Why you can’t watch The Office re-runs in order on TV

I’ve certainly enjoyed watching many a favorite show in syndicated re-runs through the years.  I seem to recall good ‘ol WDCA 20 in Washington, DC, running the Star Trek episodes in order when I was a kid (I would know, I do own the Star Trek Compendium), but generally speaking, you might see a 2nd season Seinfeld one night followed by a 5th season episode the next.  Slate’s explainer explains why.  Not surprisingly, it pretty much comes down to the economics:

But why do stations program shows out of sequence?

It's more economical. Certain episodes are more popular than others, so it's in a station's best interest to play them more often. These episodes can command higher ad rates and can serve as attractive lead-ins to other network shows. During the holidays, it's more important to air thematically appropriate episodes than adhere to strict series chronology. And certain guest stars, in the limelight for one reason or another, can make episodes newly relevant. Furthermore, stations don't always purchase an entire series. Rather than license the entire 11-year, 251-episode run of M*A*S*H, for example, a station may cherry-pick a few seasons (the early, McLean Stevenson years, perhaps) and create a subcycle out of the larger whole.

It's only in recent years that viewers expect to see nonserialized shows presented chronologically. Those who watch TV shows on DVD or Hulu can track a series by season and episode number, but such habits run counter to the original conception of these shows as stand-alone entertainments—precisely what makes them ideal syndication commodities. For syndicators and advertisers, there's a direct correlation between programming flexibility and market value.

There you have it—just get used to watching them out of order.  I do feel better knowing why. 

Karl Rove and the sanctity of marriage

Of course it is nothing new to note that so many of the supporters of “traditional marriage” seem to be so bad at “traditional marriage.”  It is just especially rich when it is Karl Rove now on his 2nd divorce.  Glenn Greenwald makes the excellent point that Texas’ no-fault divorce law is just as inimical to “traditional” conceptions of marriage as is same-sex marriage:

Rove obtained his divorce under Texas' "no-fault" divorce law, one of the most permissive in the nation.  That law basically allows any married couple to simply end their marriage because they feel like it.  Texas, needless to say, is one of the states which has constitutionally barred same-sex marriages, and has a Governor who explicitly cites Christian dogma as the reason to support that provision, yet the overwhelming majority of Texan citizens make sure that there's nothing in the law making their own marriages binding or permanent — i.e., traditional.  They're willing to limit other people's marriage choices on moral grounds, but not their own, and thus have a law that lets them divorce whenever the mood strikes.  That's the very permissive, untraditional and un-Christian law that Rove just exploited in order to obtain his divorce.

There's debate and dispute among various Christian theologians and sects over whether divorce and re-marriage are permissible and, if so, under what circumstances.  But what is clear is that the attribute of permanence is every bit as much of a part of "traditional marriage" as the need for a man and a women — hence, the vow before God of "till death do us part" and "that which God has brought together, let no man put asunder."  The concept of "no-fault" divorce is certainly repugnant to most Christian and traditional understandings of marriage.  

It’s a pretty solid argument I had not thought about before.  And, as for Karl Rove’s moral hypocrisy, that has long spoken for itself.  

Okay, maybe Leach has been rail-roaded

Sally Jenkins has a column in the Post arguing pretty persuasively that Mike Leach has been railroaded in his firing from Texas Tech.  If you are curious about the matter, just read it.  Also, I found this video about the "shed" and "electrical closet" the player was locked in made things look pretty bad for the player's side and pretty good for Leach.  

As for Leach, I also found this bit from Jenkins' column to be particularly interesting:

Actually, nothing in this case is simple. Leach is not some
head-banging throwback. He's idiosyncratic and incurably outspoken, but
nothing suggests he's a sadist or an idiot who would endanger a player.
In fact, he is one of the more well-read and thoughtful men in the
game, with a large curiosity and a law degree from Pepperdine. More
importantly, he's a serious, demanding educator whose team has a
graduation rate of 79 percent, eighth best in the country and first in
the Big 12 Conference. He trails only Notre Dame (94 percent), Stanford
(93), Boston College (92), Duke (92), Northwestern (92), Vanderbilt
(91) and Wake Forest (83) in turning out grads, while he also has made
nine bowl appearances in nine years.

Mike Leach really is a fascinating guy.  Great NYT magazine story on him 4 years ago.  

Concussions and Texas Tech Football

As Texas Tech is my 2nd favorite college football team (after Ohio State) I’ve been intrigued by the recent story that coach Mike Leach has been suspended after mistreating a player after receiving a “minor” concussion (all the news reports say “minor” but as far as the human brain is concerned, there’s nothing minor about a concussion).  Leach insists he didn’t do anything wrong, if the allegations are accurate, however, it speaks to the “suck-it-up” culture of football that quite often leads to permanent brain damage.  Malcolm Gladwell had a great article in the New Yorker a couple months ago about the long-term effects on the brain for so many pro football players.  It’s not a pretty picture.  (You really should read it—classic Gladwell, in this case how football players sacrifice their bodies and long-term health much like the dogs in dog fights).  

It’s good to see that Texas Tech is taking the issue of player concussions and their long-term health and safety quite seriously even if Mike Leach is not.  [Wow, just heard he got fired– perhaps a little too serious for the best coach TTU will ever have]

Paranoid parents and pictures of kids on-line

First off, let me just say that parents who are afraid to post pictures of their kids on-line need to get over themselves.  Seriously.  Your kids are surely at much greater risk from your own bathtub.  Might as well get rid of your indoor plumbing.  The N&O had an article today about this “controversial” topic and it classic facile journalistic style tried to take a look at “both sides” of the issue:

Parents are grappling with what is safe and what fears are irrational. As with most debates about child safety, the risks are not as severe as many imagine. But neither is posting photos online as safe as many assume.

Guess what– it is as safe as you assume.  Here’s the key:

"Research shows that there is virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online," said Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute. While the debate makes this crime seem common, he said, all the talk is really just "techno-panic."

Professor David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, says TV shows like the "Dateline NBC" program "To Catch a Predator" have falsely inflated the danger of the Internet.

So, what are those legitimate concerns?  Someone might find an on-line picture of your particularly cute kid and use it in an advertisement or something.  Oh, horror of horrors!  Or, in the really shocking development, Brazilian teenage girls might decide to photoshop your kid's face onto an adult body in some weird on-line game they play.  Somebody protect my children!!  Somehow, I think I’ll take the risks of this to share the photos of my beautiful boys.  They’re right here, by the way.

Abortion and health reform


Excellent article on abortion and the health care debate in by William Saletan (who covers abortion and politics better than just about anybody).  Big picture, this is really small potatoes and what the various parties are arguing over is really pretty small stakes indeed.  Both sides of the debate are fully of hyperbole that has been pretty impervious to reality.  In actuality:

None of the proposals under discussion would ban abortion. None would take away your right to buy abortion coverage with your own money. None would force you to pay for somebody else's abortion. These are the conceptual parameters on which all sides have, for the time being, agreed.

Thus, what’s left over is all which accounting gimmicks legislators prefer, not exactly the great moral issues of our time:

Look at the competing amendments. They all segregate abortion money. The only difference is in who does the segregating and when this takes place. Nelson and Stupak would do it up front, when you pay your premiums. Nelson lets the government regulate abortion-insurance transactions; Stupak doesn't, lest the government be complicit. Capps and Reid let you write a single check and leave it to insurers to separate the funds. Ellsworth specifies a bunch of bookkeeping rules to keep the accounts separate. These variations are hardly cosmic. Each version has pros, cons, and complications. But the pros, cons, and complications are technical. They can be worked out.

Abortion advocacy groups, accustomed to epic struggles, exaggerate the differences. The National Right to Life Committee dismisses Nelson's amendment as a "bookkeeping requirement." So what? Stupak's amendment is a bookkeeping requirement, too. On the other side, Planned Parenthood claims, "There is no sound policy reason to require women to pay separately for their abortion coverage other than to try to shame them and draw attention to the abortion coverage." Come on.

Just another example of why abortion politics is so frustrating.  One of the reasons I love to read Saletan on the matter is because he cuts through the BS on both sides. 

The new Whig party!

[Wrote this a couple weeks ago and just realized I forgot to post it.]

Third parties in America are truly hopeless regardless of how many people claim to want another option or register as "independent."  The nature of our electoral game makes it almost impossible for them to achieve electoral success.  (There's a reasonable explanation of "Duverge's Law" at wikipedia).  Nonetheless, I was quite intrigued by this article in Slate about a modern Whig party– mostly because I'm a sucker for the history of 19th Century American political parties.  I actually wrote a paper in graduate school about Abraham Lincoln's (rather late) decision to finally leave the Whig party and become a Republican.  I don't think this new Whig party is going anywhere, but I think I'll pull for them just a little bit.


In praise of the health care reform legislation

Of course I should have written on the matter after Senate passage on Christmas Eve, but alas, I've been enjoying the Christmas holidays.  As I've said before, I continue to be dismayed by the liberals who want to throw the baby out with the bathwater (this current situation is an almost perfectly apt use for this expression).  The "kill the bill" liberals are far too focused on the insurance companies.  To paraphrase Ezra Klein, if the insurance industry goes from 85th most profitable to 58th most profitable, but millions more Americans can afford health care coverage, that's a deal I'll take. 

I think Jon Chait (who's writing I'm especially loving lately) sums it up great in the title of his article, "The rest is just noise."  It's also a really interesting analysis of the attacks of the legislation coming from the left (and from the right, but those are more transparent and obvious). 

Security Theater

After nearly a week off, I wanted to come back with something really good, but then I realized I better just come back period.  To that end, I'm going to borrow Jeffrey Goldberg's commentary on the TSA response to the latest crazy to try and blow up a plane:

 Sometimes the stupidity is too much to bear. From the new guidelines for international air travel:

U.S.-bound passengers aboard international flights must undergo a
"thorough pat-down" at boarding gates, focused on the upper legs and

Thanks for letting us know, TSA, that the search should be focused on the upper legs and torso. As I've said on numerous occasions,
pat-downs that ignore the crotch and the ass are useless. We recently
saw in Saudi Arabia the detonation of a rectal bomb, so it really
doesn't take much creativity to imagine that terrorists will be taping
explosives to their scrotums. Of course, TSA is not going to be
feeling-up people's scrotums anytime soon, so the question remains: Why
does our government continue to make believe that it can stop
terrorists from boarding civilian planes when anyone with half-a-brain
and a spare two minutes can think up a dozen ways to bypass the
symbolic security measures at our airports?

Next item:
"Passengers must remain seated for the final hour before landing.
that time, they may not have access to their carry-on baggage or hold
personal items on their laps." But what about their underwear? Can they
have access to their underwear, which is where our latest would-be
Muslim martyr apparently hid his bomb? And why can't we have access to
our laptops, if they've already been screened?

It is pathetic and depressing that the agency charged with keeping us safe seems much more interested in doing things to pretend they are keeping us safe than actually doing us things that will keep us safe.  Virtually all the rules, from the new pat-downs, to shoes, to liquids can be easily subverted by a terrorist with an IQ over 100.  Fortunately, it seems that there just aren't that many people who want to get on a plane and blow it up.  If you haven't read Goldberg's classic article on our security theater, you should.   Matt Yglesias also has a nice post about the problem of too much information when it comes to dealing with potential terrorists. 

Why this is a big deal

Terrific post over at the Wonk Room that wonderfully, graphically sums up all the good that passing health care reform will do:

Here is a graphic representation of the choice lawmakers face:


 The ostensible purpose of the post is to refute the nutty liberals, led by Jane Hamsher, who somehow think it would be a good thing to kill this legislation.  Of course, Ezra Klein can be counted upon for an effective point-by-point rebuttal.  Ever more persuasive, Nate Silver explains why the nutty liberals hopes of reconciliation are simply not realistic in the real political world.  On a side note, I have to mention how impressed I am by Silver.  Here's a guy who's expertise is in baseball statistics.  He turned his statistical abilities into an amazing site on the electoral college that all of us election junkies became completely hooked on in 2008.  And now, he does a not bad job at all as a policy wonk. 

A few more health care thoughts

1) All the public option absolutists should be tied up and forced read Jacob Hacker— the political scientist who basically invented the public option– advocate for passing the final bill.  Key point– work for more subsidies/affordability; we can still make progress there.  

2) Did the Republicans totally misplay their cards?  Jonathan Chait says yes.  Key point: Democratic moderates were so desperate for a "bipartisan" bill, that they would have been willing to sign off on pretty weak reform– much weaker than we got– if only some Republicans had been willing to actually (rather than pretend to) play ball.

3) Speaking of which, was Olympia Snowe actually acting in good faith earlier, or simply doing her best to remain the belle of the press corps ball as a beloved Senate "moderate"?  The final Senate bill has pretty much everything she wanted, so she's left to explain her "no" vote by saying the process was too rushed.  Riiiight– it was too quick. 

4) Pretty interesting story of how the Dem Senators finally worked out a bill with Ben Nelson on abortion.  It's pretty ridiculous, with all that's at stake in this, how much attention has been focused on such a tangential issue to the major aspects of health care reform. 

5) Nonetheless, Bart Stupak has now vowed to deny health insurance to millions of people because he doesn't like the Senate compromise.  I wish bad things for him.

It’s going to happen

As much of a health policy junkie as I've become, I have to admit I was a little surprised with myself at just how excited I was by today's news that the Senate has reached a deal and will pass health care legislation this week.  But, this is a really big deal.  This is the biggest progressive legislation since the Great Society, and most importantly, will bring health insurance (and thus better health) to millions and millions of Americans who previously had to do without.  That is a great thing.  Of course it's not a done deal yet, but in many ways getting the 60 Senators has always been the hardest part.  Of course, if you care half as much about health policy as me, you've already read Ezra Klein's take on this today, as he continues to do yeoman's work on the issue.  That said, a couple of comments:

  • I was a little annoyed by the Post's coverage.  Headline: "Democrats reach deal"; subhead: "GOP excoriates bill."   The average, not particularly informed reader will take from that frame that Democrats have reached agreement on some awful piece of legislation.  Obviously, I don't think that is the most appropriate frame.  Ultimately, just another example of the incredibly pernicious and destructive "he said, she said" bias of the media.  (From what I've seen, the reporter on this, Shailagh Murray, is absolutely the stereotypical lazy and irresponsible journalist in this respect).  It's as if they cannot simply admit this is good news for Democrats (and Americans, quite frankly) without the countervailing GOP spin. 
  • The big GOP complaint: Medicare cuts: damn, that's rich.  Just got to love the party always railing against government waste and inefficiency is so upset because this bill tries to create major cost savings through reducing waste and (mostly) inefficiency in Medicare.
  • The Times has a nice little feature comparing the House and Senate versions.  It would be great to see the final bill take the best of both.  I was just looking at the "public option" part and just shaking my head that recent events have caused so much liberal strife.  The public option in the House Bill is a pale imitation of a real public option (negotiated rates, rather than Medicare rates) that simply would have done nothing to control costs.  Would I rather have it, you betcha, because you can build on it; but to take this weak tea of a public option and make it the end all and be all was always just ridiculous and showed substantial ignorance of how health policy works.  
  • On to the Christmas Eve vote.  Why Republicans insist on drawing it out that long is beyond me.  But alas, they are pulling every stupid trick in the book of the world's most dysfunctional (un)representative body.  Don't they want to be home with their families?  Why do Republican Senators hate Christmas?

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