Archive for March, 2008

Teenage Suicide … Don’t Do It

Monday, March 17th, 2008

You know that explosion of teenagers offing themselves? Uh, like, no. Suicide rates peak for people in their 80’s — when people are old enough to have lived their lives but not so old they can’t work a gun any longer.

I’m actually surprised as my only suicidal thoughts were during high school. Any teen killing himself is a tragedy, obviously, and the problem is not to be taken lightly. It’s not just tragic, it’s stupid. High school was the worst period of my life. But I’ve had so many wonderful experiences since then (one of whom is grabbing at my arm while I type this).

An Ode to March Madness

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

I’m generally not a basketball guy. I enjoy the odd pickup game, even though I suck-diddly-uck. I’ll pay attention to the playoffs if the Spurs are involved. But for the most part, I pay as much attention to basketball as NASCAR. It just doesn’t do it for me. I’m reminded of a takeoff a Sidney Lanier poem, reprinted by the immortal Lewis Grizzard:

Down through the hills of Habersham

Into the valleys of Hall

Every son of a bitch and his sister

Is bouncing a goddamn ball.

(Aside: some people in high school nicknamed me Sidney Lanier because they liked my poetry.)

So I’m not a basketball fan, generally. But oh, how I love March Madness. Why?

  • The symmetry. I love mathematics. The power of 2 structure of the NCAA tourney — the four within four within four cusping of its brackets appeals to that part of my mind that makes sure all of my books are in alphabetical order, by subject, on my bookshelves. That part that will write little programs to analyze Retrosheet to look at game scores.
  • The brackets. The embodiment of the NCAA tourney’s fearful symmetry. I could play with brackets all day long, watching the ebb and flow of each team. When the tourney starts, there are tens of millions of brackets in America, all perfect, all potentially able to predict the precise flow of wins and losses. By the time its over, most of the brackets are in flames, a sea of red lines. It’s like being able to visualize a fan’s broken heart.
  • The odds. It seems so easy when the tournament starts. Just six wins and you’re the champ. But there is no tougher stretch of games in sports. A team can be the best in the country but fail because of one lousy game or one player going crazy for the other side. A team can make the tournament ten years in a row but be considered a failure because they haven’t quite threaded the needle just the right way.
  • The cinderellas. I can still remember Valparaiso’s run in 1998. Or George Mason a couple of years ago. Or Gonzaga seemingly every year. We can always count on at least one team going wild, playing out of their minds for a week and dashing the hopes of big fat favorites. It’s lovely, even when it happens to a team I’ve picked.
  • The Last of the Titans

    Friday, March 14th, 2008

    There’s a nice little piece over at the NYT on the 20 or so remaining World War I veterans.

    These men fascinate me. I can’t imagine what it was like for them back in, say, 1917, when they were watching their friends and comrades get slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands. Just imagine not only surviving that horror but hanging on for another 90 years. What an awesome responsibility.

    Thursday Linkorama

    Thursday, March 13th, 2008
  • Fresh off their triumphant cleaning up of baseball, our Congress is investigating CEO pay at mortgage companies. Stand by for hearings about people not listening to their parents.
  • Fifty weird science facts. Actually. Most of these aren’t terribly shocking.
  • Is locking up cold medicine reducing meth consumption? Nope.
  • Fifty most influential blogs. I think this one comes in #6,321,438th.
  • BP Goes Mainstream

    Thursday, March 13th, 2008

    Baseball Prospectus, which I have been reading since 1997, has made it big time. Jay Leno used the book in a joke.

    Faith and Stars

    Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

    One of Sully’s readers:

    Why is astrology any less respectable than religious belief? Believers in both suspend reason to help explain the randomness of human existence.

    The reason that astrology is less respectable than faith is that astrology is not a religion and doesn’t claim to be. Astrologers claim that what they do is science. They have charts. The look at planets. They claim to make predictions based on the positions of heavenly objects. They claim that someone’s personality is determined by what time of the year he is born (never mind that they have not corrected for the precession of the equinoxes and so all their astrological signs are one month off). But in the end, it is a sham. Astrologers either make prognostications that are deliberately vague. Or, for personal readings, they perform what amounts to a cold reading.

    It possible, in fact very easy, to disprove astrology. It’s so easy, in fact, that Penn and Teller have yet to devote an episode to it. Faith is far more difficult. It is wrapped in the general and possibly unknowable mystery of who we are and why we are here. Faith attempts to answer those questions but — with the exception of deluded ID people — it doesn’t claim to have scientific proof. It asks for belief.

    There is also, I would add, more evidence supporting the tenets of Judeo-Christian faith than astrology. There was a nation of Israel. Many traditions described within are supported by contemporaneous external accounts. There is ample evidence that there was such a person as Jesus Christ. That the history of the region was determined by God, that Jesus was the Messiah, that there is an afterlife — these are matters of faith and belief.

    There has never been, in 2000 years, any evidence that astrology is based on anything other than shamanism.

    Fed Strikes Back

    Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

    I have to admit, the Fed loan of $200 billion to banks confuses me. Fortunately, McCardle is there to explain it to us non-economists.

    What’s happening to the credit markets is a little akin to a bank run. The underlying conditions may be somewhat shaky, but what’s really screwing things up is that everyone’s trying to run for the exits–or just play possum–at once.

    So this is the equivalent of the Fed slapping people and telling them to come to their senses — some mortgage-backed securities are good investments.

    Boy, James Surowiecki must be loving this.

    Mike’s Iron Law of Pretension

    Sunday, March 9th, 2008

    Anyone who refers to himself as a “raconteur” needs to be punched in the face. Repeatedly.

    Getting Them Early

    Saturday, March 8th, 2008

    We let my daughter watch one hour of Sesame Street every morning. She loves it, especially when they start talking Abby Cababby.

    So this morning, there’s no Sesame Street. It’s a weekend. She goes up to the TV and start banging on it and whining. Fortunately, Sue had DVR’d an episode.

    Nine months old and she’s already a couch potato.

    Look Out Below

    Friday, March 7th, 2008

    I am very acrophobic. Which is, i guess, why this fascinates me.

    Grasping At Plates

    Friday, March 7th, 2008

    Boortz was going off today about how global warmers can’t see the big picture (the permalink on his Nuze is busted). Seems he found an article about how plate tectonics will drop the ocean levels by about 500 feet over the next 80 million years. So there’s nothing to fear from ocean level rise!

    Um, yeah, Neal. I’m sure the 200th of an inch drop in the next century will more than counter the 4-30 inches of ocean rise IPCC is predicting.

    Primary Night Linnnkorama

    Tuesday, March 4th, 2008
  • Uh-huh. The Democrats are the party of clean government. Keep drinking.
  • Tom Hayden wishes Vietnam were poorer. What an idiot.
  • The WaPo finally figures out that the middle class is doing well. Geez, WaPo. It’s only like we’ve been saying this for years.
  • Read a book that mentions the Klan? Get hammered by your employer. Apparently, even mentioning this country’s racist past is a hate crime.
  • Utterly shameful. Visas denied to Iraqi translators.
  • A fascinating look at the state of climate skepticism. It’s not over yet.
  • 3:10

    Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

    Just watched the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, which is a very good western. One thing that’s nice is the ending. A lesser movie would have been more talky, with the characters either stating their motives openly or some hillbilly in a hat saying to the “what happened?” kid, “Well, son, I reckon he just thought…”

    The movie is well-written and well-acted enough that it can have a dramatic and unexpected ending without any explanations necessary.

    I hope one day to be able to write scenes that subtle.

    Ethanol Comes Home

    Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

    The price of my soft drinks has gone up significantly in the last month. Is it because of that stupid asinine ethanol crap?