’re saying it anyway. Not only is each one of their twelve studio albums (we don’t really count Yellow Submarine) excellent, but they more or less invented the concept of an “album.” When The Beatles started, albums were little more than collections of singles, but The Beatles made at least five albums that are not only enjoyable to listen to but also riveting works in and of themselves. For a band to have one album like that is an accomplishment, but five is simply legendary. But which of their many classic albums are the best? Without further ado, here is the first half (the Top 5 are coming later today) of Josh and John’s rankings (Tim is abstaining due to the time needed to internally rank every Barenaked Ladies’ song):

Continue reading