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February 25th, 2003:

Rainout

I cancelled team practice today because of the nasty weather today. We’ll try again on Thursday. I’m going to try to find an indoor batting cage that we can use as a backup in case the weather doesn’t cooperate then.

We’re back down to 11 players. Nia, the one girl on the team, decided to play in a YMCA league instead. She’ll be with smaller kids who are also fairly new to playing baseball, which is a better fit for her. Having 11 kids will make it easier to ensure everyone plays, but it means we have less slack if there are no-shows. I don’t know what the forfeit rule is, and I hope I don’t have to find out.

I’ve gotten some feedback from parents that the kids are excited about playing. I’m glad I made a good first impression. I hope to build on their enthusiasm.

I’m supposed to pick up some candy from a league volunteer tomorrow. Apparently, candy sales are part of how the league pays for itself. A couple of the parents are signed up to do the selling, which is fine by me because that’s something I’ve never been comfortable with. Better anyone else than me.

Not such a sure thing after all

Would you believe that one cause of our recent economic downturn is because not enough people are dying?

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stewart Enterprises Inc., America’s No. 3 funeral home and cemetery operator, cut its earnings estimate for the year, partly because, to put it bluntly, not enough people are dying.

For an industry that profits from death, the first quarter is not shaping up well. Stewart said Monday there were fewer deaths than expected in the quarter just ended, which is historically a season of harsh weather and flu epidemics.

In addition, more people were choosing cremations over higher-priced burials and also it is becoming more difficult to sell funeral packages in advance to Americans who are focused on near-term problems like the economy and possible war with Iraq, the company said.

The announcement that Stewart was cutting its 2003 earnings estimate sent its stock plummeting.

Via Larry Simon.

Crime and punishment, NCAA-style, take 2

Steve Smith has a followup post to his obituary of crooked Michigan booster Ed Martin, which I had commented on here.

Where we disagree, I believe, is on the notion of whether there should be a statute of limitations on NCAA sanctions. It is perfectly reasonable for the NCAA to punish a program for violations that occurred before anyone on the current team was at the university; since the regulations in question are geared towards maintaining competitive balance for the schools, a program that cheats will develop advantages in the area of recruiting, which affects the decisions of student-athletes to attend their chosen schools. In the Ed Martin investigation, it should be relevant that Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock were receiving “gratuities”, since the school’s success during their careers at Michigan directly impacts whether subsequent players, such as Lavelle Blanchard, would decide to go there.

The problem, though, is that Michigan has already been punished for those crimes; the school was on probation several years ago, and Steve Fisher, the coach at the time, was let go. The current investigation, as well as the criminal prosecution of Chris Webber, concerns events that took place going back to 1988. Webber himself left the school in 1993. While it may be appropriate to discredit the accomplishments of the Fab Five teams for what Webber allegedly received from Martin (and the school did forfeit the wins of that team, as well as striking their accomplishments from the record books), it is unfair to punish an individual today for the crimes of someone else a decade ago, when that person has received no advantage from those acts.

Fair point. I have no quibble with any of this, and I think we agree on the larger matter. Thanks, Steve!

BTW, Steve has his own lefty political blog that’s worth your time to check out as well.

The city council and the war, take 2

Last week I chastised the Houston City Council for taking time away from cleaning up its perilous finances (today’s cheery news is the possibility of unpaid furloughs for city workers and even fewer services for the city’s 100,000+ mentally ill folks) to discuss a resolution opposing an invasion of Iraq. While I am with them on the issue of invasion, I firmly believe that it’s not the City Council’s purpose to spend time on such questions.

The op-ed pages of today’s Chron are chock full of discussion on this topic. There’s an unsigned editorial that disagrees with me on the relevance of this issue for the Council:

Houston City Council Wednesday will consider two resolutions opposing precipitous war in Iraq. Foreign policy is not council’s bailiwick, but there is no harm and some virtue in using part of one council meeting to debate an issue that has captured most of the world’s attention.

The editorial goes on the specifically criticize some portions of Council member Carroll Robinson’s resolution. Robinson has his own op-ed piece which defends the Council’s position:

Elected officials at the local level must now be aware of the domestic threat level based on events happening all around the world in order to help ensure the safety and security of our residents and community’s infrastructure — from airports to seaports to water and sewer systems to tourist attractions and beyond.

[…]

Locally, I believe it is necessary to combine our police, fire, and health and human services departments into a new Public Safety Department to more effectively and efficiently respond to the new threats to our city’s safety.

What our nation does abroad now more than ever has life-and-death repercussions and consequences at home.

The discussions and decision about disarming Saddam Hussein are now as much a domestic as foreign affairs matter.

Decisions about the use of U.S. military forces and foreign aid throughout the world are now both domestic as well as foreign affairs matters.

How America is viewed in the world has consequences at home.

How we balance investing in domestic priorities such as funding first responders, universal health care, prescription drugs for seniors and education for our children against maintaining foreign military commitments is an issue that must be addressed by local elected officials. It impacts our constituents, our bottom line and our ability to improve homeland security.

These are just a few of the reasons why I believe that City Council now has a responsibility and obligation to share its thoughts and let its members’ voices be heard on what use to be considered solely foreign affairs issues.

His position, implied though not stated, is that the proposed invasion would increase the risk of domestic terrorism, not decrease it. That’s a position I share, though I’d argue that we’d get more bang for our buck on this issue by having our city lobbyists harangue the local Congressfolk and our Senators.

(Those of you who favor invasion, by the way, might note that if the focus had been strictly on containing Iraq’s nuclear capabilities, instead of getting bogged down in bogus al Qaeda allegations, Robinson’s argument would be essentially rendered moot. Another example, in my opinion, of the piss-poor job Team Bush has done in explaining the reason why we’re going down this path.)

Finally, there are six (count ’em) letters to the editor trashing the Council, not one in support. Given how far backward the Chron bends to try and present a “balanced” picture of such things, that’s a pretty strong statement.

Will the tide finally turn against electronic-only ballots?

Like many counties around the country, Santa Clara is getting ready to adopt electonic voting machines. Also like many of those counties, Santa Clara is getting warnings from computer security experts who say that machines which do not produce paper ballots are inherently unsecure and potentially subject to undetectable fraud. Unlike those other counties, the experts in Santa Clara may actually be taken seriously.

National experts on computer security have raised alarming questions elsewhere about the validity of elections run on touch-screen machines, which currently don’t produce a paper record a voter can use to check that the machine has recorded decisions accurately. But scientists didn’t get far until they spoke up late last month in the heart of Silicon Valley, where the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors delayed buying 5,000 ATM-like machines for 730,000 registered voters after hearing their concerns.

California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley followed up on the decision by convening a statewide task force on the security of touch-screen voting. And now, three voting machine vendors vying for Santa Clara County’s $20 million contract are saying they will install a paper audit system at no extra cost if the county becomes the first jurisdiction nationally to require it.

What the supervisors decide Tuesday, when they’re scheduled to adopt a new voting system, will ripple through other California counties and is likely to affect the overall move toward electronic voting, the most popular antidote to the hanging chad debacle of the 2000 presidential election.

“You’re at the beginning of what’s becoming the modern argument in voting systems,” said Kimball Brace, president of Washington, D.C.-based Election Data Services political consulting firm and an expert witness in former Vice President Al Gore’s court case to get a Florida recount in 2000. “What we have out in your jurisdiction is the first cut of people saying, ‘Wait a minute, shouldn’t you have a physical ballot in case there is a recount?’ It hasn’t come up elsewhere because a lot of people haven’t thought about it, or comprehended the need for it.”

The article goes on to quote my buddy Dan Wallach, who unsuccessfully raised these issues when the Houston city council was debating the eSlate machines that have since been implemented.

Other blogs such as Seeing the Forest and Ruminate This (see here and here) have been following this story a lot more closely, and I recommend you check them out.