Tooting My Own Horn

Everyone is debating the appropriateness of Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General and his spat with Michael Moore is in the headlines. I defended Gupta over at Moorewatch, but he was debating minutia with Michael Moore rather than going after the bigger lie, which was claiming that healthcare in Cuba was as good as that in the US.

Over at Moorewatch, I wrote a long post using Moore’s own data to show that this was garbage. The number he used was a “bang for buck” number which ranked the US and Cuba nearly equal because Cuba’s horrid healthcare is cheap and our good healthcare is very expensive. In terms of healthcare quality, we ranked #1 in the WHO survey while Cuba ranked #115.


So, as with last year, I’ll give the results of my Bowl Championship points system. I created this a couple of years ago as a response to (then) Cooper Tire’s Bowl Championship Cup. The Cup was given out to the conference that did the best in the bowl season. But it was given out for the best winning percentage with three or more games. So one year, the Mountain West went 2-1 and won the cup. Wahoo.

The system I created works like so: Each conference gets two points for a bowl win, an extra point for a BCS bowl win and loses a point for a bowl loss. So it rewards conferences that are both in a lot of bowls and do well in them. Yes, it favors the major conferences. But it should favor them as they usually have far more depth than the mid-majors (look carefully at the bottom of the Mountain West before you claim they’re as good as, say, the Big 10). The system is fair, I think, because it mostly favors the top conferences but a mid-major can win if they have a really great season.

I’ve now run the series back to the first year of the BCS (1998). Here are the results:

1998-1999: Both systems favor the Big 10, which went 5-0 with two BCS wins.

1999-2000: Both systems favor the Big 10, which went 5-2 with two BCS wins.

2000-1: The Mountain West had the best record at 3-0, but my system favors the Big East’s 4-1 record with a BCS win.

2001-2: The Big East took the BC Cup based on a 4-1 record. My system would have given it to the SEC since they were 5-3 but won two BCS games.

2002-3: Both systems give the cup to the Big 10, which went 5-2 with a BCS win and national title for Ohio State.

2003-4: The ACC wins the BC cup based on a 5-1 record. My system puts the SEC in a tie because they went 5-2 with a BCS win. This is a perfect example of how the systems differ because the Cup favors the conference that had fewer bowl games while my system favors the conference that had more bowl games.

I don’t weigh national titles in the system because of my belief that such title are arbitrary (see previous rantings). But if I used it as a tie-breaker, the SEC would win since LSU took a share of the national title.

2004-5: The Cup went to the Mountain West based on a 2-1 record. I gave it to the Big 12, which 4-3 with a BCS win. That was the lowest winning score (6 points) of any winner.

2005-6: The Cup splits between ACC and Big-12 as both had 5-3 records. My system gives it to the Big 12, which also won a BCS game and a title.

2006-7: The Cup went to the Big East based on a 5-0 record. My system puts the SEC in a tie. Although they went 6-3, two of those wins were BCS wins and one was for the national title.

2007-8: Again, the Mountain West wins the cup with a 4-1 performance. My system gives it to the SEC, which went 7-2 with 2 BCS wins. Their 14 point performance is the highest out of any year in the system.

2008-9: Another year where one conference — the Pac-10 — goes 5-0. But with a 6-2 record, a BCS win and a title, the SEC is favored in the point system.

It’s interesting to watch conferences wax and wane. When the system started, the Big 10 was the king while the Pac 10 was weak. Then the Big-12 took over. Now the SEC rules while the Big 10 is on the outs (6-16 over the last three years). The Big East has been consistently strong. Even the mid-majors have cycles. Conference USA was terrible for a while.

(It’s also fascinating to watch the number of bowls swell from 22 to 34. So much for the BCS killing off the bowls. Why don’t we want a playoff again?)

It may seem like my system is biased in favor of the SEC. But I designed it when the SEC was in a down cycle and it was favoring the Big-12. The SEC does better in my system simply because they get into more bowls and win more bowls. Over the BCS years that I have now entered into the system, here are the records of each conference:

SEC: 50-35 (12 BCS wins) = 77 points
Big East: 32-21 (6 BCS wins) = 49 points
Big 12: 41-42 (7 BCS wins) = 47 points
Pac 10: 31-28 (9 BCS wins) = 43 points
ACC: 36-38 (2 BCS wins) = 36 points
Big 10: 34-40 (9 BCS wins) = 36 points
Mountain West: 21-15 (2 BCS wins) = 29 points
WAC: 17-22 (1 BCS win) = 13 points
Conference USA: 21-31 (0 BCS wins) = 11 points
MAC: 12-16 (0 BCS wins) = 8 points
Big West: 3-0 (0 BCS wins) = 6 points
Sun Belt: 4-7 (0 BCS wins) = 1 point
Independents: 3-10 (0 BCS wins) = -4 points

Now we see the larger picture and it’s one that will cause my friend Chris to explode. The SEC has far-and-away the best Bowl record, followed by the Big East. The other conferences cluster near .500. This is true if you use W-L, national titles, BCS bowl wins o or my system as he marker. The system actually favors the Big 10, which would slip under the Mountain West on pure win percentage. One wonders where that conference would be if it weren’t for Paterno and Penn State (5-2, 1 BCS, 9 points all on their own).


Matthew Stafford will be a huge disappointment at the NFL level. I don’t blame him for taking the money. A shoulder injury next year and he’s out tens of millions. But he’s not polished enough to succeed at the pro level. He may never be.

I hope I’m wrong.


A great post on why people are backing away from life-saving vaccines:

Why would parents refuse to vaccinate their children against dangerous diseases? Many are skeptical of modern science and medicine in general. (And it is true that most vaccines carry exceedingly tiny—but real—risks of serious illness or even death.) But I think most are responding to the widespread belief that vaccines are linked to autism. Recent studies have soundly disspelled that notion. And a simple glance at health statistics shows that autism cases continued to rise even after thimerosal, the mercury-based preservative widely blamed for the supposed autism link, was largely phased out of U.S. vaccines by 2001.

Nevertheless, these unsubstantiated fears have led some people to say that getting vaccinated should be a matter of individual choice: If you want to be protected, just get yourself and your children vaccinated.

Only it’s not that easy. While the measles vaccine protects virtually everyone who is inoculated, not all vaccines have the same rate of success. But even if a vaccine is effective for only 70, 80 or 90 percent of those who take it, the other 30, 20 or 10 percent who don’t get the full benefit of the vaccine are usually still not at risk. That’s because most of the people around the partially protected are immune, so the disease can’t sustain transmission long enough to spread.

But when people decide to forgo vaccination, they threaten the entire system. They increase their own risk and the risk of those in the community, including babies too young to be vaccinated and people with immune systems impaired by disease or chemotherapy. They are also free-riding on the willingness of others to get vaccinated, which makes a decision to avoid vaccines out of fear or personal belief a lot safer.

Of course it is the very success of modern vaccines that makes this complacency possible. In previous generations, when epidemic disease swept through schools and neighborhoods, it was easy to persuade parents that the small risks associated with vaccination were worth it. When those epidemics stopped—because of widespread vaccinations—it became easy to forget that we still live in a dangerous world. It happens all the time: University of Tennessee law professor Gregory Stein examined the relation between building codes and accidents since the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York and discovered a pattern: accident followed by a period of tightened regulations, followed by a gradual slackening of oversight until the next accident. It often takes a dramatic event to focus our minds.

The problem is that modern society requires constant, not episodic, attention to keep it running. In his book The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death 1700–2100 Nobel Prize–winning historian Robert Fogel notes the incredible improvement in the lives of ordinary people since 1700 as a result of modern sanitation, agriculture and public health. It takes steady work to keep water clean, prevent the spread of contagious disease and ensure an adequate food supply. As long as things go well, there’s a tendency to take these conditions for granted and treat them as a given. But they’re not: As Fogel notes, they represent a dramatic departure from the normal state of human existence over history, in which people typically lived nasty, sickly and short lives.

This departure didn’t happen on its own, and things don’t stay better on their own. Keeping a society functioning requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work by people who don’t usually get a lot of attention—sanitation engineers, utility linemen, public health nurses, farmers, agricultural chemists and so on. Because the efforts of these workers are often undramatic, they are underappreciated and frequently underfunded. Politicians like to cut ribbons on new bridges or schools, but there’s no fanfare for the everyday maintenance that keeps the bridges standing and the schools working. As a result, critical parts of society are quietly decaying, victims of complacency or of active neglect. (See PM’s special report on the nation’s infrastructure, “Rebuilding America”) It’s not just vaccinations or bridges, either. A few years ago, I attended an Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board meeting, and the water-treatment discussion was enough to make me think about switching to beer.

Human civilization is like an iceberg. 90% of what keeps us afloat isn’t seen. It just happens in the daily lives of the hundreds of millions of people doing their best.


If there is any system of college football championship more stupid than the one we have now, it’s the so-called “+1” system several people are currently flogging. The idea would be that after the bowls, we play one extra game using our new information to better pick out the two best teams in the nation.

Uh-huh. So who are the two teams? One will be the winner of the Florida-Oklahoma game. Who’s the other? Undefeated Utah, who just whomped ‘Bama? Texas? USC? All this will do is mean that our championship game matches up three over-hyped teams as opposed to two.

Here’s how you do a playoff properly. You take eight conference champs — six from the major conference and then two from the other conference (or Notre Dame, if they are rated high enough). You play them off in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls on January 1 maintaing traditional slots rather than seeding (i.e, Rose Bowl is Pac-10 vs. Big 10 no matter what the rankings). You have two more games on January 8, one more on January 15. Net result — one week and two games more than we have now. No controversy but a legitimate champion.

The critical factor in this is taking only conference champs. That way you avoid controversy. Imagine if we used the current system. We would take six BCS champs and two at-large teams. Who are the at-large teams? Texas? Ohio State? ‘Bama? Utah? Boise State? It will be determined by the same ignorant writers who insisted last year that South Florida was a great team. You can expect mid-majors to be shut out.

But the mid-majors are too weak? Prove it on the field, not with your mouth. Oh, I’m sorry. Attempts to prove the weakness of the mid-major champs have ended in victory of the mid-major champs. Oops.

If you take only conference champs, then everything is settled on the field. You want to win a national title? Win your damned conference. The motto of the playoff could be: “No Second Chances”.

Of course, this will mean the writers’ votes are a sideshow and have no relevance to determining the national champ. We can’t have that, can we?

Monday Night Linkorama

  • Fark does come up with some good headlines.
  • Cool.
  • Interesting. We’re giving $5 billion to GMAC so that they can become a bank and become eligible for the bailout money. This bailout gets worse all the time. And the idea that the taxpayers will ultimately profit looks more unlikely each day.
  • Apparently, it’s only torture if other people do it. Who knew?
  • One of the many reasons I’m glad I don’t live in Massachusetts.
  • Fiesta Follies

    Watching the Fiesta Bowl right now. The announcer claims that the Texas defense has “no answer” to Ohio state RB Wells. Um, guys? Texas hasn’t had an answer on defense all year long. Had you not been so busy hyping teams that run up huge scores on pathetic defenses (i.e., the entire Big 12), you might have noticed that.

    Predictions for 2009

    I guess it’s time for my obligatory prediction post for 2009. I did OK last year. I predicted Obama would win the election, although I said it more out of hope than insight. The year was better in movies, although the finances were worse. I did get a job in astronomy and TV continued to suck. But I erred on oil prices. They both got worse and better.

    All in all, 2008 was an interesting year for me. I was only partially funded for the first half, but found a job and moved across the country. I read a lot of good books but didn’t write nearly enough. My baby became a little girl and I lost one of my best buds when Huxley went to the Big Pile of Papers To Be Graded In The Sky.

    And 2008 was an even more interesting year for the world. An astonishing election, a recession, wars, olympics and particle colliders created a world that was still better than ever, but full of foreboding.

    Anyway, here’s my 2009 predictions, for what it’s worth:

  • In entertainment, the year will be a catastrophe. TV will continue to slide. With Doctor Who on special break and Galactica ending, there’s barely anything I want to watch anymore. The movie slate looks particularly grim. Potter VI should be good but the new Trek movie looks awful.
  • The international picture is looking shaky. Iran is rattling its saber and I predict will continue to rattle throughout the year at they test Obama. Russia could get dangerous if the price of oil stays down but Hugo Chavez might be forced out. But the real concern for me is Pakistan, which seems on the brink of collapse. Watch them carefully. Or not so carefully, as wars involving nuclear powers are hard to miss. On the bright side, Iraq will keep its shaky grip on the future even as we draw down our presence.
  • In sports, Florida will beat Oklahoma in a thriller, the Steelers will beat the giants and, tragically, the Yankees will win the World Series. I tried very very hard not to write that last bit but I just can’t see any team that will match them.
  • The economy will not get worse but will be very slow in recovering, especially if the Democrats pass Cardcheck, trade restrictions or a “stimulus package”. The only way the recession gets worse is if they do all three. I base this just on my gut instinct. All the experts told us the economy was fine when it was collapsing. Now they are all predicting doom and gloom, so it must be turning around.
  • Obama’s popularity will begin to fade a bit as the economy is slow to recover and debts pile up. He will mostly spend his first year propping up the economy and following a more-competent version of Bush’s foreign policy abroad. He’s going to have way too many balls in the air to devote resources like the stupid Freedom of Choice Act or immigration reform.
  • That’s it. I expect 2009 to be a slightly better version of 2008. Things will slowly improve but we will still have many concerns that could blow up at any moment. As for Obama, I really believe those predictions above. I keep the getting the feeling that his reign will be less like Clinton or Carter and more like Eisenhower. We’ll get a nice boring four years of competent government.

    Of course, we’ll see what happens when the rubber hits the road in 18 days. If Obama does strike out a radical and stupid course, you’ll be hearing about it.

    New Year’s Linkorama

  • Oops
  • No matter how you slice it, federal control of health care will lead to rationing. Of course, to most supporters, that’s a feature, not a bug.
  • I’d feel bad about linking up the Caroline Kennedy “you know” clip except that she is being seriously considered as a US Senator. Her potential nomination has brought out the worst kind of child-like thinking in the Left. There are, by my estimate, a couple of million women in New York more qualified.
  • This sort of nonsense, in which the Feds claim drug use has dropped, drive me nuts. The Bush Administration has been particularly bad about sorting through all the little wiggles and bumps in sociological trend lines — drug use, education, crime, etc. — and claiming that any period where the wiggle went down is due to their policies while ignoring any upward wiggles. That’s what happens when you’re more focused on politics than policy.
  • Poor poor Little Legal Creep. If only he hadn’t mindlessly supported so many illegal things.