Archive for January, 2008

JoePo

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Just added Joe Posnanski’s blog to the roll. I just discovered it and it fantastic. Joe writes brilliant analysis every day.

By coincidence, I happen to be reading his Soul of Baseball right now. It’s good, but mainly because Buck O’Neill was such a great man.

Bucket of Excrement

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Apparently, The Bucket List is a dreadful movie. Joe Posnanski talks about the collapse of Rob Reiner’s career here.

I got a break in the blogosphere by attacking Roger Ebert’s review of Sicko, but I attacked it because I like him as a critic, especially when he says things like this.

‘ve never had chemo, as Edward and Carter must endure, but I have had cancer, and believe me, during convalescence after surgery the last item on your bucket list is climbing a Himalaya. Your list is more likely to be topped by keeping down a full meal, having a triumphant bowel movement, keeping your energy up in the afternoon, letting your loved ones know you love them, and convincing the doc your reports of pain are real and not merely disguising your desire to become a drug addict. To be sure, the movie includes plenty of details about discomfort in the toilet, but they’re put on hold once the trots are replaced by the globe-trotting.

I hate the cliche of movie cancer.

Observational Linkorama

Friday, January 11th, 2008
  • You want to know why healthcare has problems in this country? Stuff like this. A researcher develops a checklist to reduce hospital infections. But he has to with-hold because of privacy concerns (which do not apply to a study like this).
  • Boy that War on Terror is going well. A couple is banned for life for taking pictures of their kids.
  • Did Giuliani really reduce crime in NYC? The whole country was seeing an improvement. I agree that Giuliani gets a bit too much credit for the improvement in Gotham. But he was an intrinsic part of the national push that reduced crime, engaging in the policies that everyone else was using.
  • Copyright violations apparently only work one way. I’m waiting for my daughter’s smiling face to appear on a diaper ad.
  • No, Virginia, They are Not Better Than Us

    Thursday, January 10th, 2008

    Talk about BS studies, this one claims that Britain now has a higher standard of living than the US, since the falling dollar has raised Britain’s per capita above America’s. The devil is in the details, however:

    The Oxford analysts also point out that Americans benefit from lower prices than those in Britain. With an adjustment made for this “purchasing power parity”, the average American has more spending power than his UK counterpart and pays lower taxes. (In the run-up to Christmas many Britons travelled to New York and other American cities to take advantage of the strength of sterling against the dollar and those lower prices.)

    However, the British typically have significantly longer holidays than Americans as well as access to “free” healthcare.

    The figures may be of small comfort to Britons worried about house prices and facing a severe squeeze on their incomes this year as a result of record petrol prices and rising energy bills.

    Citigroup, which was the most accurate forecaster of Britain’s economy last year, predicts the slowest rise in consumer spending this year since 1992.

    Doh!

    Comparisons

    Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

    Fire Joe Morgan has been doing a bang up job tearing apart the HOF rationalizations of various writers. I thought I’d point out something. A lot of ignorant writers are comparing Bert Blyleven unfavorable to Jack Morris, saying that Morris was a dominant pitcher while Blyleven racked up impressive totals thanks to a long but mediocre career. This is, like most things SMTs say, the complete opposite of the truth.

    Courtesy of baseball reference, here are Morris’s *career* highs combined to a theoretical single best year:

    21-8, 293 2/3 IP, 20 CG, 6 SHO, 232 K, 3.05 ERA 133 ERA+

    ERA+ is a comparison of ERA to the league, to account for varying offense levels. So if you combined the best years of Morris’s career into one uber year, he was 21-8, 3.05, 33 percent better than the rest of the league.

    Bert Blyleven had *ten years* in his career that were as good or better, except in the W-L column. Innings pitches, ERA, ERA+, strikeouts, whatever you want. There were ten years were Bert Blyleven was a better pitcher than Jack Morris on the best year of his life.

    Light Blogging

    Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

    Man, I’m tired. I got in my car yesterday at 11 am, got to the observatory, stepped into the dome and observed all night until 8 am. That 21 hours of work in a row for someone being paid for 20 a week. And the weather forecast is that I’ve got seven more clear 14 hour nights ahead of me.

    So, yeah, I may not be updating this page very much for the next week. I’m still posting at Right-Thinking, though.

    Doctor Who: Labor Candidate

    Saturday, January 5th, 2008

    I’m not surprised.

    #1 Failings

    Saturday, January 5th, 2008

    Gregg Easterbrook probably said one of the dumbest things in his distinguished career as TMQ when he pointed out that no player who has led the league in passing yards has gone on to win the superbowl.

    Ahem.

    Last year, Peyton Manning won the superbowl. He finished 2nd in passing yards by 21 yards (and led the league in passer rating).

    In 2005, Ben Roethlisberger was 3rd in passer rating.

    I’ll just go year by year. how about that? I’ll list championship quarterback and rank in yards and rating where they placed in the top 10.

    2004 – Tom Brady – 6th/10th
    2003 – Tom Brady – 6th/9th
    2002 – Brad Johnson – 8th/3rd
    1999 – Kurt Warner – 2nd/1st
    1997 – John Elway – 6th/7th
    1996 – Brett Favre – 4th/2nd
    1994 – Steve Young – 4th/1st
    1993 – Troy Aikman – 10th/2nd
    1992 – Troy Aikman – 4th/3rd
    1991 – Mark Rypien – 2nd/2nd
    1989 – Joe Montana – 4th/1st
    1988 – Joe Montana – 8th/6th

    You get the point. In a lot of those years, the superbowl champ had a QB that placed high on QB efficiency but not in the top 10 in yards. The reason is the same reason that it’s rare for a league leader in passing to win the superbowl — great teams tend to be running the ball and burning the clock late in games. Running up the score the way the Patriots do is kind of rare. The numbers are also distorted because some of the most prolific passers in NFL history — Warren Moon, Dan Marino and Dan Fouts — spent their careers dragging mediocre teams to the playoffs. They were one-dimensional. The Patriots aren’t.

    Having a great QB is key to winning a superbowl. Gregg Easterbrook knows this.

    Attacking the Fair Tax: Bartlett

    Friday, January 4th, 2008

    Someone sent me this PDF file of Bruce Bartlett tearing apart the Fair Tax. Unfortunately, he still includes a footnote on scientology. But it’s worth a read.

    This idea sounds dumber and dumber every day.

    Whither Smith

    Friday, January 4th, 2008

    The fantasy idiots are coming out with their “biggest disappointments of 2007″ lists, tops of which is Steve Smith.

    Ahem..

    2002 – 54 catches, 872 yards, 3 TD
    2003 – 88 catches, 1110 yards, 7 YD
    2004 – injured, only played one game
    2005 – 103 catches, 1563 yards, 12 TD
    2006 – 83 catches, 1166 yards, 8 TD
    2007 – 87 catches, 1002 yards, 7 TD

    2005 was the outlier, not 2007.

    A>B, B>C; A>C?

    Friday, January 4th, 2008

    One of things I hammer on sometimes is that there is no such thing as a transitive property in football. We’re hearing a lot of this while the Bowls wind down. And it’s garbage.

    The argument goes like this: Team A beat Team B; Team B beat Team C; therefore Team A is better than Team C. To put a face on it, I heard Mike Tirrico arguing that since Mizzou whomped Arkansas and Arkansas beat LSU, that must mean the SEC sucks and Mizzou should be a title contender (this was obviously before the Big 12 champ got dismantled by West Virginia). Another example was someone who claimed USC belongs in the championship because they beat Illinois and Illinois beat Ohio State.

    The problem with this is that:

  • Using the transitive property ends up with silly results. Based on the transitive property, I know have to assume that Pittsburgh, lowly 5-7 Pittsburgh, would dominate the Big 12. After all, they beat West Virginia in a must-win game. And West Virginia crushed Big 12 Champ Oklahoma. All hail Pittsburgh, the best team in the country!
  • You often wind up going in circles. Tennessee beat Kentucky. Kentucky beat LSU. LSU beat … Tennessee. So who is the best of those three teams? The only way out is to not get hung up on a single game and consider the entire body of work.
  • And that brings me to my most important point. A team’s performance can vary dramatically from game to game. A few years ago, I looked at Sagarin’s system, which assigns each team a numeric value and claims to predict margin of victory based on the difference between the numbers. So if LSU is 95 and Georgia is 87, LSU should beat Georgia on a neutral field by 8 points.

    I found that team performance varied by an average of 7 points from the numerical values. In other words, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Oklahoma (Sagarin’s current #1) lost to UConn. Sagarin’s system can give you a probability (if he chose to run it that way). But a certainty? No sir. Not with the way football works in the real world.

    The point is this: it is foolish to base your opinion of a team on a single game. On College Gameday, they were going on about how USC can’t be the best team in the country because they lost to Stanford. But flukes happen. If USC plays Standford ten times, they beat them nine times. But the game only happens once in reality. And sometimes, reality lies. Sometimes, a team has a bad day. Sometimes, a team is really motivated (think Michigan two days ago). Sometimes a field goal drifts wide or a fumble bounces into the wrong guy’s arms or the pass is dropped. Shit happens. It’s why football is so fun to watch.

  • Even if you could assign each team some objective measure of quality, it still wouldn’t be precise enough to evaluate how two teams match up. Football is all about matchups. A lousy team can beat a better team because they are able to exploit their weakness. Let’s pretend that a lowly 3-8 team sucked at everything but passing while a high-flying 8-3 team excelled at everything but pass defense. Put them on the field and the 3-8 team has a good chance at an upset. Not because they are better but because the matchup favors the underdog.

    Concrete Example: Weeks ago, Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders predicted that the Giants would be the toughest test for the Patriots down the stretch. Not because they were a great team but because their strength — pass rush and defensive line play — was a problem for New England.

    Mizzou found that Arkansas’ power rush defense was terrible and exploited it for a record-setting game. that proves Mizzou can beat Arkansas. They still lost to Oklahoma. Twice.

  • When it comes to picking a national champ, you want a team that can do everything. A team that’s good on both sides of the ball, has speed, brawn and brains. Can stop anything. Can score in any fashion. There’s probably no team like that in college football right now. There rarely is. So what do you do when you can’t pick out two teams that can do it all, that clearly stand out from the pack?

    Well, a playoff might be a good idea.

  • Year in Review

    Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

    Why should I review the year when Dave Barry does it so much better?

    Predictions for 2008

    Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

    2007 was a good year, as far as I’m concerned. My Braves and Packers had good years. The Bulldogs were fantastic. Gridlock reigned in Washington while hope began to appear in Iraq. Despite mortgage collapses and oil, the economy kept going.

    Really, any year that humanity manages to stumble through and still be intact is a good one. We had problems in Burma and Kenya and Iraq and the Sudan. But things are still better than they’ve ever been. And hope spring eternal.

    For me, personally, it was the best year of my life. For one reason — I became a dad. Abby is highlight of my life so far. I’m on the brink of being out of astronomy — I’m about to go to 20 hours pay for 40+ hours work because my grants are almost exhausted. But she makes everything better.

    My 2007 and 2006 predictions are beyond the spam event horizon. So I can’t review those. But here are my bold predictions for 2008 (Note: I wrote this before Obama’s triumph in Iowa). I’m in a hopeful optimistic mood right now. I don’t know why.

  • I’ll go ahead and say it — Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States. My brain tells me that Hillary will find a way to win — the Clintons are so ruthless and determined and they pull all the strings. An Iowa win rarely translates to a national win and Hillary still leads the nation by a long shot.

    But you know what? I’d rather be wrong on Obama than right on Hillary.

  • The Patriots will complete the inevitable; LSU will beat Ohio State — barely; and — since I do this every year no matter what — the Braves will win the World Series.
  • Some movie this year will be a classic but the year will be a financial disaster for Hollywood. James Berardinelli broke down the movies this year. I think he’s a bit pessimistic but this could be yet another “fluke” that shows Hollywood is losing their audience.

    In terms of quality, however, I feel a good year coming on. Let’s just hope Crystal Skull doesn’t disappoint.

  • We will begin a slow withdrawal from Iraq. The fragile calm we’ve created will bend, but not break. A year from now, the violence will be, at worst, up slightly. This goes double if we elect someone like McCain or Obama.
  • I’ll get a job in astronomy.
  • Oil prices will finally begin to ease off, slightly. The massive profits of the last few years will result in more drilling and refining and an easing up. I don’t think we’ll ever see the days of sub $50/bl return. The world demand is just too high.
  • TV will continue to suck. 24 lost me last year — I stopped watching halfway through. BSG looks like it will end well, at least. But I have very little interest in anything that comes across the small screen these days.
  • Cheerleaders and Ratings

    Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

    I’ll update this as the day goes on:

  • Sports announcers are so dumb. I was just watching Michigan-Florida and a Michigan player took a screen pass and, with tacklers all over, turned around, ran backward, then across the field and got 23 yards. The announcers shouted about what a great play it was.

    It was not. It was a stupid play that got lucky. Nine times out of ten he’s dropped for a bigger loss than if he’d just tried to advance the ball. One of the things that drives me crazy is watching running backs and screen receivers trying to dance and reverse field only to lose lots of yardage. It is incredibly stupid and almost always hurts their team. But when it comes up with the occasional big advance, the cheerleaders in the press box jump up and down about what a great play it was.

    He got 23 yards because Michigan blocked well and Florida over-pursued. Against a good defense, he would have been dropped for a ten yard loss.

  • I think Mizzou, by shellacking Arkansas, just showed why they, not Kansas, should have gotten the BCS bid.
  • As I said last year, the Bowl Challenge Cup, which rewards the conference that does the best in the bowls, is incredibly stupid. It basically gives it to the conference that has best winning percentage with three or more bowls. This year, the Mountain West will take it by virtue of winning the Poinsetta, Texas, Las Vegas and New Mexico bowls. Woo-hoo. Last year, I put forward a system that gave each conference 2 points for a bowl 1, -1 points for a bowl loss and 3 points for a BCS bowl win. This is just off the top of my head and is a MUCH better system. I’ll post the standing after tonight’s games.
  • Tim Tebow deserved the Heisman. To win with that terrible defense and O-line is remarkable.
  • One of the things that concerns me with Georgia is bad sportsmanship. They’re up by 31 and still playing hard. But that last personal foul was uncalled for. And going for it on 4th and 5? Mark Richt was smart to give his players more leeway, but he has to strike a better balance of discipline and sportsmanship our this team will sink to Miami levels of nastiness.