Friday, March 17, 2006

ENDS MEANS JUSTIFICATION?
The idea of"Roe for men," that fathers should be able to fill out a form during a pregnancy's first trimester freeing them from all parental obligations is fairly obviously immoral.

But man, it sure shines a harsh light the culture of death, a light it may not be able to stand, as evidenced here. Heres' a key passage:

Maybe there is no good answer to the dilemma of male reproductive rights. Still, it is an issue that should prompt us to rethink some deeply held assumptions. It should make us realize that, if men who want a right to be released from their parental obligations seem callously egocentric to many people, that's how women who want abortion on demand look to many anti-abortion advocates. It should make us ponder the fact that, while paternal desertion is often cited as evidence of male irresponsibility and selfishness, more than a million American women every year walk away from the burdens of motherhood.

It almost makes you want to get behind such an initiative to force people to think through the message that a right to abortion sends about parental responsibility independent of it being a "woman's rights issue."

But then I remember about ends-means justification... Tom? Zippy?

Monday, March 13, 2006

ONE MORE THING
Billy Packer (who is descending rapidly into self-parody) harrumphed that by the putting as many teams from the Missouri Valley Conference (4) in the tournament as the ACC or the Big 12, the commmitee was saying the MVC was as strong as those conferences, which we as viewers were supposed to recognize as a ridiculous proposition.

They did no such thing. Duke is a #1 seed. Texas is a #2. The highest MVC seed is a #7. What the committee did say was that the fourth-best team from the MVC has demonstrated more strength then the fifth best team from the ACC or Big 12.

For all his bluster, Packer never made a case that a specific excluded team from the ACC or Big 12 was more deserving than a specific included team from the MVC. Probably because that would have involved advocating on behalf of teams like Maryland and Florida St. that fumbled their many chances.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

ON SELECTION CONTROVERSIES
My take is it really doesn't matter. Remember, the point of the tournament is to determine the champion, and I find it very difficult to believe any of the "snubbed" teams would have has a legitimate shot at winning the tournament. This is unlike the BCS, where you're choosing among teams that could beat each other.
FUN WITH BRACKETS
In filling out the NCAA brackets, there are some schools that are just fun to write in. I especially enjoy abbvreviating schools by including the last one or two syllables:

  • Villanova -> 'Nova
  • Arizona -> 'Zona
  • Syracuse -> 'Cuse
  • Gonzaga -> 'Zaga

Or for maximum fun, there's the one with one letter, then the last syllable:

  • Louisville -> L'Ville


Also, fun are the schools for which you can write the first syllable then a nicknamey end:

  • Cincinnati -> Cincy
  • Missouri -> Mizzou

Then there's the shools which have a spcific abbrevitation that you can always use.

  • North Carolina -> UNC
  • Kansas -> KU
  • Kentucky -> UK

I'll steer clear of the question of who the "real" USC is for now.

The U- nicknames are also fun...

  • Massacussetts -> UMass
  • Connecticut -> UConn

UConn is especially fun since the team's nickname (the Huskies) is derived from this abbreviation.

Other schools are kind enough to be generally known by their initials (UNLV, UCLA), and the most successful college basketball program of the bracket era had a four letter name and needs no introduction.

This led me to wonder if the "fun" teams are overrepresented in people's bracket picks. Are teams that have no obvious fun abbreviation, like, say, Illinois or Arkansas or Marquette, are underpicked. Do some people fill out their brackets, consider picking Wisconsin-Milwaukee in an upset, then think about writing it in the tiny bracket space, and figure, "Ah -- screw it!" and go back to chalk?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

GREAT EXCHANGE
Malcolm Gladwell is the current guest of Bill Simmons's Curious Guy feature.

It's a great exchange, and you should read the whole thing (I'm imagining I actually have readers here), but I found Gladwell's analysis of the "contract year" phenomenon in the case of Eric Dampier very interesting on a number of levels:

What can we conclude from this? The obvious answer is that effort plays a much larger role in athletic performance than we care to admit. When he tries, Dampier is one of the top centers in the league. When he doesn't try, he's mediocre. So a big part of talent is effort. The second obvious answer is that performance (at least in centers) is incredibly variable. The same person can be a mediocre center one year and a top 10 center the next just based on how motivated he is. So is Dampier a top 10 player or a mediocre player? There is no way to answer that. It depends. He's not inherently good or bad. He's both. The third obvious answer is that coaching matters. If you are a coach who can get Dampier to try, you can turn a mediocre center into a top 10 center. And you, the coach, will be enormously valuable.

And this is where I think sabermetric analysis of baseball falls short, in my opinion, as I alluded to inmy analysis of last year's White Sox. Sabermetric analysis rests on the assumption that a player's productivity is relatively constant, or, more accurately, follows a predictable career pattern. So a GM's job is to assemble a team of players whose expected productivity is sufficient to win a division title. Thus the development of tools like PECOTA, which forecast the probabilities of different levels of production based on that of similar players.

But the contract year phenomenon challenges all that. A team's management needs to assemble a collection of talent that can produce, but equally important is its ability to create an environment where the players they have exert the maximum amount of effort.

So, to choose an example, maybe "small ball" tactics like bunting and the hit and run and stealing bases aren't good risks by statistical analysis. But maybe they keep players on their toes and engaged in the game more than station to station wait for the three run home run offense. Obviously this isn't the only way to keep players motivated (Earl Weaver's teams never lacked for effort, and he was famous for eschewing small ball), but it is one way. And as I noted about the White Sox, when you see a team consistently over-achieve on defense, allowing their pitchers to dramatically overachieve, you've got to think that they're creating a winning environment.

Gladwell turns this analysis on to an underachieving student; I was thinking about corporate America. My experience is that much of a company's energy is spent in creating policies to limit the damage the worst employee can do rather than unleashing the potential of the best employees. What if we instead focused on how we can get the best effort out of our best employees? Wouldn't that pay more dividends?

As I said, a very fascinating conversation...