Retelling the story of America’s Pastime.

The window for the cable industry to make a deal with Major League Baseball for its Extra Innings package is closing. (It ends Saturday.) As time clicks away, I fear that Bud Selig and Co. have no intention of honoring their public pronouncements. Fine, I’ve come to expect that. But I flipped on Field of Dreams this morning at the most awesomest part. When Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) delivered his monologue, he reminded me why I love baseball. Consider:

Here is the text of that monologue for those who prefer a quicker read.

Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack.

And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

People will come Ray.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.

Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Thank God Bud Selig didn’t write the screenplay for Field of Dreams. If he had, Terence Mann would’ve said that only baseball fans watching DirecTV driving a Mercedes SUV could pay the $20 per person and sit in the bleachers. He might make an exception and let people watching riding a Segway get in for $10.

The monologue’s closing wouldn’t be nearly as powerful then, I suspect. Oh… people will come, Ray. People will most likely come.

Catching Up to What It Should’ve Offered at Launch.

“Complete My Album” is so obvious that it should’ve happened much earlier.

Apple introduced the “Complete My Album” feature Thursday on its iTunes Store. It now gives a full credit of 99 cents for every track the user previously purchased and applies it toward the purchase of the complete album.

For instance, most albums on iTunes cost $9.99 so a customer who already bought three tracks can download the rest of the album for $7.02.

Previously, users who bought singles and later opted to buy the album had to pay the full price of the album and ended up with duplicates of those songs.

The album price reduction is good for only 180 days after the initial purchase of individual tracks.

Indeed, I’ve thought this to myself many times when purchasing singles. The advantage of iTunes is being able to sample individual songs before buying a full album. If I buy a song and then I like the album, I want to not pay for the same digital download again. The primary goal of technology should be to make life easier/better for customers. When doing this, the company can succeed, as well. Bravo to Apple for catching on in another area.

Please tell us if you steal from us.

With a recent update through its Automatic Update feature, Microsoft proves that it’s incompetently evil, at most. At issue, it released Windows Genuine Advantage Notification (KB905474). The description is as follows:

The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be a non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows.

Good grief. I know my copy of Windows is genuine. I do not need notification. I purchased every computer I own, and they still have the original operating system included when I turned them on for the first time. I’m honest; I don’t need this surveillance. Thanks for the trust, though.

If I happened to be the type of person who would install a pirated non-genuine copy of Windows, does Microsoft really believe that I would utilize its help in obtaining a license?

The idea is preposterous. Yet, there is the option from Microsoft, treating me like I’m incompetent or stupid. Yes, it has a significant portion of the market for several key software product types. So what? There are options to avoid Microsoft brought about by its own incompetence at innovating and/or adapting to the market’s demands.

Post Script: None of this applies to the Xbox 360. I love my Xbox 360.

Slow Solutions From Fast Food

So that I show my contradictions on this morning’s post, consider this decision by Burger King:

In what animal welfare advocates are describing as a “historic advance,” Burger King, the world’s second-largest hamburger chain, said yesterday that it would begin buying eggs and pork from suppliers that did not confine their animals in cages and crates.

The company said that it would also favor suppliers of chickens that use gas, or “controlled-atmospheric stunning,” rather than electric shocks to knock birds unconscious before slaughter. It is considered a more humane method, though only a handful of slaughterhouses use it.

The goal for the next few months, Burger King said is for 2 percent of its eggs to be “cage free,” and for 10 percent of its pork to come from farms that allow sows to move around inside pens, rather than being confined to crates. The company said those percentages would rise as more farmers shift to these methods and more competitively priced supplies become available.

This is invariably good. Less animal suffering while they’re alive is the correct action. Welfarist animal policy can promote a valid marginal gain.

But the animals will still die. Does it matter significantly to the chicken that it’s gassed¹ before it dies? Of course it suffers less, but it still dies. And how significant will the change be if we’re talking 2 percent of Burger King’s eggs and 10 percent of its pork? That still leaves 98 percent and 90 percent of animals, respectively, facing the same amount of suffering. Will this be a one-time improvement, or will there be a continual push to reduce the amount of suffering? The answer isn’t clear.

I found the link to this story at the Daily Dish, where Andrew Sullivan wrote this about the decision:

I’m a McDonalds fan, but I’m switching. The more of us do it, the more likely it is that the rest of the food industry will follow Burger King’s lead.

In the past, Mr. Sullivan wrote about the moral implications of using animals for food. He was honest about the qualm he has with how animals are treated, specifically pigs because of their intelligence. Yet he’s also stated that “it should be possible to remain carnivorous and more humane than we currently are.” Now we see the effect of the welfarist approach. How likely is Mr. Sullivan to align² his views and habits further now that he has a way to ease his moral qualm? I’m not suggesting that guilt is appropriate, but there are consequences to providing such moral escape clauses.

I appreciate what the welfarist approach can do. I’m just not overly thrilled at such half-measures. For example, with routine infant circumcision, anything that reduces suffering should be implemented. But I will not cheer increased use of analgesic creams and dorsal blocks, which should be standard even though they are insufficient. The case against routine infant circumcision is not that the child suffers during the surgery and the healing time after. It is important in the debate, but it is not primary. What the child is being denied for the rest of his life, without his consent, is the problem. No amount of compassion diminishes this. The drawbacks of the welfarist argument allows parents to feel better about “their” decision, and consequently think less about the lifelong consequences. Kids will suffer who may not have faced the knife if their parents had been forced to confront the full ramifications of their actions.

Positive changes are useful and should not be abandoned solely because the results won’t live up the hope. They’re just not enough and should be seen as incomplete.

¹ If you eat that chicken, wouldn’t you then eat some of that gas? Consider this article titled Beef diet ‘damages sons’ sperm’ discussing the impact of pregnant women eating beef raised with “growth promoting chemicals”. (Link via Julian Sanchez.)

² I’m not trying to pick on Mr. Sullivan on this. This rationale is not exclusive to him, nor am I perfect in this in the ways it applies to my life.

In Case the Message Hasn’t Gone Out Already

Let’s see if we can decipher the convenient omissions as the Associated Press builds this story. First, the title:

Circumcision urged to fight HIV

Nothing new there to deviate from previous reporting. Stupid, but consistent as it flows into the lede:

U.N. health agencies recommended Wednesday that heterosexual men undergo circumcision because of “compelling” evidence that it can reduce their chances of contracting HIV by up to 60 percent.

At least they’re saying men, but they might be forgetting a few key qualifications. But who needs to read further. We now know what to do. Even if the marketing is flawed.

The public health impact is likely to be most rapid where there is a high rate of HIV infection among men having sex with women.

More study also is required to find out whether male circumcision will reduce HIV infection in homosexual intercourse, it said, but it said promoting circumcision of HIV-positive men was not recommended.

The studies reviewed male circumcision’s alleged protective impact on the transmission of HIV from infected women to HIV-free men. Nothing more. To promote otherwise is unethical. But why should ethics matter when this is buried in the middle of the article where it can be easily avoided by those who skim the beginning looking for a justification to perpetuate what they already want to do.

“It was therefore recommended that countries with high prevalence, generalized heterosexual HIV epidemics that currently have low rates of male circumcision consider urgently scaling up access to male circumcision services,” the agencies said.

I’m trying to think of a country that does not fit that description, but for the life of me I’m drawing a blank. Could it possibly be the United States? Oh, wait… it is? What an oversight. Accidental, I’m sure.

Within those countries that fit the criteria, where other methods of known prevention would work, what’s the suggestion for implementing this not-really-a-solution-solution?

Priority should be given to providing circumcision to age groups at highest risk of acquiring HIV because it will have the most immediate impact on the disease. But, it said, circumcising younger males also will have a public health impact over the longer term.

Younger males is a new euphemism for infants. That’s not what the U.N. is saying, but it’s what it means. It knows that if it gets children circumcised, those males are much more likely to impose the surgery on their own children, regardless of its ethical flaws (and efficacy). Who needs ethics when you have good intentions?

On Buying Absolution

From Kip I learned of this brief essay by Michael Dorf. Here are the first two of its three paragraphs:

In my FindLaw column yesterday, I argued that Al Gore undermines his ability to act as a spokesman for combating global warming by living in a very large house and jetting around the world — even though he “carbon balances,” i.e., pays green causes to plant trees, cover landfill and take other actions that compensate for his own generation of greenhouse gases. I compare these compensating measures to the purchase of papal indulgences and the payment of substitute soldiers by Civil War draftees. (I go on, however, to praise Gore’s policy proposals.)

Here I want to add another example. Suppose I think that it’s wrong to eat animals and animal products (as in fact I do) but that I really like the taste of meat. Could I discharge my moral obligation (as I see it) to be a vegan by continuing to pack away the hamburgers and steaks but pay a carnivore to convert to veganism so that I “meat balance?” The very idea seems absurd.

Such a transaction is far too utilitarian-at-the-expense-of-principles for me personally, but I don’t think it’s absurd to consider this.

Animal rights vegans, of which I am one only tangentially¹ through my primary health justifications for being vegan, tend to fall into two camps: welfarists and abolitionists. The distinction isn’t perfectly applicable here because the distinction has more to do with approach to the treatment of animals, but it’s useful anyway. Welfarists believe that marginal improvements in how we treat animals is useful. Free-range chickens and cage-free hens, for example, reduce the suffering of animals while they’re alive. If a pig has the ability to stretch her legs in her gestation crate, that’s better than her being pinned to the floor by the constraints of her crate. The treatment may still be despicable, but the animal suffers less.

Abolitionists view this distinction more as a black-or-white issue. It does matter how compassionately you treat the animal, the animal still suffers. It doesn’t matter how compassionately you slaughter the animal, dead is still dead. Since humans do not need meat and alternatives exist for animal products, there is no justification that renders the use and abuse of animals acceptable.

I tend to side with the abolitionists. There is value in the welfarist approach when it exposes people to the horrible practices involved in animal “agriculture”. Every change must begin somewhere. But I agree that such concessions may lead to as much or more animal consumption. I’ve had discussions where a carnivore will say “but I buy only free-range meat”. So? The animal still suffers, although that’s not apparent in the marketing. (How many singing cows do we need to see to believe something untrue?) Again, dead is dead.

Which gets back to the question at hand. Would a barter of money for veganism work? I don’t think it discharges the buyer’s moral obligation, but it could work to reduce animal suffering. For every new vegan, n animals will not die or suffer. That’s the beauty of capitalism. Reduced demand will lead to reduced supply. Over a lifetime, that could be a tremendous individual impact.

There are drawbacks, of course. The buyer may now consume more meat because he is “offsetting” his consumption. The buyer may be a large man with a vociferous appetite, while the seller may be a petite woman with a small appetite. The balance falls heavily against significant improvement. The net effect from the person with a moral qualm is potentially less than if he had the character to act according to his beliefs.

I suspect this drawback is more likely than the optimistic outcome from buying veganism. A bit like Al Gore’s energy consumption for his home, for example.

¹ I care about animals rights enough to do the basics. I don’t buy animal products such as leather. I don’t buy products tested on animals. You just won’t find me actively protesting and agitating for change. I care about it, but I’m not passionate enough. I’d get in the way.

I hate the tiny screen of

I’m beating Major League Baseball’s anti-fan deal with DirecTV repeatedly, but it keeps providing fodder.

In Demand president Rob Jacobson, whose company is owned by affiliates of the companies that own Time Warner, Comcast and Cox cable systems, offered to carry the package on the same terms that DirecTV is for the next two seasons while putting off the issue of The Baseball Channel until it launches.

“This would ensure that for the next two years at least, all baseball fans would have access to the `Extra Innings’ package,” he said. “If we’re unable to reach an agreement when the channel launches, we’d give baseball the right to cancel the `Extra Innings’ deal. We think this is a fair compromise.”

[Sen. John] Kerry, trying to play the role of mediator, got behind the effort.

“What’s the matter with that?” he asked Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer.

That’s a valid question, but only coming from a fan. [And I’m asking it: what’s the matter with that? – ed.] Congress, in its official duties, should not be determining the specifics of business deals in the private market. I know baseball and television aren’t fully private markets the way a corner store and a candy producer would be, but they should be.

“When fans react, Congress reacts,” [Sen. Arlen] Specter said. “You may be well advised to act before we do.”

Sen. Specter’s first statement is wrong because it amounts to nothing more than mob rule. He’s parading it as democracy, but we’re talking about the same beast. I’m angry about the deal. Still, it’s not something I expect my congressman to address. Sen. Specter’s concern may be correct. His actions are not.

Which gets to his second sentence. Stop threatening. Act or shut up. I’ve already stated that Major League Baseball should not have antitrust exemption. As long as it exists, though, dictate. That way everyone understands the true nature of the deal. Instead, we get blabber about the interests of consumers until someone inevitably steps up with cash or politicians back down without dignity. It’s tiresome.

I still hold out hope that a deal will get done. I can’t fight the fear that Major League Baseball only offered the Extra Innings deal to cable and Dish Network as a front to later pass blame on an outside party for not meeting the terms. I despise Bud Selig.

Informed, educational thoughts on antitrust absurdity at A Stitch in Haste.

The parallels are spooky.

As I stated when this story first appeared, the need to continually challenge assumptions is critical in any scientific endeavor.

Propping open clogged arteries with a tiny wire mesh tube called a stent is no better at reducing the risk of heart attack or death in patients with stable heart disease than treatment with medications, according to a large new study that challenges routine use of a procedure that rapidly became standard medical practice.

The researchers and others stressed that angioplasty clearly benefits patients who are in the throes of a heart attack or are at very high risk for one. But the findings indicate that for a patient whose condition is stable, medical therapy is just as effective at reducing the major risks. Such patients constitute at least one-third of those undergoing the 1.2 million angioplasties performed each year, and perhaps as much as 85 percent.

I’ll be interested to see if Americans switch from surgery to medicine. I wonder if we’ll see doctors continue to recommend surgery for male patients, while offering medicine to female patients. It hasn’t worked with circumcision and UTIs, so why should it be any different with heart surgery. That’s more important. Are we willing to trust aspirin on our fathers when we can’t trust antibiotics on our sons?

The findings underscore the danger of rushing to adopt a procedure before careful studies have been conducted to fully determine its benefits, Boden and others said.

“There was just this intuitive belief that it would be beneficial,” Boden said. “But no one had ever done a proper randomized trial to see whether it actually improved outcomes. In the meantime, a whole industry has been created around this.”

… this intuitive belief that it would be beneficial. It’s hard to believe that’s not enough. Hard to believe, indeed.

New meaning to “elective” surgery.

Does this sound like it’s based on principle or politics?

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was part of the last significant effort to overhaul the system during her husband’s administration. That attempt failed, but the Democratic candidates said Saturday that the conditions exist to push for dramatic change.

But Clinton warned that getting there would still be difficult. “We don’t just need candidates to have a plan,” she said. “All of them have plans. We need a movement. We need people to make this the number one voting issue in the ’08 election.”

At least Sen. Obama had the decency to speak of “the need to solve the problem now,” although I’m sure his solution will involve the kind of theft proposed by John Edwards. Instead, Sen. Clinton made a transparent plea about getting elected above any need to debate the merits of this “problem.”

I can’t imagine any of these candidates getting my vote in 2008.

There’s no crying in baseball government.

Am I supposed to feel sympathy for Harford County, Maryland because it financed a baseball stadium and is now losing money?

Ripken Stadium was meant to give the city a boost. Instead, the city with an annual budget of $16 million loses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Mayor S. Fred Simmons has talked to several potential buyers but he said the most promising involve hometown hero Cal Ripken Jr. He owns the Aberdeen Iron Birds, the team that plays in the stadium, and a youth baseball operation nearby.

The original solution was flawed. The city should not have financed the stadium. Minor league baseball stadiums are not a public good. This is not a difficult concept. Yet, here we are:

The team pays $1 a year to use the stadium and keeps almost all the money generated from games.

One dollar. The owes on almost $5 million in bonds for the stadium, with the tax shortfall costing the city up to $485,000 a year in losses. The basic proposition should be easy to see. When built, would the stadium generate the revenue necessary to pay the debt? If yes, Mr. Ripken should been forced to build the stadium if he wanted it. If not, he wouldn’t have built it because it wouldn’t be a productive use of his capital. Notice that the city is involved in no part of that. Instead, the city played central planner and sticks its citizens, both baseball attending and non-baseball attending alike, with the bill.

“The deal they made with the Ripken thing is one of the worst deals they ever made, and now they expect the taxpayers of Aberdeen to pay for their ineptness,” said state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican. “That was a terrible deal, for very little return. It could’ve been a gold mine.”

Actually, the city is suggesting a tax on hotel rooms, so it expects visitors to the city to pay for its ineptness. But the more annoying problem is Sen. Jacobs’ contention that the deal could’ve been a gold mine. Government is not in the business of earning a “gold mine”. It has essential duties, and that’s it. Instead, city officials wanted in with professional baseball (and probably a bit of interaction with Cal Riplen, Jr.). It played with taxpayer money, and in an unsurprising twist, it lost.

This would be a valuable lesson if I thought the government, any government, would learn.