Cowardice In Review

Earlier this year, I dinged ESPN’s experts for making lame and unimaginative picks for the NFL season. I pointed out that they basically picked the same teams to make the playoffs this year that made it last year whereas only half of playoffs teams repeat from year to year. If you’re going to be wrong, at least be wrong with some style. As stupid as picking Cleveland to win the AFC would have been, at least it would have been entertaining. Picking Dallas to win the NFC — as most did — was both wrong and boring.

Let’s see how they did with their ultra-safe conservative picks.

They unanimously picked New England to win the AFC East. Had Brady not gotten injured, they probably would have been right. The Pats just missed.

Twelve picked Pittsburgh to win the AFC north. Right again. Four picked Cleveland which was … um … really wrong.

Ten picked Indy to take the AFC south with six taking Jacksonville. Indy was a wild card, so I’ll give them points for that. Jacksonville was a dreadful disappointment.

Everyone picked San Diego to repeat as AFC West champ. They were right but barely.

Only 5 out of 16 analysts picked Tennessee to even make the playoffs. Not one picked Baltimore or Miami. Excluding the Ravens and Dolphins seemed quite reasonable four months ago. But the reason analysts are paid money, supposedly, is to see the things that we ordinary clods don’t. Not one analyst looked at Parcell’s record or Baltimore’s defense and said, “Hey! Here’s a crazy tought…!

But so far, so good. The analysts correctly picked SD, Indy and Pitt to make the playoffs and some of them had Tennessee. I’ll cut some slack for not getting the division and wild car winners just right. Let’s give the analysts 3.5 out of 6 picks correct.

Now we get to the NFC, where it gets really fun.

Fourteen analysts picked Dallas to win the NFC East. In fact, Dallas was touted at the beginning of the season as the probable Super Bowl winner. Dallas melted down in a game Greg Easterbrook called the worst he’d ever seen. Injuries played their part but egos played a bigger and foreseeable one. Their collapse should have been especially obvious to those with insider information like, um, paid analysts.

The analysts split the NFC North between Green Bay and Minnesota. Half-right.

The NFC South was given to New Orleans on 15 ballots. Eeesh.

The NFC West was given to Seattle on 14 ballots. Oops. I chided two analysts for picking Arizona to win that division. So that’s me being dumb.

Of the six NFC playoff teams, Philadelphia and New York got a lot of picks as wild cards, Arizona and Carolina got three picks, Atlanta got none. We’ll count Philly and New York as correct picks by the analysts. With half-credit for tapping Minnesota to take the NFC North, that’s 2.5 out of 6 picks right for the analysts.

In other words, they got 6/12 picks right. The breakdown, just counting correctly called playoff teams — without any distinction between wild card and division winners — reveals the tremendous groupthink that dominated ESPN’s preseason picks:

Chadiha: 6/12
Clayton: 6/12
Graham: 4/12
Green: 4/12
Joyner: 6/12
Kuharsky: 6/12
Mosley: 6/12
Paolantonio: 5/12
Pasquarelli: 6/12 (bet he boasts about picking Arizona!)
Sando: 7/12
Seifert: 6/12
Walker: 5/12
Wickersham: 3/12 (that’s what you get for being bold, I guess)
Williamson: 6/12
Williamson II: 4/12
Yasinskas: 6/12

I praised Wickersham for making his picks interesting. But I wouldn’t be too embarrassed if I were him. The guys who went conventional didn’t do much better.

I’ll spare the analysts the embarrassment of reviewing their Super Bowl picks. Wait a minute, no I won’t:

NFC Champ: Dallas (12), New Orleans (2), Philly (1), Seattle (1)
AFC Champ: San Diego (8), New England (5), Indy (2), Jacksonville (1)

Not one analyst got even one conference champ right. Mike Sando, who got 7/12 picks right, was the only one to even pick a team that made the conference title game. In fact, he was the only analyst to pick, as NFC champ, a team that even made the playoffs.

Now, my picks weren’t much better. I got 3/12 right, taking dives on Jacksonville, Cleveland, Green Bay, Seattle, Dallas and New Orleans. That’s what I get for reading everybody else’s picks before I make mine.

But I’m not paid to do this. I don’t have exclusive insider information. I don’t live and breath football. These guys do.

I don’t mean to pick on ESPN’s analysts, really. I just think the whole exercise of predicting the season is silly. And, given the perfunctory way the analysts seem to approach this exercise, I think they know how dumb it is.

Previewing the season is another thing entirely. If someone writes an article that talks about what team they think will win the NFC, what teams could play spoiler, what teams could be dark horses — and explains their reasoning — that’s fun and interesting. That’s why I buy Football Prospectus ever year. So I know what to look for.

But these long tables of picks that ESPN loves to run — in all sports — are just boring. No analysis. No insight. Just conservative picks that are about as good as throwing darts at a board. When Dallas was tapped by 12 of 16 experts to make the Super Bowl, that made them no more or less likely to actually do it. So what’s the point?

Kids In The Factory

I have to credit to a liberal when he acknowledges reality:

Nicholas Kristof writes a depressing column about Cambodian kids who spend their days picking through giant heaps of garbage seeking usable scraps and dreaming of the day when they might be able to work in a sweatshop. I think it’s wrong to say that all consideration of international labor standards is merely aimed at keeping people stuck on the trash heap, but it’s a valuable reminder about the generally limited ability of just saying “no” to things to accomplish what people want. Part of the reason sweatshops exist and attract laborers is that life on the garbage heap is even worse, as is the life of a third world subsistence farmer. If you want to improve things, you need to actually be expanding the set of feasible options, not just arbitrarily closing down one path. And this happens in a variety of fields. Some neighborhoods in DC seem to have the idea that if they put tight restrictions on opening new chain stores or bars and restaurants that this will magically conjure up a diverse mom-and-pop economy. In practice, you get empty storefronts; crowded, mediocre bars and restaurants; and people driving to chain stores in the suburbs.

In both cases, there’s nothing wrong with the objective. But it’s a mistake to think that purely by vetoing stuff you can force the kind of positive action you want. To raise actual labor conditions in the third world, we need to create more prosperity and more economic opportunity not just say “no” to particular forms of bad conditions.

This is the argument that libertarians have been making for decades. My particular favorite lesson on this subject was when the libs got children banned from the textile industry in Bangladesh. The children went back to the sex trade.


The dramatic crash into the Hudson today (about which I wrote at Right Thinking) got me to this article in Time about survival, panic and Rick Rescorla. A must-read.

The most dramatic thing that jumps out is that people respond better to crisis with training. For example, all those fire drills you did in school actually do result in better responses to real-life fires. In the absence of prior knowledge or training, people tend to freeze.

I’ve read similar about the Holocaust, how Jews would just stand there and get shot or walk calmly into gas chambers because they simply had no mental apparatus for dealing with what was happening to them.

When I get on a plane, I actually look around for an exit and think about what I’ll do if there is a crash. I think I’ll be doing that a little more seriously from now on.

And doing fire drills when the family gets older.


Youtube strips the audio from any video that might have copyright violations. This is getting ridiculous. I would hope that Obama would revise the laws regarding fair use. But given that he recently appointed the RIAA’s hand-picked lawyer to the Justice Department, I’m not optimistic.

Update: As pointed out at Reason, this essentially bans rick-rolling.


Slate lists the top 25. I drives me nuts when Bush’s defenders — his few remaining defenders — claim that he’s a good president but a bad public speaker.

Effective communication is part of the job description, guys. Reagan was able to advance a conservative agenda, in part, because he could persuade the American people to support it.

Well, that and he wasn’t a unprincipled shill only interested in defeating the other party.

Monday Night Linkorama

  • George Bush dissuaded Israel from bombing Iran. For once, I’m impressed with the President. As such, I don’t believe the story. NPR’s been full of it before.
  • A must-read on the President’s economic legacy. I’ve run out of words for how much he has disappointed me. If you’d told me in 2000 that a Republican President and Congress would create a lost economic decade, I wouldn’t have believed you.
  • Trust Obama to want to eliminate the one part of Medicare that actually works. That Stephanopolous interview was a disaster — an uncharacteristic burst of stupidity form the President Elect.
  • Yglesis isn’t good at analogies is he?
  • Our nation’s pension funds are about to collapse. I remind you that some in the Democratic Party want us to cash out our 401k’s for these dubious vehicles. This is why, at every job I’ve had, I’ve taken the defined contribution rather than defined benefit.
  • Managing The Revolution

    Sullivan made this point last week:

    What we have learned is that once Islamists actually wield power, their popularity collapses. Religious fanatics do not know how to run countries; their real interests lie elsewhere (you can apply that on a much lesser scale, of course, to the competence of the Bush administration). The place where Shiite Jihadism is least popular? Iran. And remember how al Qaeda managed to turn off the Jordanians after various atrocities; and how they lost the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis (with the brilliant and brave help of US troops) – after the Bush administration unwittingly gave them a lease of life in that country?

    Now: if you’re a rational kind of person you might deduce from this that containing Islamism and letting it collapse under its own insanity is certainly a viable policy, given the unsavory alternatives. You might at least consider that taking the bait from these guys and reigniting religious wars might actually be giving them the oxygen they need.

    Once again, I am struck by the parallel between Islamism and communism. The communists were all sexy and revolutionary when they were guerillas. The second they got into power, their ideology failed. Look at the Khmer Rouge. Or Mao. Or the Hollywood worship of Che Guevara and Casto vs. the reality of Cuba.

    There are times when we have to fight, however. We couldn’t tolerate Communist incursion in central America. We had to bulk up our military in Europe to prevent a Soviet invasion. We funded guerillas in Afghanistan — eventually producing the Taliban as a side effect.

    The current war differs from the last in that the enemy has no compunction about attacking us with small cells of maniacs. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go to war with every terrorist coddler out there. But it does mean we have to be more pro-active.

    Snowfall Linkorama

    As the snow comes down here in lovely PA, I find myself reading the following:

  • A response to Arianna Huffington’s nonsense. Anyone who thinks the mortgage meltdown was a result of a runaway free market hasn’t done their homework. The Bush Republicans don’t believe in a free market any more than Fidel Casto does.
  • A brilliant article on Bush’s legacy:

    Bush leaves to his successor two unfinished wars, Osama bin Laden living in an unstable Pakistan, a U.S. reputation soiled by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and torture, a deep recession and what is sure to be the first $1 trillion-plus deficit. In short, a gigantic mess, all the bigger for the peace, prosperity and black ink he inherited.

    Bush both grew the government and gave laissez-faire a bad name, overseeing a rash of corporate scandals in 2002 and the housing meltdown. The financial wreckage has many fathers, but Bush, the first MBA president, stands among them, failing to restrain the liquidity bubble as it ballooned and asking for $700 billion to rescue banks as it burst. The GOP is fractured and adrift.

    “Bush has really destroyed small-government conservatism,” said David Boaz, vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute.

    Read the whole thing.

  • The wonders of socialism. You can get extended sick leave for a broken heart. I wonder if I could get off because I’m disappointed Doctor Who is in reruns.
  • Are we living Atlas Shrugged? Sure seems like it sometimes.
  • Is it wrong that I like this?