October 18, 2013

Vikings move Harrison Smith to injured reserve list

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 14:58

Earlier today, the Minnesota Vikings announced that free safety Harrison Smith will be moved to the injured reserve list (but with the designated to return notation so he’s out for at least eight weeks, but not the whole season). Minnesota’s defence was already near the bottom of the league in all measurements even with Smith playing … Monday’s game is starting to look like a great opportunity for the Giants to regain something like their normal form.

In other Vikings news, Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press published an article today calling for the team to trade Adrian Peterson for a boatload of draft picks.

He’s wasting his prime here. And the Vikings need bulk, not one superstar player. So trading Peterson for enough components to jumpstart the team’s development is a sound strategy. It would be tremendously unpopular, of course. But it doesn’t make sense to keep Peterson around for what could be a drawn-out rebuilding process. The team already is a long ways off and likely will be without Jared Allen and Kevin Williams next season.


Trading Peterson should be seriously considered. It would be good for him and good for the Vikings. He’s out of place here, like a Rolex on the wrist of a hobo.

There are a few problems with this notion, not least of which is that Peterson is a huge fan favourite and it would look very bad for the team to trade him away. It’s also not clear how much of a haul in draft picks any team would be willing to give up for him, as few teams depend as much as the Vikings do on a dominant ground game.

Beyond that, there’s also the concern about what the team would do even if they did get a valuable set of draft picks in exchange for Peterson. This year, the team ended up with three first-round picks, all of whom were expected to contribute on the field.

  • Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is on the field relatively little: less than half as many snaps as Kevin Williams. Maybe it’s those tragically short arms holding him back.
  • Xavier Rhodes is playing more (he’s in the nickel package), but the team considers Josh Robinson a more valuable cornerback than Rhodes because Robinson is the starter over Rhodes. That’d be the same Robinson that comes in dead last among all starting cornerbacks in the league. The guy who has allowed nearly every pass thrown in his direction to be completed.
  • Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson also gets on the field for a token number of snaps per game, but less than any other receiver on the roster.

One has to assume that the coaching staff don’t consider any of the 2013 first-round draft picks to be worth playing much. Given all of that, what hope is there that getting a bunch of extra picks in exchange for reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson would work out any better?

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:04

My weekly Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. The October Halloween event, Blood and Madness is in full swing and there are lots of posts covering the new and updated content. There’s also the usual assortment of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and fan fiction from around the GW2 community. This week there’s a lot of fan fiction … must be something in the water in Lion’s Arch.

Newly discovered Homo erectus skulls may upset current evolutionary timeline

Filed under: Asia, History, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:57

I can’t improve on Joey DeVilla‘s introduction to this story: “I don’t think that the skull of homo erectus throws the story of evolution into disarray. However, I do know for a fact that SAYING ‘homo erectus’ in a high school classroom will most certainly put it in disarray.” Here’s the Guardian article by Ian Sample:

The spectacular fossilised skull of an ancient human ancestor that died nearly two million years ago in central Asia has forced scientists to rethink the story of early human evolution.

Anthropologists unearthed the skull at a site in Dmanisi, a small town in southern Georgia, where other remains of human ancestors, simple stone tools and long-extinct animals have been dated to 1.8m years old.

Experts believe the skull is one of the most important fossil finds to date, but it has proved as controversial as it is stunning. Analysis of the skull and other remains at Dmanisi suggests that scientists have been too ready to name separate species of human ancestors in Africa. Many of those species may now have to be wiped from the textbooks.

The latest fossil is the only intact skull ever found of a human ancestor that lived in the early Pleistocene, when our predecessors first walked out of Africa. The skull adds to a haul of bones recovered from Dmanisi that belong to five individuals, most likely an elderly male, two other adult males, a young female and a juvenile of unknown sex.


David Lordkipanidze at the Georgian National Museum, who leads the Dmanisi excavations, said: “If you found the Dmanisi skulls at isolated sites in Africa, some people would give them different species names. But one population can have all this variation. We are using five or six names, but they could all be from one lineage.”

If the scientists are right, it would trim the base of the human evolutionary tree and spell the end for names such as H rudolfensis, H gautengensis, H ergaster and possibly H habilis.

The fossil is described in the latest issue of Science.

“Some palaeontologists see minor differences in fossils and give them labels, and that has resulted in the family tree accumulating a lot of branches,” said White. “The Dmanisi fossils give us a new yardstick, and when you apply that yardstick to the African fossils, a lot of that extra wood in the tree is dead wood. It’s arm-waving.”

Peak America

Filed under: Economics, History, Media, USA, WW2 — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:42

In the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reviews the last few times we thought we’d reached “peak America” moments:

Those old enough to remember the 1929 crash on Wall Street and the US exit from the Gold Standard under Franklin Roosevelt — thin in numbers these days — will recall the pervading sense that America had already peaked, its capitalist model overtaken by history.

The Russian trade agency Amtorg in New York famously advertised for 6,000 skilled plumbers, chemists, electricians, and dentists, and suchlike, to work in the Soviet Union, then deemed the El Dorado of mankind, or the “moral top of the world where the light never really goes out”, in the words of Edmund Wilson. It is said that 100,000 showed up.

The commentariat went into overdrive, more or less writing off the United States. The Yale Review, Harpers, and The Atlantic all ran pieces debating the risk of imminent revolution.

Just 12 years later the US accounted for half of all global economic output and was military master of the West, literally running Japan and Germany as administrative regions.

Those a little younger — like me — who remember the impeachment of President Richard Nixon and the last American citizens being lifted by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975, will recall the ubiquitous claims that the US could never fully recover from what looked like a crushing defeat.

The Carter Malaise, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iran hostage humiliation all followed in quick succession, and seemed to seal the argument.

Oh, but this time it’s different because reasons. The sky really is falling! It’s the end! THE END!

Republicans and conservatives

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:18

In The Atlantic, Molly Ball looks at the split between the GOP establishment and the increasingly angry conservative base:

On his radio show recently, Glenn Beck urged his listeners to “defund the GOP.” Sarah Palin has threatened to leave the Republican Party; Rush Limbaugh calls it “irrelevant.” The Senate Conservatives Fund has targeted mainly incumbent Republican senators for defeat. Erick Erickson, one of the right’s most prominent commentators, wonders if what’s coming is “a real third party movement that will fully divide the Republican Party.”

Conservatives have declared war on the GOP.

Tired of feeling taken for granted by a party that alternately panders to them and sells them down the river, in their view, Tea Partiers and others on the right are in revolt. The Republican Party itself is increasingly the focus of their anger, particularly after Wednesday’s deal to reopen the government, which many on the right opposed. Now, many are threatening to take their business elsewhere.

“Conservatives are either going to split [from the GOP] or stay home,” Erickson, the influential editor of RedState.com and a Fox News contributor, told me. “They’ll first expend energy in primaries, but if unsuccessful, they’ll bolt.”

Erickson, a former Republican elected official in Georgia, stressed that he wasn’t advocating such a split, only foreseeing it. “I think the GOP is already splitting,” he said, with grassroots activists feeling “played” by elected officials’ unfulfilled promises to defeat Obamacare.

The calls for a split mark a new, more acrimonious chapter in the long-simmering conflict between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. Steve Deace, an Iowa-based talk-radio host, said his audience has never been angrier. “They’re tired of electing a bunch of Republicans who care more about what the media thinks about them than what the people who elected them think,” he told me. “Why do I care whether John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House? Why do I care whether Harry Reid or ‘Ditch’ McConnell is the Senate majority leader? What changes? Nothing changes.”

Of course, most of this is froth and fuming — they won’t split the party or form a new one. Why is that? It’s because the GOP and the Democrats have got the system rigged so that only those two parties ever have a real chance at getting candidates elected to state or federal office. In some states, third parties have to petition for ballot access every election for every individual candidate. This doesn’t sound too unreasonable, except the threshold for gathering signatures is incredibly high in many cases (or time-limited, or rigged in other ways), so that without an active, fully staffed party organization only the top few positions can be realistically contested. Only GOP and Democratic candidates are included in polls, debates, and other electoral events covered by the media, so as little “oxygen” as possible is given to outsiders, independents, and third party candidates. Stories like this recent one in Reason happen just about every year in most states.

Having done their part to make the existing duopoly the only game in town, the conservative faction of the Republican party may gripe all they want, but they’re not seriously going anywhere.

QotD: The hidden problem with regulating prescription drug prices

[W]hen negotiating with other governments, pharmaceutical companies operate at a severe disadvantage, not because the governments’ buying power is so vast (the national health-care systems of Canada and many European countries cover fewer people than Aetna), but because the people you’re negotiating with can change the rules under which your product gets sold. At any point they can say, like Lord Vader, “I am altering the deal. Pray that I do not alter it any further.”

But if Canada started paying more, that wouldn’t mean we’d pay less. Drug companies are charging what they think we will pay. The result of Canadians and Europeans paying less is not that we pay more for drugs; it’s that fewer drugs get developed. To the extent that they are harming us, it is in hindering the development of cures or better treatments that we are missing, and don’t even know about.

Unfortunately, this is a classic case of Bastiat’s dilemma. It is easy for each country’s government to see the high prices that people are paying and intervene to lower them. It is hard for each country’s government, much less its citizens, to envision the new medical treatments that they might get if they paid more for drugs. So their incentives are heavily skewed toward controlling the price here and now, even if that means losing future cures.

Drug development is essentially a giant international collective-action problem. The U.S. has kept it from being a total disaster because we don’t have good centralized control of our insurance market, and our political system is pretty disorganized and easy to lobby. If that changes — and maybe we just changed it! — we’ll knock down the prices of drugs to near the marginal cost using government fiat, and I expect that innovation in this sector will grind to a halt. Stuff will still be coming out of academic labs, but no one is going to take those promising targets and turn them into actual drugs.

Megan McArdle, “U.S. Consumers Foot the Bill for Cheap Drugs in Europe and Canada”, Bloomberg, 2013-10-14

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