The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Megan McArdle, on Vouchers and Teachers

These are some common arguments against vouchers. For example:

5) Vouchers destroy the public school system.

So? Having a public school system seems like a dumb goal to me, but even assuming that the very existence of such a system is somehow a worthy thing to aim for, surely it's achievement should be a second-order priority. The primary goal, it seems to me, should be educating America's children to reach their fullest potential; after that goal has been achieved, we can turn our attention to things like having teacher's unions and public schools.

There's something very odd about the way that a lot of people treat health care and schooling--as if they were special, magical goods that can only be provided by the government. Yes, these are vital goods that people are ill-equipped to evaluate. But food, shelter, and clothing are even more vital, yet few of us believe that this means we should all get our produce from giant collective farms, or move into public housing projects. We recognize that the way to ensure that everyone has what they need is to give them the money to buy it . . . and, arguably, to have building codes, the FDA, the USDA, and so forth to ensure that consumers are protected from hidden dangers.

Why don't we want to have giant collective farms? After all, the government could realize marvelous economies of scale and huge cost savings from its enormous purchasing power. The administrative costs would fall too--after all, almost all of the money you pay for food goes, not to the farmer, but to the various middlemen who purchase, process, store, ship, and distribute it. We could probably cut our national food bill in half!

Somehow, we recognize the factors in production of food and clothing that make the government a less attractive provider than the market. And even most of the left has recognized that Section 8 vouchers are better than housing projects--they didn't yank people out of poverty, or magically solve all the problems attendant upon being poor, but they did improve peoples' lives by giving them some of the control over where they live that the rest of us enjoy as of right.

But honestly, there's no reason that vouchers will destroy the public school system provided that the public school system is doing a decent job of educating our kids. This argument sounds to me like an implicit confession that public schools can't compete with private ones.

And that's just number 5! The whole thing is well worth reading.

Now, Teachers:

I don't. Care. About. The. Teachers.

I don't dislike them. Nor do I like them. I don't care whether they are, or are not, represented by a union. I think they should be paid more, not because they're lovely, special people, but because I hope that would let us attract and retain a higher caliber of teacher.

I care about educating the kids. Once we have done that, we can turn to arguments about the teachers. Until then, paeans to what great people public school teachers are are just completely irrelevant. The janitors are probably great guys too, but the school is not there for their benefit. If it made the kids better off to fire them all tomorrow, I'd happily sign the order to do so. I mean, I'd feel bad for them. But not enough to keep them employed at the expense of educating the kids.

Happy Halloween!

And Happy Homestarloween!

Monday, October 29, 2007

John Elway, Super Bowl Choker

Update: The Helicopter actually picked up a first down, not a touchdown, which set up a Terrell Davis TD a few plays later. I had my memory altered by the box score, as Elway did record a rushing TD in the game, just not on that play. It doesn't really effect the larger point at all.

One clip that all Packer fans hate is that clip of John Elway getting drilled as he picks up a first down by "helicoptering." The reason we hate that clip is that it is the only memorable clip Elway has from that day, as he played an absolutely terrible game. If not for that stupid run no one would even think that Elway contributed anything to that game, because he didn't.

But what makes Packer fans, and me even crazier, is that John Elway's two Super Bowls have put him ahead of Brett Favre on the "all-time greatest QBs list" in the minds of many people. (The worst offender is probably ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd, but that's OK because disagreeing with Colin is one of the ways to know that you're right.)

It's stupid to use Super Bowl wins as a criteria for judging individual players anyway. You need a great team to win the Super Bowl. But if you are going to use Super Bowl performance as a factor, shouldn't you actually examine the contributions of those players in the Super Bowl? Of course you should. I went into the NFL archives and ranked every starting Super Bowl QB since 1982 by QB rating. I took out the RBs, WRs, and backups QBs that the NFL has on the list. It's pretty interesting:

1. Phil Simms, 1986, 150.9
2. Joe Montana, 1989, 147.6
3. Troy Aikman, 1992, 140.7
4. Steve Young, 1994, 134.8
5. Doug Williams, 1987, 127.9
6. Joe Montana, 1984, 127.2
7. Joe Montana, 1988, 115.2
8. Jake Delhomme, 2003, 113.6
9. Tom Brady, 2004, 110.2
10. Troy Aikman, 1995, 108.8
11. Brett Favre, 1996, 107.9
12. Jim McMahon, 1985, 104.2
13. Tom Brady, 2003, 100.5
14. Kurt Warner, 1999, 99.7
15. John Elway, 1998, 99.2
16. Jim Plunkett, 1983, 97.4
17. Jeff Hostetler, 1990, 93.5
18. Mark Rypien, 1991, 92.0
19. Brett Favre, 1997, 91.0
20. Tom Brady, 2001, 86.2
21. John Elway, 1986, 83.6
22. Peyton Manning, 2006, 81.6
23. Jim Kelly, 1990, 81.5
24. Trent Dilfer, 2000, 80.9
25. Brad Johnson, 2002, 79.9
26. Steve McNair, 1999, 77.8
27. Troy Aikman, 1993, 77.2
28. Donovan McNabb, 75.4
29. Joe Theismann, 1982, 75.1
30. Rex Grossman, 2006, 68.3
31. Matt Hasselbeck, 2005, 67.8
32. Jim Kelly, 1993, 67.1
33. Dan Marino, 1984, 66.9
34. Frank Reich, 1992, 60.4
35. Steve Grogam, 1985, 57.2
36. Stan Humphries, 1994. 56.1
37. John Elway, 1997, 51.9
38. Neil O’Donnell, 1995, 51.3
39. Rich Gannon, 2002, 48.9
40. Chris Chandler, 1998, 47.2
41. Drew Bledsoe, 1996, 46.6
42. Boomer Esiason, 1988, 461.
43. Joe Theismann, 1983, 45,3
44. Jim Kelly, 1991, 44.8
45. John Elway, 1987, 36.8
46. Ben Roethlisberger, 2005, 22.6
47. John Elway, 1989, 19.4
48. Kerry Collins, 2000, 7.1

Basically, John Elway should thank his lucky stars that Kerry Collins managed to play in a Super Bowl, but Elway still has 2 of the worst 4 Super Bowl performances since 1982, and 3 of the worst 12, including the Broncos' victory over the Packers. His best performance ranks only 15th on this list.

But what this list really tells you is how stupid it is to use one game to define a career. Ben Roethlisberger quarterbacked the 3rd worst game of the last 24 years, and his team managed to win. Phil Simms tops the list and no one thinks of him as an all-time great. Jake Delhomme is in the top ten and he's probably not even an average QB.

The fact is that John Elway is an all-time great, but you can't tell anything about his career from his Super Bowl play, just like you can't tell anything about Dan Marino, or Jake Delhomme, or Doug Williams from their Super Bowl play.

But, when you're watching the game tonight and they invariably show that highlight of Elway's run against the Packers in the Super Bowl, you will now be able to turn to the person next to you and say:

You know, that guy had 3 of the worst Super Bowl performances of the last quarter century. And he somehow managed to win one of those games.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fun Friday

While we wait for the new Homestar Halloween, here's a classic.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

James Surowiecki on Supply Side Economics

He's exactly, 100% correct. It's amazing how many Republicans cite the Laffer Curve without knowing what it actually is.

Feel Good Sports

On Sunday the Chicago Tribune Sports Section included a column by David Haugh about the Bears "lacking chemistry." Stories like this are the epitome of lazy sports journalism.

If you watch ESPN for 5 minutes you will probably see something about the Yankees losing due to A-Rod breaking up with Jeter or some other off-the-field nonsense. You will see Shaun Alexander's crappy running blamed on coaching or infighting or other such nonsense. Perhaps most infuriating is the analyst who concludes that a team lost because their players need to "play better." Thanks, genius.

Anyway, the Bears were bad due to extremely tangible causes which have nothing to do with chemistry. They had a horrible QB, half of their defense is hurt, and they were playing certain people out of position. Plus, teams have finally stopped kicking to Devin Hester.

The Bears have, shockingly. addressed the first problem by inserting the competent Brian Griese into the starting lineup, and they have played much better as result. In fact, they will probably contend before the season is over.

Here are some lazy myths actual explanations.

1. Lazy Myth - The Rams are bad because of their coach, Scott Linehan.

Truth - The Rams are lousy because almost every good player they have has been injured or retired this year. Their coach may be good, or bad, but this team is so bad that there is really no way to tell.

2. Lazy Myth - Joe Torre is a great manager and the Yankee offer to him is an insult.

Truth - A parrot on opium could manage the Yankees, especially in the late 90s/early 00s. Joe Torre might be an OK manager, but with an AL team with a $200 million payroll, managing is easy. Really, really easy. Will Don Mattingly be able to fill his shoes? Probably yes. Because he's carbon-based.

3. Lazy Myth - Tarvaris Jackson just needs to play better.

Truth - You could put almost any terrible player in place of Tarvaris. Sportswriters love to accuse untalented players of not playing hard, or "up to their potential." As if there are a bunch of guys out there who just aren't trying. You used to hear this a bunch with Rex Grossman too, and you still hear it with Cedric Benson. Same goes for Michael Vick.

The fact is that these players are playing (or played) just like you would expect. They're bad players and they play badly. No amount of wishful thinking will ever change it.

4. Lazy Myth - Shaun Alexander is in a mental slump.

Truth - I heard this one on ESPN just this morning. The fact is that Shaun Alexander is suffering from the same physical breakdown that almost all 30-year-old RBs who were not members of a RB-by-committee go through. Moreover, he broke the 370 carry rule two years ago and that will finish you off right quick.

As players age, they get worse. Unless they take massive amounts of performance-enhancing drugs like Barry Bonds. But most player decline. The media tends to ignore this trend and expects all stars to play at their peak level forever.

5. Lazy Myth - His first at-bat set the tone for the game.

Baseball is a sequence of individual events, and in general, what happens before doesn't have much of an effect on what happens next. For every five lead-off HRs that lead to wins, there are four that lead to losses. The value of that HR is that it gives you a 1-0 lead. Tone-setting has nothing to do with anything.

There are many others, but unfortunately lazy sports writing just doesn't stick in my brain well. For a comprehensive example, check out this Fire Joe Morgan fisking of Mike Lupica.

Competition In Action

I have had Comcast as my cable, internet, and phone provider for the last year. They were the only cable provider that would serve my building as our lease forbids satellite dishes and no cable competitors served our area. That is, until a few months ago. RCN recently started serving my building and advertising heavily. They were offering the same deal as Comcast for 15 bucks cheaper than Comcast. They also offer more channels and more HD channels with their base package.

I called Comcast with these facts and attempted to get them to deal. They flat out said that they would "not price match." We had an introductory deal with them that expires on Oct 31st, at which point our rates will drastically increase. I explained that their competitor was offering me more channels for what would amount to about $60 less per month! She said she could not help me. I asked for expanded service, at least. Nope.

So I told her I would be switching. Still nothing.

There is an episode of The Office (American version) where the intern is quizzing boss Michael Scott on basic business concepts. He asks Michael if it is cheaper to keep a customer or sign up a new customer. The answer, obviously, is that it's much cheaper to keep a customer. About 10 times cheaper.

I was shocked that Comcast wouldn't budge on anything, but I'm fairly certain that I understand why. It is because until a few moths ago, they were my only option. There are many apartments in the city that are only served by Comcast, and those customers, if they want cable, will have to pay whatever Comcast wants. The alternative is a broadcast spectrum which provides the finest in Spanish language programming with crystal clear reception, while providing four English language channels in what I like to call "snow-a-vision."

Comcast probably makes most of their cash on a captive audience. When they are forced to compete at the margins, they don't care, and they don't have to. At least, not yet.

Perhaps RCN will ultimately prove as bad as Comcast, but at least they provide an option, and it would take a concerted effort to have worse service than Comcast, so I'm not too worried.

So here's a free commercial for RCN. For 10 bucks less than I was paying, and 60 bucks less than I would be paying, I will get everything I had before plus:

ESPN, ESPN2, and The Big Ten Network in HD.

The Sci-Fi Channel.

TBS, TNT, the two HDNet channels in HD.


And Comcast wouldn't budge, not even a penny.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Disgusting Beer Finds

I saw a billboard for the following while I was driving home yesterday:

Can you believe that someone would ruin perfectly good Clamato like this?

Mark Anderson, The New KGB.

Last year, Bear defensive lineman Mark Anderson had a brilliant year as a pass-rushing third-down specialist. For some reason, the Bears decided to make him a starter based on all of his sacks even though he's undersized (only 255 lbs.) and can't stop the run. It also tires him out for those situations where his pass-rushing skills are needed.

This is very reminiscent of Packer DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. KGB recorded 13.5 sacks as a third-down specialist in 2001, and was moved into the starting lineup for the next several years. Even though he played more downs in subsequent years, he never exceeded his part-time sack total again (although he did match it in 2004)

This year he was moved off of the starting lineup in favor of the more well-rounded Cullen Jenkins, and both players have thrived because of it. When KGB started he was a huge liability against the run as larger players simply dominated him.

The Bears, of all teams, should be familiar with the KGB situation. They play in the same division as the Packers and have presumably capitalized on KGB's poor every-down play. KGB was out there for sacks and nothing else. Why then, would the Bears make the same mistake. The Bear's other option would be Alex Brown, a fine all-around player. It is very likely that the Bears difficulties against the run this year could be all but solved through this simple switch.

Fortunately, the Bears are dumb.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fun Friday

I'm back, so FF is back too.

How about the newest song from BradyFan83. Travis Henry is the subject. Piano Man is the tune.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

For Your Consideration

A few interesting tidbits:

1. Megan McArdle writes:

According to a study that even the New Republic's Jon Cohn admitted he thought was probably exaggerated, being uninsured killed 18,000 people a year this decade. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, on the other hand, apparently kills 19,000 a year.

2. Some scientists called up peddlers of pseudo-scientific bullshit health products and asked them how their products work. They recorded the conversations, and have produced them in this pamphlet, which is quite fun to read.

3. Man Problems: Be careful, you married, tofu-eaters.

4. If only the Who's down in Who-Ville would have been so well equipped.

5. Finally, young non-Christians think less of Christians than they did a generation ago:

The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity's role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.


Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Weather, The Big Ten

In the Midwest, people freak out about "playing games at Lambeau/Soldier in December." And indeed, when it's really cold out it is quite difficult to play football, and to execute with the same nuance as in a climate-controlled dome.

For a long time this lead to the "Black-and-Blue" style of the NFC North. Play defense, run the ball. Don't make mistakes. Unfortunately, there is a problem with this approach, and it has now been exploited by college teams in nicer climates.

As it turns out, you win by passing. I know the old cliche is that you win by running, but it's not true. You get ahead with passing, and then you run down time with running. Running will help you keep a lead, but if you can't pass, you can't win. The Outsiders have written articles to this effect using their newfangled computers, but I can't find them.) The strongest evidence for this theory is that yards/pass is the stat that most closely correlates with offensive success. Rushing is a nice bonus, but not essential.

There's another bogus cliche out there that claims that the SEC has "better athletes" and "more speed" than the Big Ten. This, also, is false. As if the Southern portion of the US, for some reason, has steroids in the water supply. Big Ten teams frequently employ the fastest athletes in the country. Wisconsin's WR and RB corps frequently features world class track stars (Michael Bennett, for instance), and this is not unique to my alma mater. Remember When Tim Dwight went back to Iowa for an extra year to run track?

So why is the SEC better? As it turns out, it's all about style, and that style is dictated by the weather.

Because Big Ten schools feel that they must run the ball to win, they recruit run-blocking offensive linemen, and run-stopping defenses. Even in college, where the players are not paid, you still have limited resources with which to recruit players, and you can't recruit for every possibility. Competing in the Big Ten generally requires a run-stuffing defense, and this leaves you open to the scourge of the Big Ten, the Spread Offense.

To see the effects of the Spread Offense on the Big Ten, you only need to look within the Big Ten at what was formerly one of the Big Ten's worst programs; Northwestern.

Since Northwestern has run the spread they've been consistently over .500 and have appeared in a Rose Bowl. This despite the fact that they are smaller, have higher academic standards, and play in a high school stadium that tends to be filled with at least 2/3 opposing fans.

There is no reason that Northwestern should be anything other than a Big Ten door mat, but they're always around, and always pesky. When the Big Ten runs into spread teams (or pro-style teams that emphasize the pass), they struggle. (See: Appalachian State.)

Passing efficiently will always make your offense better, but there is also a lot of evidence that it is easier to pass in college than in the pros, and that the gains from doing so are greater. Most college teams will not be able to recruit enough defensive backs to contend with a team that concentrates on passing. Teams that find themselves on the wrong end of these mismatches tend to get embarrassed.

You can also see this in small school gimmick offenses throughout the country, like Hawaii and Boise State. Just 20 years ago the Option or Wishbone was the small school gimmick offense of choice, but no longer.

This is a bit of a Moneyball moment. Moneyball is not about how teams should walk and hit HRs, it's about how Billy Beane found inefficiencies in the market for baseball players and exploited them to turn a low-payroll team into a consistent contender. What is striking about Moneyball, however, is that the most important offensive skill (not making outs) was undervalued. Here too, in the Big Ten, it appears that passing, the most valuable offensive skill is undervalued.

And this is mostly due to weather. But it doesn't have to be this way. It's actually not that hard to pass in bad weather. Sometimes is can be easier if the field is slick. In fact, the man who holds most NFL passing records has probably played more bad weather games than any other QB.

I believer that if one of the talent-rich Big Ten teams moved to a pass-happy offense (and recruited a good passing QB) that they would dominate the Big Ten - for a while. And when everyone else caught up, the league would be better for it.

(And yes, Joe Tiller does this, but Purdue isn't exactly a power. Plus, when Joe Tiller has had good QBs he has been successful.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Interview With Michael David Smith

Larry Brown (of Larry Brown Sports) interviews friend-of-the-blog MDS.

Update: The link is now fixed.

Global Warming and Supply Side Economics

Greg Mankiw:

Herb Stein once said, "There is nothing wrong with supply-side economics that division by ten wouldn't fix." I thought of this quotation when I saw Al Gore's movie. The more I think about it, the more I realize how parallel these two efforts of public education, or perhaps political propaganda, really are.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Peter King, on the Green Bay-Washington Officials

From today's MMQB:

Goats of the Week

Referee Terry McAulay's crew at Green Bay-Washington, for an overall poor job and costing the Packers two legitimate touchdowns. First, there was a pathetic holding call on right tackle Mark Tauscher, negating one Favre touchdown pass; there was nothing close to a hold on the play. Last year, the officials were told not to call offensive holding unless it was something an official actually saw. Well, there's no way an official saw holding on Tauscher. Never happened. Then, a second Packers TD throw was negated when Bubba Franks cleanly caught a pass in the corner of the end zone with one foot down before getting driven out of the end zone by Washington cornerback Fred Smoot. Incomplete. Insane.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Are my friends married?

Two of my friends were married last year in Pennsylvania. They came from families of varying faiths, and rather than pick one over the other, they had their ceremony conducted by an uncle. He was ordained by the Universal Life Church via the internet, and performed a ceremony in the past. And having a family member involved in the ceremony, I would think, would only enhance the occasion.

They are both great friends who truly love each other. Unfortunately, they may not be married:

A first-of-a-kind case in Pennsylvania has called the validity of an untold number of marriages into question, prompting many committed couples to resolve the issue by simply re-taking their vows even though it hasn't yet been upheld on appeal.

Those who don't redo their original ceremony face troubling questions about survivor benefits and other legal issues if one spouse dies or the couple separates before the issue is resolved, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The case that caused the uproar was brought by a 21-year-old York County woman who wanted out of her one-year marriage. Because it had been performed by a minister who was ordained on the Internet, however, her lawyer thought it was invalid under state law—and the judge agreed.

Although it won't be binding legal precedent even in York County until it's upheld on appeal, many couples are remarrying just to end any uncertainty about their marital status. Meanwhile, David Cleaver, who serves as solicitor for the statewide Association of Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans Court, says it should serve as a wake-up call to clerks in all 67 Pennsylvania counties that they need to be sure the officiant who signs a marriage certificate is legally qualified to do so.

Especially because many couples today are married by an individual who isn't a minister, rabbi or other recognized official at an established bricks-and-mortar religious facility, uncertainty could be an issue for many Pennsylvanians, the newspaper writes. In Bucks County, near Philadelphia, at least 45 couples applied for new marriage licenses after Register of Wills Barbara Reilly urged those whose marital status might be questioned to do so at a news conference last month.

This is truly ridiculous. Having clear marriage law really is essential, as it has an affect on all of our largest investments. What if you bought a home together? What about your will? Life insurance? Inflicting this kind of uncertainty on people is cruel. It's expensive. And really, what business is this of the government anyway.

Now my friends have to deal with a bunch of bureaucratic garbage because, get this, the state can't decide what is and is not a legitimate religion. Call me crazy, but I'm fairly certain that the state isn't supposed to be doing that.

Lastly, these friends managed to have the Phillie Phanatic appear at their wedding. (The real one, not some cheap knock-off.) Shouldn't that count for something?

The Bible On Abortion

I'm currently reading How To Read The Bible, by James Kugel. It is a religious studies book, answering all sorts of questions about modern biblical scholarship. Here is a section on abortion:

When men are fighting and one of them strikes a pregnant woman so that her offspring comes out, and there is no mishap, he (the one responsible) shall be fined in accordance with what her husband shall impose upon him, and it will be given over to adjudication. But if there is a mishap, then you shall give a life for a life (literally a soul for a soul), an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.

- Exod. 21:22-25

What happened here? The Bible seems to be describing two possible outcomes of an accident in which a man who was fighting with someone else ended up striking a pregnant woman by mistake. The first possible outcome - that the woman gives birth but "there is no mishap" - results in the man being fined; the second, where "there is a mishap," imposes the death penalty on the man.

At first glance it might seem that "there is no mishap" means that the mother and baby are fine. But no ancient interpreter read this passage that way. The reason was simple. Normally, in the case of an accident, if no harm resulted, then no fine would be due; if both mother and baby emerged without a scratch, why should the fighter be punished? He meant no harm to her and no harm had been caused. So something bad must have happened. Here is how the passage was translated in the third century BCE by the Jewish makers of the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Pentateuch:

If two men are fighting and a pregnant woman is truck in her belly, and her child comes out not fully formed, he shall pay a fine. As the woman's husband shall impose, he shall pay it with a valuation. But if it is fully formed, he shall give a soul for a soul. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burning for a burning, a wound for a wound, a stripe for a stripe.

- Septuagint, Exod. 21:22-25

This translation assumes that, no matter what, the accident described resulted in teh death of the fetus. Then what could the Bible have meant by distinguishing between a case in which "there is no mishap" and the one in which there is? It was referring, these translators concluded, to the state of development of the unborn child.

He also mentions a translation from the Vulgate of Jerome, which would become the approved translation of the Roman Catholic Church:

If men were fighting and someone struck a pregnant woman and she miscarried but she herself lived, he will be subject to a fine, as much as the woman's husband shall request and as the judge decree. If, however, her death shall follow, let him pay a soul for a soul, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burning for a burning, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.

- Vulgate, Exod. 21:22-25

According to this understanding, the "mishap" is the death of the mother. That is, in either scenario the fetus dies - apparently it does not matter in Jerome's interpretation whether the accident occurred in the first or the ninth month of pregnancy. The only thing that matters is whether or not the mother survives. Underlying this interpretation, therefore, must be the belief that, so long as a fetus is inside its mother, it is not a separate human being. Instead, the fetus is, as rabbinic interpreters (who had espoused the same approach as that adopted in the above translation) explained, a "limb of the mother" until its head emerges from the womb.

As you can see the "health and life of the mother" and the "viability test" are as ancient as abortion itself. Perhaps the judges in Roe v. Wade were divinely inspired.

Anyway, I've never understood why anyone's opinion on abortion should follow along religious lines. Religion barely speaks to the issue, and when it does, it can easily be argued that it falls on the "pro-choice" side.

The book is excellent, and raises all sorts of fascinating an counterintuitive points. I'll leave you with the review from Marginal Revolution:

Books that are so good I don't know what to say about them

How to Read The Bible, by James Kugel.

I'm not even going to give you a pithy excerpt or try to find the right adjectives. It is simply so, so, so good. If you wish to learn more, here is a NYT review.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It Makes No Sense

In most, if not all states, it is illegal to drive without a seat belt. In all states, it is legal to drive a motorcycle. Riding a motorcycle is far more likely to kill you than is driving without a seat belt.

Is there any logical reason to require us to wear seat belts without banning motorcycles?

Guest Post: David Orgas on Stupid Journalists, Brett Favre

Sportswriters have a way of lazily lapsing into cheap cliches much of the time. Statements like "they just didn't come through in the clutch" pop up all the time on ESPN, as well as in national and local newspapers. This kind of tripe should be reserved for people calling into sports talk radio at 3 in the morning, not coming out of the mouths of highly paid "experts." David Orgas is one of the smartest, most observant sports fans in existence. He runs my complicated fantasy football league and he made this movie. It's not a documentary, it's a movie. With actors and props and stuff.

David has a few issues with the way that Brett Favre is being covered this year, but I'll let him take it from here:


- By David Orgas

I’ve had it. I’ve hit the wall. If I have to read one more article from one more hack journalist about Brett Favre I’m going to tear down the Journal-Sentinal building with my bare hands. The Journal isn’t the only paper with hack journalists. They’re everywhere. But they’re the best local example of crap sportswriting (my apologies to Dave Kallman).

What has annoyed me most recently is the trend (and it’s all about the trends—no one has a singular voice or opinion anymore) to refer to Favre as smarter and under control. “He’s managing the game now.” “He’s not making those wild passes.” And just today I read that Favre has reverted to “dinking and dunking.”

Crap. All of it. Pure crap.

Dinking and dunking? Brett Favre? Anyone who watches Brett Favre play or any highly effective Bill Walsh-era offense and believes he is watching “dink and dunk” football does not understand the sport. One of the prescripts of this offense is to get the ball quickly to the receivers and let them run. Slants, to my belief, are not dink patterns nor are they by definition “dunks.” They are, however, a staple of the Walshian Engine. A quick-out is another route that gets the ball quickly to the receiver or running back and allows him to run away from his defender. While it is a shorter pattern, the play requires great timing, accuracy and arm strength to get the ball to the correct spot immediately for it to be most successful. Another pattern utilized to great success in this offense is the screen. It is imperative to differentiate a screen from a check-down to a running back in the flat—which is far more “dink-like” than the screen. However, please note when the QB does throw the check-down whether or not it is, in fact, a check-down. Did the QB actually look downfield or through his progressions before dumping the ball off to the FB in the flat? If all the QB did was drop back four steps, turn the toss it to the FB, then that is the definition of dinking and dunking. Seldom is that the first read for Favre, if ever.

I have seen Quarterbacks dink and dunk. I have recognized this as a pattern of play. What makes this practice discernible, is receivers and running backs who are generally facing the QB, stationary, in anticipation of the throw. Contrast that from a fully-functional Favre offense where the receivers are moving forward, breaking out of their routes in anticipation of the ball already in flight. While some of the throws may be less than 10 yards, this is not dinking nor dunking and to equate the two is pure folly.

Perhaps the most annoying banter coming from urinalists these days is how they perceive Favre playing smarter and more under control. The inference being that Favre was, formerly, an out-of-control turnover machine with utter disregard for where he was throwing the ball. The main point of reference for these dullards is the ’05 season. A season in which Favre threw 29 interceptions and only 20 TDs despite throwing the most passes in his career to that point. Obviously the man was making questionable decisions, right?

I may look at the ’05 season differently than you do. I certainly look at Favre’s performance during that campaign differently than the sports writers of this nation. But when I look at the 2005 Packer season, I begin with 2002. That was the year that I had a conversation with a young special teams gunner that forever changed how I look at offenses, football and Brett Favre.

It was right after the season. The Packers had just lost to the St. Louis Rams in the playoffs and Favre had thrown 6 interceptions—several of which bounced off the hands of his receivers. On one of the game’s most crucial plays, the Rams faked a blitz and dropped back into coverage. The slot receiver (Bill Schroeder) ran straight upfield as Favre dropped a short pass over the middle. Schroeder never stopped running and the ball landed right in the hands of Aeneas Williams who raced into the endzone for a TD. Everyone blamed Favre for the pick. I asked the young gunner his opinion. “Billy’s fault.” In opposition to the common belief of his fans, Favre did not misread the defense. The receiver did.

“Our offense is all about timing.” I was informed. “Every player on offense is making a read of the defense before the snap and at the snap.” Quarterback, receivers, running backs and linemen. In order for the passing game to function properly the QB and his receivers need to make the same reads. “If Brett Favre throws an interception and there isn’t a receiver on your television screen… Don’t ask where is Favre throwing the ball. The question to ask is, why isn’t there a receiver on my television screen?”

According to the young special teams star, Favre almost never makes the wrong read. Defenses don’t confuse him. Favre has an expectation of his receiver to be in a certain place at a certain time and a confidence that his linemen will open up the passing lane at just the right time. “If we miss a cut block and the lineman tips that pass… all the blame goes to Brett.” “If the corner jumps the slant and the receiver doesn’t fight through to the spot… all the blame goes to Brett.” I watch football differently now.

You may not choose to believe the words spoken to me by the then 26 year old special teamer. Heck, he only had 13 catches that year. But, between you and me, I’ll take Donald Driver’s word on it.

Fast forward to the 2005 season. The year of Favre the Wildman, right? In an offense that requires timing and precision and trust between the QB and his targets, Favre was called on to believe in a cast of characters that read like the cut list from the Arena Football League: Samkon Gado, Tony Fisher and Vonta Leach in the backfield; Antonio Chatman, Andrae Thurman and Robert Ferguson at WR and Tory Humphrey at TE. Add to this collection of shelf-stockers and grocery baggers an offensive line that started Wil Whittiker and Adrian Klemm at the guard spots and Grey Ruegamer in the pivot for several weeks. Only Driver and Donald Lee remain from those weapons (?) and Lee was an in-season acquisition that year with limited knowledge of the offense.

These are the players Favre was called upon to trust. These are the players required to read the defenses and make the correct adjustments in their routes. Would you trust these players?

That is why when I saw Number 4 throw an “out” against the Vikings and Andrae Thurman ran an “in,” and the ball was intercepted and returned for a TD, I didn’t ask where Favre was throwing the ball.

That is why when, facing a fierce Steeler blitz, Favre threw a pass that landed on the turf behind Antonio Chatman as he sprinted down the center of the field I didn’t wonder how Favre’s pass could’ve been so far off target. I wondered why Chatman didn’t cut off his route.

That is why when Favre, leading a late charge against the Eagles, threw a 50 yard bomb to Ferguson rather than attempting to matriculate the ball down the field I didn’t wonder what he was thinking as the pass was picked off in the end zone. I knew. There was no way he was going to get a better chance to put the ball in the end zone. Not with that crew. For the record, Ferguson put about as much effort into catching the ball as I did, sitting on my sofa, lifting my left leg.

Let’s fast forward again. This time to 2006. A Packer offense that, at one point, led the league in dropped passes. A Packer team that was the youngest and least experienced in the NFL for the second straight year. A Packer offense that struggled with protection from an interior offensive line with virtually no game experience. Favre threw 18 interceptions. I counted four that deflected off the hands of the receivers, two that were deflected by defensive lineman and one that was wrestled out of the hands of his intended target… I look for things like that now.

And now we’re in 2007. And sportswriters everywhere see Brett Favre playing smarter, more in control, throwing shorter passes. And again I see something completely different. Confidence. I see a Quarterback who believes his receivers will make the right read and break the right way. I see a QB drop back and fire the ball almost immediately to a spot. I see the same player I’ve always seen. Maybe the guys around him in 2007 are a little better, a little more experienced and a little more trustworthy than they have been over the past couple years.

And for the first time in many years I see a chance for Favre to shine again.

- David Orgas is the writer and Director of "Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story," and is capable of caluclating complex salary cap problems in his head.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It's Alive!!!

We (that is people) created life. Specifically, this guy created life.

That's right. Artificial life. Why this was not front page news I have no idea. This is huge!

I anxiously await the hysterical reaction from the religious right.

Huge Beer News

Wow. I'm speechless. I am without speech. MillerCoors? Sounds like the beer in some futuristic, overly-corporate dystopian nightmare. It's like CokePepsi. No good could come from CokePepsi.

You can bet that there are a ton of nervous Miller and Coors employees in Milwaukee and Golden right now.

With an ever-increasing number of imports and microbrews, the "Macrobrewers" had no room to grow, and consolidation was inevitable (SAB's purchase of Miller several years ago was just a first step), but I must admit I never thought that one of the Big Three American brewers would merge with another. I also wonder if the government will fight this at all. I suspect not as the last time they vetoed a brewing company merger they basically destroyed Heileman and Pabst as major brewers. They will be very cautious about doing it again.

What does this mean for you, the consumer? Probably not much. It's unlikely that there will be much in the way of brand consolidation. Most beer consumers are fiercely loyal to one brand starting at an age that beer companies would prefer that you, and the government, not know, and getting rid of Coors Light to help out Miller Lite would just piss off a bunch of Coors Light fans. You will probably see a wider distribution of Killian's and Blue Moon in Miller territory, and maybe see some of the Miller "craft brews" like Leine's will start to have a larger national footprint. In general, you will probably end up with more variety, which is good.

Some fringe beers may bite the dust, but in general this should be good for the beer-swilling consumer.

My family has always been a Miller family, and drinking Bud or Coors in the past has always come with a little twinge of guilt for me. At least now with Coors, that little twinge can be gone. The awful taste will still be there, but the guilt will be gone.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Great Silencer

Scott Feldstein was recently banned by Fred Dooley, author of the hilariously titled "Real Debate Wisconsin" blog. He bans people all the time, and not for bad language or anything like that. Just for disagreeing with him and probably making him look silly. Our old pal Jesusisjustalrightwithme was banned some time ago for similar reasons (you can read about that in the comments of Scott's post, linked above).

This made me realize how much I like Mr. Isjustalrightwithme's excellent trolling over the last couple of years. If you Google "Jesusisjustalrightwithme" it actually returns a veritable treasure trove of JIJAWM arguments in the comments sections of various blogs. This is a personal favorite of mine. This was good too.

I spent far too much of my afternoon reading these.


JIJAWM e-mailed the following:

Thanks for the link. This one is my favorite.

He just didn't answer. I so got him.

I'm for free x, except...

One reason that political discussions drive me insane and cause me to lose interest in blogging is that there are basically no intelligent discussions about politics anywhere, ever.

One statement that you will commonly hear is the title to this post. For instance, on college campuses you will generally hear some poor stupid socialist say something like "I'm for free speech, except for racists." Sometimes, when I hear this sentence, I laugh out loud, and am confused when the speaker does not join me in a hearty guffaw. Then I realize that the person in question is serious, and I slowly back away while attempting to avoid eye contact.

Anyway, grown-ups are usually (but not always) mature enough to understand that free speech means that the Nazis get to talk too, even if it does take an occasional South Park episode to keep the message fresh. That said, most adults are economic illiterates, and commonly make this statement about free trade.

Of course, most people don't actually support free trade, and I applaud the Republicans for finally owning up to that fact and making themselves even more like the Democrats. Kudos fellas.

It used to be that everyone was for free trade, except in agriculture, the steel industry, manufacturing in general, the auto industry, textile production, drugs, gambling, etc. Now it's becoming more hip to just dispute that free trade is good. Fine, at least we're being honest.

I won't rehash here, again, why free trade is actually, factually, 100% good. Go read Free Trade Under Fire by Douglas Irwin, or, if that's too much for you, try this Wikipedia entry on the law of comparative advantage.

Yet almost all Democrats and most Republicans don't believe this well-established law of economics to be true. I believe this to be far worse than the shockingly large number of people who believe in Creationsim, as the former has bad, real-world consequences, whereas the latter just gives me something to make fun of.

And, since immigration is basically a form of trade every close-the-border, xenophobic weirdo is wrong about that too.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Why I Like SABRmetrics

Baseball is a game with deeply held traditions and superstitions. A bunch of smart guys came along and proved most of these ideas to be wrong, or stupid. This information is free, widely available, and easy to comprehend. Despite this fact, many, perhaps most people involved in baseball, and the vast majority of baseball fans hold to the traditions and superstitions.

In real life we have a bunch of deeply held traditions, beliefs, and superstitions. At various times throughout history, and today, smart people have shown these traditions, beliefs, and superstitions to be wrong, or stupid. This information has is free, widely available, and easy to comprehend, yet most people continue to believe in the old, untrue ideas.

I think baseball helps me to understand why that is.

Cubs V. Red Sox in the World Series?

Check out the Secret Sauce (Subscription required).

And when you read it, don't think that BP is contradicting the post before this one where I rip on closers. They do no such thing:

Closers pitch a much larger percentage of a team’s innings in the playoffs than they do in the regular season; since 1996, for example, Mariano Rivera has thrown 5.1% of the Yankees’ regular season innings, but 10.4% of their post-season innings. And those closers tend to pitch in higher leverage situations, with the preponderance of close contests when good teams get together. (It is the closer specifically who seems to matter; middle relievers are of less importance in the postseason, as both closers and starting pitchers are used more aggressively by their managers.)

The (Probably) Lucky Genius of Lou Piniella

Do you know what drives those of the SABRmetric ilk bonkers? Closers. We hate closers. The notion of a baseball closer is so stupid that it's hard to believe that we have to explain this to people, and that they still don't believe us. Closers suck because:

1. They limit the innings of your best relief pitcher.

Usually your closer is your best pitcher, which means that your best pitcher will only get to pitch for a maximum of one inning per game, only in games where you enjoy a lead, but not to big of a lead. Only LOOGYs are more limited. So, where Francisco Cordero is only allowed to pitch in these situations, shitty pitchers like Chris Spurling are free to pitch in any situation. Consequently, shitty pitchers get to pitch more than your best pitcher. It's like if the Yankees restricted A-Rod to hitting in the 9th inning of close games. That would be insane. Just like the closer.

2. They keep your best relief pitcher from pitching in tough situations.

You should use your closer to put out fires. If you have a small lead, and your starter is getting tired and a bunch of guys are on base with no outs, you should call upon your best reliever to escape this situation. Instead, most teams save their closers for the 9th inning, just in case the shitty pitcher that goes in now maintains the lead so that he can get a save later. This is stupid, like if you have David Ortiz on your bench, and it's the World Series, and Tim Wakefield is due up next in the 6th, and he's been struggling on the mound, and they're down by two but have two guys on, and instead of pinch-hitting Ortiz they stick Royce Clayton out there, because they want to save Ortiz in case they need to pinch hit in the ninth. That's really stupid.

3. Saves are expensive.

Aside from being a stupid stat for losers, "saves" go a long way towards determining what your closer makes. If he has over 40, he's going to cost you. This is stupid for several reasons. First, a save is easy to get. You just have to not give up 3 runs before you give up 3 outs most of the time. That's easy. Second, most relief pitchers see their numbers vary a ton from year to year. Yeah you get your Riveras here and there, but most of these guys flame out pretty quick. Sometimes they rebound, sometimes they don't. Francisco Cordero used to suck. Now he's good. Eric Gagne used to rule. Now he sucks. Giving a relief pitcher a big contract is really stupid. Doing so based on saves is monumentally idiotic. Billy Beane used to rip people off like this all the time (Billy Koch).

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella has, I believe accidentally, managed his bullpen in an almost ideal fashion this year. The Cubs' best pitcher, and indeed, perhaps the National League's best relief pitcher, is Carlos Marmol.

Carlos Marmol has an ERA+ of 320 and a WHIP of 1.096. For those of you not acquainted with these stats, it means that he's fucking awesome. For instance, Mariano Rivera's career high ERA+ is 323. On the other hand, the Cubs' closer has an ERA+ of 97 and a WHIP of 1.335, not terrible, but slightly below average.

Carlos Marmol has been the Cubs fireman since May 19th. He comes in when the Cubs are in danger of blowing the lead. Most of the time, he succeeds. He throws hard, with movement, for strikes, and despite the fact that he missed more than a month and a half of the season, he appeared in almost as many games a Dempster and pitched in MORE INNINGS than Dempster. (Note: Dempster did spend some time on the DL too, but the point still holds.)

This is exactly how you should use you best reliever, and it's a big reason why the Cubs managed to catch and surpass the Brewers in the NL Central. While the Cbs were having Carlos Marmol put out their fires the Brewers relied on Chris Spurling, Greg Aquino, Scott Linebrink, and a bonkers Matt Wise.

So when the Cubs faced a situation in which they were likely to give up runs (men on base, less than two outs), they called on Marmol. Is it any wonder that the Brewers blew more leads down the stretch? The Cubs blew a ton of leads early in the season, until Marmol was called up and became the fireman. When he started pitching on a regular basis, they stopped blowing leads.

I don't think that Lou Piniella meant to do this, which makes it infuriating for Brewers fans. Dempster was the incumbent closer and most managers won't strip them of their titles unless they suck for an extended period of time. (It's the reason that Joel Zumaya never beat out Todd Jones for the job. Dempster never really pitched bad enough to lose the job, which is the best thing that ever happened to the Cubs.

Not a day goes by on Chicago sports talk radio without some goober complaining that Marmol isn't the closer, and as Brewer fan, I heartily agree. In the meantime, everyone should emulate this model. It's the only correct way to run a bullpen.

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's Football Time, and Peanut Butter Jelly Time

First, football time.

This NFL season has been really strange for the following reasons:

1. All good fantasy RBs are craptacular.

Fuck the heck is going on here? Frank Gore is young, and not overworked at all. So is Steve Jackson. Ladanian has the Norv excuse and LJ has the 370 carry-rule excuse, but this is weird. I mean, Travis Henry has more yards than all of these guys. We're one injury away from having Selvin Young as the league's leading rusher.

2. Defense, apparently, does not win championships.

See: Ravens, Bears. I mean, G.M Chrysler!

3, The Packer coaches apparently just read "The Blind Side." I'm inexcusably late to the party on Michael Lewis's latest, but watching the Packers quick-pass, no-run offense was so reminiscent of reading of the early days of Bil Walsh's newfangled "West Coast" offense that it was almost scary. Almost like the original has generated so many adaptations that it has become fresh again, and the Packers are running it.

4. Norv Turner sucks.

Have you read Bill Simmons column about Norv standing on 16 at the blackjack table. I'm not going to find it for you, but I've never agreed with a Sports Guy point quite so much. If your head football coach doesn't hit a 16 against a 10, fire his ass.

5. Who are the Bears?

They're who I thought they were.

6. Who is the best team in the NFC West?

I have no idea. My brain says that it should be San Fran, but there is clearly no evidence to support this. Seattle appears to be the "class" of the division, despite a severely declining Shaun Alexander. What gives? My theory is that Matt Hasselbeck is actually much better than he gets credit for.

7. Pecota Rules.

Yes, yes it does.

8. New England is awesome.

This is almost like the "What if Barry Sanders had a good o-line" question being answered. What if Tom Brady had good receivers. Apparently, he would kick a lot of ass.

9. I think that this is about right.

10. Brett Favre would not make a good GM.

Brett spent the offseason whining about a lack of good receivers, and Ted Thompson spent the offseason ignoring him and building a championship caliber defense. Moving KGB back to a third down specialist is a great move. Kampman is great. Moving Cullen Jenkins into the starting lineup is genius. Nick Barnett looks great. So does Hawk. Al Harris and Charles Woodson will capitalize on pressure. Where the hell did Atari Bigby come from?

Better yet, the receivers are actually pretty good. I'm already drinking the kool-aid on James Jones, and Greg Jenning looks like he did before the injury last year.

This team is now built to win with or without Favre. The fact that he's playing out of his frickin' mind is an extra-special bonus.

I like this team. So does DVOA.

Oh, and, as promised, here's Peanut Butter Jelly Time.

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