Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Colbert Temptation...

While I'm ruining comedy by over-analyzing it, I'll turn to Stephen Colbert.

Now, I haven't caught much of his show since he's taken over the 11:30 CBS spot. I watched and enjoyed his Comedy Central show when I lived in the Central Time Zone, though I did have my issues with it.  But I have followed the news and ratings, and Colbert's apparent decision to make his show more overtly political in response to Trump.

I think this is a terrible idea.

To see why, let's look at Colbert's segment at halftime of today's Big 10 Championship Game on the occasion of Colbert's Northwestern Wildcats imminent first ever selection to the NCAA tournament.
Bear in mind that Colbert was addressing a different audience from his usual fans, and had an opportunity to win them over:


The Trump/political bits are easily the least funny parts of it. Those who enjoyed them aren't laughing at good jokes, but rejoicing in seeing their own views mirrored by a fancy celebrity. "It's the year of the underdog ... including reality TV show hosts!" Really? March Madness won't be covered by health insurance next year?  Is there even a joke there? Or are we just supposed to howl in recognition that health care will obviously be worse next year once the Republicans are done with it.


He's better than this.

But the problem is that Colbert (and his staff) receive tremendous amounts of positive feedback for this kind of thing, likely from people they like and respect. The temptation to just keep pounding out the anti-Trump stuff must be enormous.

But it's a temptation I think he and his cohorts would do well to resist. It doesn't make for particularly good comedy, and I don't think it's particularly good commentary either. If the Republicans really are ruining health care for millions of people, we shouldn't be chuckling about it not covering "March Madness;" we should be doing everything we can to prevent it.

I think Jimmy Kimmel is on the right track with Trump-free Tuesday -- if only force his writers to push themselves past the easy high of an anti-Trump hit.

Comedians like Colbert will have an important role to play in how we respond to Trump. They need to do so with care in order to be effective.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Thinking Too Hard About the Big Bang Theory


The Big Bang Theory has been on for 10 years now, and has spent the last 5 being the #1 rated scripted show on network television, which doesn't mean what it used to mean, but is still something.

Despite (or, as this discussion may demonstrate, because of) being a bit nerdy like the main characters, I've never been much of a fan. I won't leave the room if it's on, but I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it.

But why? It's a show about people somewhat similar to me (though I would much sooner spend a weekend on a retreat or watching basketball than at Comic-con) with attractive wives and girlfriends, successful careers, and quality friendships, which has top-level resources devoted to it (this isn't a "Christian" movie). What's not to like?

Then, I saw this video:


Now, I've written before about how, for a piece of entertainment like The Big Bang Theory, what is being sold isn't so much the show as an artifact of artistic achievement, but the experience of watching the show. So, the fact that there's not really a well-crafted "joke" here to go with the laugh track does not, in itself, convict the show.

But it does raise the question of what is being sold here.

And the conclusion I come to, is that the experience is of laughing at these characters, not with them, and by extension, me and other "nerdy" people.

--

Let's stipulate that the Big Bang Theory does not represent some crowning pinnacle of comedic or dramatic achievement, but just something that people enjoy the company of for a half hour a week.

Now, for a show to work this way does not require the characters to be people one would either admire or choose to hang out with in real life. The four Seinfeld characters were, of course famous for their antisocial behavior. All six Friends had traits that would be grating from a real-life friend. The Crane brothers would be insufferable for longer than a half hour. And so on...

And I think the pattern holds true for The Big Bang Theory. The characters aren't presented as malevolent, but they are not presented as particularly likable, either. We root for them, but I don't think we are supposed to want to hang out with them.

Penny is our audience-surrogate. She started the series as their neighbor, and now is married to Leonard, the least nerdy of the bunch. She rolls her eyes with us as the guys nerd out. She is also unrealistically attractive for someone who would spend any time with this group.

A typical episode's "A" plot these days will involve Leonard committing some obvious relationship blunder that gets Penny angry at him (say, not calling when he was going to be late or changing plans without consulting her first). At first Leonard will be indignant at how this innocuous action (or inaction) could possibly provoke this type of response, but by the final act, he has recognized his error, made some grand gesture to atone, and pledges not to repeat the error.

So, the non-nerdy fans get to feel superior to the nerds, who might be book-smart but are oblivious as far as relationships go, plus we're way hotter than they are. And the nerds are pacified because Leonard gets to keep his hot wife/girlfriend, even if it comes at the cost of his personality being gradually ground down.

A similar thing happens with the sequence above. Non-nerds (and milder nerds like me) laugh that the nerds care about all this stuff. Nerds are (supposed to be) thrilled to see someone who shares their interests represented in a sympathetic manner on a highly rated network television show.

--

The made me recall the Twitter fight between Scott Alexander and Freddie (which I can't find right now), which started with Freddie asserting that the commercial success of Star Wars proves that nerds aren't oppressed. Alexander responded that the prominence of blacks in entertainment didn't prove that blacks weren't oppressed, which Freddie uncharacteristically took as a cue to mock the idea that anyone would compare the experience of nerds to the experience of blacks, ending any productive conversation.

The point wasn't that the experience of nerds is in any way analogous to that of blacks, but simply that this was a bad way to demonstrate it. (And I probably wouldn't choose the word "oppressed" to describe the experience of nerds).

The fact that Hollywood is willing to portray things we like and take our money doesn't mean they respect us, any more than copying our homework in high school was a demonstration of social esteem.  Yes, Hollywood devotes a lot of resources to comic book and Sci-Fi movies, but as the Oscars demonstrated, this isn't really what they respect. They'll happily cash the checks and use them to make dramas celebrating themselves.

With The Big Bang Theory, I feel like I'm being made fun of, and also expected to be thankful for the privilege.

--

Of course, this made me wonder how other groups feel. Shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family are often praised for their positive portrayal of gay characters, to the point where some credited these shows with changing their position on same sex marriage.

But are/were they really so great? Weren't the portrayals a bit stereotypical? And weren't we invited to laugh at their fussiness?

Maybe some gay people did think so, but were afraid to make much noise about it since it was so much better than what came before, and were thankful for the progress.

And maybe that would be a good attitude for me to cultivate as well.

So I'll muster one cheer for The Big Bang Theory.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Clinton Team's Shit Didn't Work in the General Election

Yes! It's another MBB sports-politics analogy post!

When questioned about his Oakland A's lack of postseason success, Billy Beane famously remarked, "My shit doesn't work in the playoffs,"

There's a couple messages one could take from this statement:

  1. The baseball playoffs are essentially a crapshoot, and it's silly to draw any grand conclusions from a team's performance in a 5 or 7 game series. The 162 game regular schedule is a much truer test of a team's makeup. Beane's job was to get the team in position to be in the playoffs, and he did that.
  2. The A's were constructed for the long grind of the regular season, not the radically different postseason. The things that helped the A's be successful in the regular season worked against them in the playoffs.
  3. The way the A's were constructed was missing a critical element that was exposed in the pressure of postseason play.
Beane's defenders tended toward the first explanation, his critics tended to the third. I'm probably closer to the second.

I think one thing working against the A's is that the data Beane was working from was not fully mature, and only captured things that were easy to measure, such as the three true outcomes. There weren't good statistics for baserunning and defense, so they were put into the pile of things that don't matter as much as traditionalists think, like clutch hitting and clubhouse chemistry.

Now, of course, we have better data about these things, and analytics-strong teams include great defensive players and aggressively shift to leverage them. But Beane was still working with the 1.0 version of analytics, which was missing this, resulting in distortions. The Moneyball A's were built around hulking sluggers who walked a lot but weren't so great at running of fielding. This left some gaps which their postseason opponents took advantage of.

This popped (back) into my mind reading Sonny Bunch's comparison of the Trump campaign to the Moneyball A's. Bunch thinks that Trump was the "Moneyball" candidate, embracing unorthodox strategies that gave him an advantage over the more conventional Clinton campaign.

I think the opposite -- I think the Clinton campaign was more of "Moneyball" team, and fell short for similar reasons to why the Moneyball A's never won a World Series.

The Clinton campaign's decisions were very driven by the polls, and by the analysis thereof. Decisions like not campaigning in states like Wisconsin and Michigan which unexpectedly turned the election to Clinton were driven by data-savvy people in Brooklyn over the objections of the people on the ground.

This resulted in a distorted campaign, and an anomalous result.

And I think the lesson in not necessarily to abandon the analytic approach, but to get better at it, and until you are better, complement it with some old-fashioned ground work.

Working the Refs....

I don't recall exactly when the term "working the refs" entered the lexicon of sports, but the first coach I recall employing the tactic beyond simple complaining about close calls that didn't go his way was Phil Jackson.

Again, this may be a little hazy, but my memory is that in his post-game press conference, Jackson would drop tidbits such as that the Bulls' opponents had twice as many free throw attempts as the Bulls. Or note a tendency of an opposing player that could be outside of the rules. He wouldn't embarrass the official; he wouldn't take his or his team's focus off their own performance onto the officials, but he would make his point.

Then there's the approach of someone like Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. They seems to respond to every call that doesn't go their way as if it is the greatest injustice in human history. So Chris Paul picks up a technical for screaming at an official 3 minutes into a game where the Clippers got blown out by the Warriors.

There may be some advantages to this approach. It may be that, in the short term, the officials will be aware that they will pay the price for any call that goes against the Clippers. So they may be a bit more reluctant to make such a call.

But over time, this grates on people. Their complaints start being dismissed as them always complaining. The official may develop a hostility to a team that is constantly showing them up.

And it can take the team's focus off of what they need to do to get better. The team starts to see itself as a victim of unjust decisions rather than a unit with agency. Maybe a couple calls didn't go your way. You can still play better.

It doesn't seem absurd that this attitude may be one reason the Clippers have yet to enjoy a deep playoff run.

--

When I look at the commentary from many left of center sources about the media, what I see reminds me more of Doc Rivers than Phil Jackson.

A prime example is the notion of "false equivalence." Any time an article mentions the sins of the left in any proximity to some sin of the right, you can count on a series of concerns about "false equivalence" -- that by mentioning these two problems in proximity to each other, the writer is promoting the notion that they are equivalent when they are not even close.

If I can be indulged another sports analogy, this strikes me as akin to criticizing sportswriters for reporting the score from both teams out of fear that some readers would see that both teams scored points, and thus the game ended in a tie.

Yes, some people take mental shortcuts, and some may jump to the "both sides are guilty" conclusion, but I retain hope that people are capable of making value judgments based on the facts presented. And if they're not, I don't think the problem will be solved by declining to report the sins of the side seemed to be better.

I think that false equivalence is best confronted by:

  • being better
  • teaching people to recognize distinctions
  • modeling that themselves.




Sunday, November 20, 2016

The danger of Trump

Scott Alexander wrote a piece entitled "You're Still Crying Wolf" about how some of the reaction to Trump's election have been counter-productive.

Alexander endorsed Hillary Clinton, and I didn't, but I'm inclined to agree with Ross Douthat's (who also never explicitly endorsed Clinton, as far as I know) assessment of the piece as "important but wrong."

First, the important part -- in the final section, Alexander writes about people committing suicide because Trump won, and freaking out beyond what can be supported by the Trump campaign's words or actions, and concludes:

Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.
I think this is important. I don't know where people got the idea that convincing people that some people hate them who actually don't was helpful to them, but it's not and it needs to stop. The hit of moral superiority you get from saying that other people hate isn't worth it.

The wrong part, I think, is misunderstanding how structures of racism and other structures persist. The passage that I think best exhibits this is in Section III, Questions 1-3, discussing Trump's support from the KKK and white nationalist groups.

The section doesn't lend itself to quoting, but the gist is that the KKK, white nationalists, unapologetic racists, etc. are such a small portion of the electorate, especially compared to minority populations and those sympathetic to them, that it would be foolish for Trump to court the former while eschewing the latter.

Which may have been true in the general election. And I'm inclined to agree that Trump's attitude is more of a businessman's "their votes counts as much as anyone else's" than actual enthusiasm for white nationalism.  I suspect Trump didn't do much better in the general election from self-described white nationalists than Romney or McCain.

But in the Republican primary with 15 other candidates, they were a more significant force. He had signaled a willingness to accept their support with no strings attached. And when he won the nomination, and then the general election, these were the people who had displayed loyalty, and thus the people who would run the campaign, and receive high level assignments in a Trump Administration.

Combine this with Trump's level of support from law enforcement, and I think the fear that a Trump Administration will bring about worse treatments of minorities by the police is far from absurd.

--

Alexander suggests that those who disagree with his piece do so by betting the other side of one of his predictions:

1. Total hate crimes incidents as measured here will be not more than 125% of their 2015 value at any year during a Trump presidency, conditional on similar reporting methodology [confidence: 80%]2. Total minority population of US citizens will increase throughout Trump’s presidency [confidence: 99%]3. US Muslim population increases throughout Trump’s presidency [confidence: 95%]4. Trump cabinet will be at least 10% minority [confidence: 90%], at least 20% minority [confidence: 70%], at least 30% minority [30%]. Here I’m defining “minority” to include nonwhites, Latinos, and LGBT people, though not women. Note that by this definition America as a whole is about 35% minority and Congress is about 15% minority.5. Gay marriage will remain legal throughout a Trump presidency [confidence: 95%]6. Race relations as perceived by blacks, as measured by this Gallup poll, will do better under Trump than they did under Obama (ie the change in race relations 2017-2021 will be less negative/more positive than the change 2009-2016) [confidence: 70%].7. Neither Trump nor any of his officials (Cabinet, etc) will endorse the KKK, Stormfront, or explicit neo-Nazis publicly, refuse to back down, etc, and keep their job [confidence: 99%].8. No large demographic group (> 1 million people) get forced to sign up for a “registry” [confidence: 95%]9> No large demographic group gets sent to internment camps [confidence: 99%]10. Number of deportations during Trump’s four years will not be greater than Obama’s 8 [confidence: 90%]
First, I think this is kind of silly. The danger of Trump is that he puts a number of outcomes in play that were previously unthinkable. A lot of bad things go from 0.01% to 0.1%.  For one catastrophic event, this might not be so bad, but there's a multiplier in place. If the probability of 10 separate catastrophic events went from 0.01% to 0.1%, then the chance of a catastrophe went from 0.1% to 1%. This seems bad, even if it would still make it foolish to bet on it.

Somewhat related, presidencies often go bad for reasons that aren't anticipated, but do have to do with the character of the president and those around him. Lots of people were probably wary of a Bush presidency in 2000, but I'm not sure they would have predicted that we would receive a large terrorist attack, and launch a misguided war in response that included torture. Or for Obama, that his health care bill would include a provision requiring employers to provide abortificient forms of birth control, and they would read the religious exemption narrowly, resulting in them taking the Little Sisters of the Poor to court.

Having said that, I'd be willing to take the other side of the predictions I bolded, assuming that there was some consistent way to measure them, which I fear would lead to some semantic arguments that would be unseemly. Plus, I'd rather not position myself to cheer for hate crimes or degrading race relations.

Furthermore, I think that if I'm wrong, then the mechanism by which I'm wrong would be some egregious event, either from law enforcement or by people emboldened by Trump's victory, that it unites people in support of minority populations, similar to how 9/11 united the county. This isn't something to cheer for.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

My Pledge

I understand that for many people, the results of last night's election are scary. Though I would have preferred a different outcome, they are not so for me, but I recognize that is at least partly due to my position of privilege.

Given that, I was to state that I will do my best over the course of the next four years to oppose policies that impact the most vulnerable among us -- in particular, racial and religious minorities.

I will oppose any policies that target them unfairly. I will use what forums I have to educate people about the negative impact such policies would have, and how they are out of step with American and Christian values. Should such policies be enacted, I will work to mitigate their impact, and to repeal them.

I will also opposes the actions of those who may feel that yesterday's results give them license for bullying and other bad behavior.

I am sorry for my lack of engagement that helped bring us to this point, and I will work to ensure we have quality candidates for whom to vote in future elections.

*I normally despise pieces like this that portray the writer as the last island of love and tolerance in a sea of hatred and bigotry. That's not my point -- I believe we are still a nation of good people (a number of whom made a wrong choice or series of choices), and I want us to say so, and reassure those who are scared today.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Why I Care About Email Server Management

Please see my election disclaimer post.

A regular feature of Matthew Ygelsias's Twitter feed has been referring to the controversy around Hillary Clinton's email server as "email server management," e.g. suggesting that the only people who would be concerned about that are "single-issue email server management voters".

This morning, Yglesias took this snark to article form: "The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign"

OK, well let's see how this starts out...
Some time ago, Hillary Clinton and her advisers decided that the best course of action was to apologize for having used a personal email address to conduct government business while serving as secretary of state.
Emphasis added.

Ok, we have a problem right off the bat.

One of the patterns of Clinton defenses is to conflate what Clinton did with what a lot of professionals have done. We've all probably mixed our personal and professional IT resources in ways our employers would not approve of, so we're invited to see what Clinton did as not much different, and identify with her. We wouldn't want to have our career prospects limited by this, why should Clinton?

A few problems with this gambit:


  1. Clinton didn't just mix her personal and professional email. She had her own server for this email set up at her home on Long Island. This wasn't a matter of forwarding an email to your personal account so you could look at it at home without lugging your laptop home. This was a systemized circumvention of standard protocols.
  2. Hillary Clinton was not some standard cog in a machine. She was Secretary of State with ambitions of becoming president. I might scoff at IT policies around the emails I'm privy to as a mid-level software developer as being a tad paranoid.  Oooh, maybe a competitor will find out that we're increasing our focus on quality this quarter! When you are Secretary of State of the most powerful nation in the world, those restrictions are a bit more meaningful.
  3. I'd like to think those who would be our leaders have stronger ethical fiber than I do. I might be tempted to ignore policies that I find inconvenient, but, in general, I don't, and neither do most people. That I can understand the temptation does not mean that I excuse succumbing to it, in particular from those who ask me to vote for them for president.

So why did she do it?  Here's Yglesias's explanation:

Like most people who started a federal job in 2009, she was also disheartened to learn that the then-current state of federal IT departments was such that she could not connect her personal smartphone to a State Department email address. If she wanted ready access to both her email accounts, she would need to carry two smartphones.
As any reporter in Washington knows, this indignity was in fact visited upon a huge number of DC denizens for many years. Everyone working in government felt that this was kinda bullshit, but nobody could really do anything about it. (Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts has opined that carrying two phones could be reasonable grounds to suspect someone is a drug dealer.)
Clinton decided to do something about it. Namely, she told her top aides to just email her at her personal address so she could keep using whichever devices she wanted. This violated an internal State Department policy directive, known as a Foreign Affairs Manual, which stated that while it was okay to use personal digital devices to do work occasionally, “normal day-to-day operations” should be conducted on standard State Department equipment. Clinton chose to ignore this guideline and because she was the boss nobody could stop her. 

So, according to Yglesias, the reason for the use of the personal email address was convenience. Who wants to lug around two devices?  The image this brings up is of a poor working mom dragging her kids to day-care and soccer practice and the grocery store and having to stand on the Metro to get to work, and you're asking her to carry one more thing around with her every damn day? Who could blame her for saying, "The Hell with that!"

Except Hillary Clinton wasn't a poor working mother riding public transportation to work everyday. She was Secretary of State and former First Lady, with a full staff and Secret Service protection. She hadn't touched the steering wheel of a car, let alone a post on a Metro train, in 30 years. The idea that it was just too darn onerous for her to carry two devices, while thousands of other people do the exact same thing with considerably less priviilege is risible.

So, why the email server? Yglesias goes on:

Clinton, as you may have heard, is married to former president Bill Clinton, who stepped down from office in January of 2001. Clinton was in the White House throughout the 1990s when the rest of us were being bombarded with AOL signup CD-ROMs, so he didn’t have a personal email when he left. Gmail didn’t exist back then, and his new job was, in effect, running a Bill Clinton startup. He launched a charitable foundation, he established his presidential library, and he made big bucks on speaking tours. He had a staff and he needed IT infrastructure and support. So he paid a guy to set up an email server that he could use.
Hillary Clinton — who is, again, his wife — also set herself up with an account on the same server. This is a bit unusual, but a lot about being married to a former president is unusual. What it’s not is suspicious.

I'll accept this, but note that Yglesias is asking us to grant Clinton slack based on her unusual position as a former first lady, while at the same time presenting her as poor working schlub like the rest of us who couldn't possibly be expected to manage two devices.

From there, Ygleisias goes on into the specifics of the Espionage Act, which I'm not inclined to dispute. My problem with this is not the specifics of the Espionage Act. It is the attitude of being above the law, both in this decision and the "how dare you!" response to it.

All of us encounter rules and regulations that make it harder to do the things we want to do. Our choices are:

  1. Go along with it and accept the slow-down
  2. Ignore the regulation.
  3. Work to change the regulation if it truly doesn't make sense.
Most of us are expected to choose Option #1, particularly if we lack the skill or initiative to challenge the status quo. And our lives are more difficult because of it. We lug two devices to the soccer field.

Occasionally, me might get away with Option #2. We drive 26 in a 25. We skip a few steps. We send a personal email from our work computer. We forward an email to our personal address. But if we get caught, we know we'll have to apologize or our livelihoods will be threatened.

I expect our leaders to choose Option #1 or #3. Yes, #1 makes life harder, and #3 requires courage. Tough. You want to be president.

This isn't about "email server management." This is about character. This is about how one regards oneself in relation to those one is asking to rule. The Clinton Team's response to this has not demonstrated they understand this.


This is why this story won't go away. Because people like Yglesias keep trying to shame us for caring about it, and we smell a rat.

We should expect more from our leaders than they expect of us.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils is Still Less Than My Standard

Please see my election disclaimer post.

I've seen a lot of commentary along these lines lately:

To illustrate this example, all 3 of the baseball teams I root for -- the Phillies, Cardinals, and the Mariners -- did not make the playoffs this year.

This does not mean that they were equally bad.  Indeed, the Phillies were significantly worse than the Mariners and the Cardinals by all measures.

But neither met the standard to qualify for the playoffs.

This is what those who have thoughtfully considered both the major party candidates, and have deemed both unacceptable have concluded.  Not that both the candidates are equally bad, but that neither meets the standard for the office they seek. 

To be sure, there is a strain of reflexive, "To hell with both of them" thought that ought to be challenged. But I think many of those who have found both these candidates wanting wish they had a candidate worth supporting.

Lowering our standards for either of these candidates sends the message that we will accept whatever the parties give us. And we'll be right back here four years later.

But wait, Clinton supporters say, maybe Clinton doesn't meet the threshold for your support, but surely Trump has crashed through another threshold, where it is necessary to vote for the opposing party, qualms notwithstanding, to prevent him from taking power.

My response is that I'll let the Clinton campaign tell me that by how they conduct their campaign. If voting for Clinton to prevent Trump from taking power is an imperative for me as a citizen, then it is also an imperative for the Clinton campaign to ensure their candidate can draw from the widest base of support.

The Clinton campaign has not done this. I can't say I blame them -- they will likely win anyway, and why handcuff yourselves if you don't have to? But I'm not going to sacrifice more than my leaders are willing to. If the Clinton campaign is not willing to bend on its principles to ensure Trump is not elected, than neither will I. Our leaders should sacrifice more than ordinary citizens, not less.


Please see my election disclaimer post.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Heroic Postseason Relief Appearances By Starting Pitchers

In the wake of Clayton Kershaw's save last night, and to cleanse my mind, let's review the most memorable relief appearances by starting pitchers in the postseason.

In baseball, postseaon games bear less resemblance to regular season games than in any other sport. One way is that the off days and "no tomorrow" mean that starting pitchers are available for relief duty.

Madison Bumgarner Game 7, 2014 World Series

Bumgarner completed his task of almost single-handedly lifting the Giants to victory with five shutout innings in Game 7 on the road, two days after throwing a complete game shutout.  This probably takes the lead for me, considering both the stakes and the body of Bumgarner's work during that postseason.

Pedro Martinez Game 5, 1999 ALDS

Coming at the end of what may be the most dominant pitching season in memory, Pedro came out of Game 1 of the ALDS against the Indians with a back injury

He returned with 6 innings of no-hit relief to push the Red Sox to a 12-8 victory over the Tribe. The score indicates how desperate the Sox were for some innings.

Randy Johnson Game 7, 2001 World Series

The 2001 Diamondbacks had come down to be almost a 2 man team, with their two aces of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Their closer Byung-Hyun Kim, had blown two saves in spectacular fashion.  

Johnson had pitched 7 innings in a 15-2 Snakes blowout, as analysts were screaming at Bob Brenly to take Johonson out of the game and save him for a possible relief appearance in Game 7.

The next night, Johnson came in to put out an eigth inning Yankee rally and pitched a perfect ninth before the Diamondbacks rallied in the ninth, giving Johnson his third win of the series.

Clayton Kershaw Game 5, 2016 NLDS

Unlike the other pitchers on the list, Kershaw came into this game with something to prove, fairly or unfairly. He had been unlucky in his postseason starts, and the heorics of the other California lefthanded ace had set the bar high.  And he passed the test with flying colors. 

Kershaw may have been overshadowed by the performance of closer Kenley Jansen, who came into the game with two runners on and no outs in the 7th, and pitched 2 1/3 innings on a career high 51 pitches. And unlike the other pitchers here, this did not come at the end of a great season (for him).

Orel Hershiser 1988 Game 4 NLCS

It's funny. I remember from that year:
  • Hershiser's record-setting scoreless streak to end the season.
  • Dodgers closer Jay Howell getting suspended for pine tar on his glove.
  • Hershiser dominating the A's in the World Series.
  • My dad was a Mets fan
But I didn't remember Hershiser's relief appearance in Game 4. Likely because it was in the 12th inning of a night game and I was 13 at the time. But one day after pitching 7 innings on two days' rest, Orel Hershiser got the final out of Game 4.

There's been other outings, typically back-end starters who were only going to get one start in a series making appearances, but these are the ones that stick out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Replay

A palate cleanser from my discussions of two candidates I can't stand.

To me, the main purpose of replay is to prevent gross injustices in officiating decisions. Things like the Don Denkinger decision in the 1985 World Series.

In particular, we want to prevent a player making a great effort, and getting screwed over by a bad call.

In football, the plays reviewed are generally plays of skill. Did the receiver keep both feet in bounds? Did the runner fumble the ball before the going down? Did the ball carrier get the ball over the goal line? There's some luck involved, but these are plays of skill.

In basketball.... not so much. Sometimes reviews are used for things like buzzer beaters. But more often, it's for determining who the ball deflected off before going out of bounds. This is almost always a matter of luck, not skill. Getting these calls wrong can be chalked up to a "bad break" rather than an injustice crying out for redress.

Now, in baseball, a common application is to ensure that baserunners who slid into 2nd or 3rd base maintain contact with the base throughout their slide while getting tagged. As Dave Cameron notes, if this is measuring a skill, it's one that has never been crucial in the history of baseball, and is only measured thanks to the new technology.

Is this a positive innovation? Well, assuming that sliding such that one never comes off the bag isn't something that can be easily picked up, the effect of this will be to drive down stolen bases and runners going for extra bases. Which are the more exciting plays in baseball, attempted by exciting players. Baseball needs more of these plays, not fewer. And these are not inaccuracies that are noted in real time.

There are more dimensions to justice than just accuracy. When Dustin Johnson played the final round of the US Open unsure if he had a penalty, that was an injustice, regardless of whether they got the call right.

Getting things right is an admirable motive, but in some cases, it's probably best to trade some accuracy for speed.

Monday, October 10, 2016

How could this happen?

Please see my election disclaimer post.

A popular line of commentary these days is to list the many sins of Donald Trump, and question why it took these videotapes to turn people away from Trump. This Dan Rather Facebook post seems to be a representative example.

The implied answer is that these people are moral cretins who don't care about anyone by their own, and need to take a hard look in the mirror.

That's definitely true. But at the same time, I think the people driving our culture need to consider how they might have helped create an environment where Trump could thrive.

A few examples:


  • I am pro-life, which means I consider abortion to be the killing of innocent human life. Yet, every four years, I am instructed, often my those who also claim to be pro-life and/or who share my Catholic faith, that I should "look past" candidates's support for abortion, and consider proportional reasons why supporting a pro-abortion candidate might be the right thing to do.
  • By the same token, Planned Parenthood actually commits hundreds of thousands of these abortions a year. Yet, I am lectured that I should #standWith them, again even by some pro-lifers or fellow Catholics, because abortion is only 3% of their business, they do great things like cancer screenings, and their body of work may on net reduce abortions. So I should look past that.
  • For years after that recording was made, and several other incidents were common knowledge, the network that produced that video helped make Trump a TV star, promoting him as a kind of omniscient master of business whose opinion on others' work wasn't just meaningful, but the only opinion that mattered.
  • The host for many of Trump's lewdest comments was Howard Stern. Those who challenged whether someone as crass as he is should have such prominence were dismissed as prudes. Like Trump, NBC gave him a prominent spot in a prime time family variety show, while he continued to spend his mornings interviewing porn stars on the radio.
Again, those who have supported Trump are responsible to the choice. But the culture has been sending out a pretty strong message that those who stand for any values are simpleton fools worthy of mockery.

That may be worth changing.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Trump and the Supremes

Please see my election disclaimer post.


One justification for voting for Trump despite his obvious deficiencies is the judiciary.  E.g.
And on the surface, this is understandable. Roe v. Wade and other cases overturned laws that were passed by state legislatures and signed by the governors. But were undone by judicial decisions.  So, the key to enacting meaningful protections for the unborn is to fill the judiciary with judges willing to overturn these decisions.

But if you dig a little deeper into the reality, this starts to fall apart.

In order for the "elect Trump for pro-life judges" strategy to work, the following things would need to happen:


  1. Trump wins the election.
  2. Trump keeps his promise to nominate judges who would make pro-life decisions, despite this not being any kind of personal priority of his.
  3. These judges, who are apparently visibly pro-life, and were nominated by a President Trump with all his misogynist history, in the media environment that gave us the War on Women, are confirmed by the Senate.
  4. Once on the Court, these justices are not influenced by the cultural elite, and continue to make pro-life decisions, enduring harsh criticism that comes with it. (Recall that many of the decisions establishing Same Sex Marriage were made by judges appointed by Republicans)
  5. These decisions, again made by judges appointed by President Trump that restrict women, are accepted by the public, and do not launch a series of counter-measures including efforts to impeach Trump or these justices, constitutional amendments, and a laser-like focus on the Courts from the abortion lobby.
I would place the probability of each of these as less than 50%.

Making the probability of success for this strategy (0.5 ^ 5), or 1/32 at best.

Now, all things are possible with God. Though I don't think "with God" and "President Trump" belong in the same sentence.

I'm afraid there aren't any shortcuts. We need to move elite opinion such that pro-life candidates and judges are acceptable. Maybe, and otherwise popular president could get away with nominating a judge with a pro-life record, as President Bush did with Roberts and Alito when he was still popular. A President Trump, if elected, will never be popular enough to do that.

It also paints a dim view of our judiciary, which may be supported by reality, but I don't think is healthy. That judges don't make decisions based on the evidence before them or arguments presented or the text itself, but on their pre-existing ideological commitments. Again, maybe this is how things have worked out, but it's not for the best.

The Trump shortcut to a pro-life decision is closed, if it was ever open. The only thing is for us to do the hard work of making the case for the unborn. It does seem difficult, but the Truth is on our side. Given that, we shouldn't need to sell ourselves to the likes of Trump to achieve protections for the unborn.


Please see my election disclaimer post.

#NeverTrump, including now

Though I have posted before that I will not be voting for Donald Trump, I have not made the strength of that conviction clear.


  • I think Hillary Clinton would be a better president than Donald Trump
  • I think any of the nominees from either party in my lifetime would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I think any of the candidates who made appearances in televised debates for either party in this year's election would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I think Gary Johnson would be a better president than Donald Trump.
  • I think Jill Stein would be a better president than Donald Trump.
  • I do not know much about the other third party candidates, but I strongly suspect they would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I suspect someone chosen at random from the pool of American citizens who meet the Constitutional eligibility requirements would be a better president than Donald Trump, if only because she would approach the office with some degree of humility.

Trump was a no-go from the beginning for me since I grew up an hour from Atlantic City, and saw what became of it with him exercising great influence over it. 

As I hope is clear to anyone familiar with me, the contents of Trump's campaign had no appeal to me. My one sliver of sympathy was that he would be able to call the Clinton campaign to account for some things, but it quickly became clear that he was the wrong person to do that.

I probably should have written this sooner, but if this helps people realize what a terrible candidate Trump is, it can't hurt.

----

So now, it seems that the Trump campaign is cratering after a tape of him making lewd comments bragging about sexually assaulting a woman came to light.

On the one hand, this is good news. It is good that more people are starting to see the light on Trump and turning away from him. I hope and pray this continues. And his behavior toward women and general lack of shame and decency is as good a reason as any for his campaign to fall.

On the other hand, it might have been good to see the ideas he represents arrive at Election Day intact and be soundly defeated. As it is, his followers can tell themselves they were undone by excess "political correctness" and that if their candidate wasn't quite so overtly crude, it would have been OK, and maybe they can try again in 4 years.

In any instance, I wanted to get myself on the record. I suspect Trump's rise is a result of many sins of omission in not being sufficiently engaged.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

My Case for not voting for either Major Party Candidate


Please see my election disclaimer post.

Prompted by this twitter exchange:

My first response to this line of argument is what I tweeted -- our consciences are a mix of our hearts and minds, and they need to be informed by each other. Many things in our society only continue due to decisions that make no sense on paper.

Secondly, I think there is a more rational case for voting 3rd party or simply refusing to vote for either of the two major party candidates, even if one is clearly preferable:


  • The probability that my vote will impact the election approaches 0.
  • The probability that my vote will impact me approaches 1.
Now, one could argue that the stakes of presidential elections are so high (think nuclear war), that even the small probability of my vote impacting the election makes it a worthwhile investment.

I don't think that's true, in part because I don't think people properly evaluate the effect their votes had on me.

In particular, as a Catholic, these have been my observations:

  • Catholics who voted for Bush because of his position on abortion ended up defending him in all other contexts, including the war in Iraq and the torture regime.
  • Catholics who voted for Barack Obama soften on abortion, defend Planned Parenthood, etc.
It's certainly possible that these voters' commitment to Catholic values, both the ones that informed their choices and the ones that they later opposed, was not genuine and a mere cover for what they wanted to do anyway. (Pro-life groups' support for Trump's candidacy suggests this).

But I think it is an observable phenomenon that voting for a candidate inclines one to reflexively defend all of that candidates actions, both in the present and the future.  And this makes one a less effective advocate for certain positions, and in general, a worse person.

And further, I think the world is only going to be better by us being better citizens, not worse. So, by choosing "the less of two evils" you are moving the world in the wrong direction, even if there is a clear difference between the candidates.

The Parties are the ones who put us into this mess. They are not deserving of our blind allegiance or fealty. 

Rather than make the next four years marginally better, let's try to make the next generation better.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I don't like being lied to

Please see my election disclaimer post before replying along the lines that Trump is worse.

After it was apparent that there was video evidence that Hillary Clinton collapsed at the 9/11 ceremony on Sunday, the story coming from her campaigns and supporters was that she had overheated, and there were a series of Tweets from Clinton supporters about how unusually hot and humid it was in New York City on Sunday morning, and thus it should not be surprising that Secretary Clinton, or anyone else for that matter, would be overcome by the heat:




I hesitate to include the last two because I think there is a non-negligible chance that the @peterdaou Twitter account is run by the Trump campaign, but the unusually hot and humid weather in NYC was a hot topic on Twitter for some time on Sunday.

Of course there were a few problems with selling this story:

  • The temperature at that time was in the mid seventies, with humidity in the mid 40s.
  • These facts are easily available to anybody with an internet connection.
  • The event Secretary Clinton was attending was attended by many other people, none of whom were apparently overcome by the heat.
  • There are millions of other people who live in the NYC area, some of whom are not Clinton loyalists, who can say that it was not an usually hot and humid day.
  • There were nationally televised sporting events from the NYC area attended by thousands of people at which the heat was not an apparent factor.
  • National news tends to make a big deal out of unusual weather in the NYC area.
I'd say this was an insult to my intelligence, except I'm not even sure they expected me to believe it if I gave it a second's worth of thought.

What I think they were hoping was that a sufficient number of respectable people would echo this story, and some "deplorable" people would object to it, and those unfamiliar with the facts would trust the respectable people rather than associate themselves with the "deplorable" people, and accept this story. It's seems like some form of social engineering akin to gaslighting. You can believe what you see, and be like the racists, misogynists, haters, and conspiracy-mongers, or you can go along with the respectable story. What's it going to be?

Except, in this case, the actual facts were so accessible that we couldn't help but see them, and the Clinton campaign was forced to disclose the truth.

--

This seems to be a pattern with the Clintons, and I don't like it.

I don't like being disrespected and lied to like this.

I don't like being expected to suspend my judgment and critical thinking.

I don't want to vote for or support people who act like this, or see them elevated to the highest offices.

It makes me wonder what other bullshit I've swallowed or will be asked to swallow in the future based on similar tactics.

And the fact that Trump is worse doesn't make it OK. Be better than he is.

Asking me to accept this is not a loving thing to do. If you're more upset with me that I won't go along with this than you are with your candidate for playing these games, then please reconsider your values.

Please see my election disclaimer post before replying along the lines that Trump is worse.

Election Disclaimer Post

I'll probably post some critical things about the major candidates here in the next few weeks, so I'm going to put this post here to preempt responses along the lines that I'm just shilling for one candidate or the other.

As in the previous two presidential elections, I will most likely not be voting for either of the party's nominees for president. I cannot imagine circumstances under which I would vote for Trump, and I consider the circumstances under which I would vote for Clinton to be vanishingly unlikely.

I take no position on what you should do, though I may challenge some of the reasons I see presented for why one should support one candidate or the other.

UPDATE: This probably didn't make the degree of my distaste for Trump strong enough, for which you may want to see this post.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How to Remind People of Mother Teresa's pro-life principals

With Mother Teresa's canonization next week, pro-lifers may be inclined to remind those celebrating her of her uncompromising opposition to abortion. I made the perhaps unwise step of confronting Prof. Robbie George when he did so in response to Senator Cory Booker (who I assume is pro-choice):

To me, I'm not a fan of this* for the same reason I'm not a fan of mocking people's thoughts and prayers in the aftermath of mass shootings. To me it seems, Senator Booker is doing something right and fitting in celebrating Mother Teresa. His reward? Being challenged on his abortion position. I think the most likely result is that Senator Booker will refrain from praising people whose records include pro-life advocacy, rather than to change his views.

And to be honest, though Mother Teresa did remind people of the dignity of the unborn, that was not the main focus of her work, and is not the main reason she is being canonized. It doesn't feel completely honest to re-purpose celebrations of her into pro-life advocacy, if it is not at least matched by advocacy for the poor. Perhaps she can serve as a model for pro-life Catholics who prioritize other issues -- it doesn't have to mean compromising on abortion. Her respect for all life fed her work for the poor, rather than competing with it.

Does that mean these politicians should never be challenged? No. If Senator Booker wants to say that pro-lifers are waging a War on Women, or just want to deny women access to healthcare, we can remind him of her praise of Mother Teresa, and ask if she was part of this front in a War on Women. It may not turn him pro-life, but it may prevent this tendency to cast pro-lifers as misogynistic jerks whose only motivation is a desire to control women and keep them down.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Soccer Terms vs. American Sports Terms

In following soccer, I've noted the different names soccer has for concepts it has in common with American (and Canadian, though there could be a whole separate post on hockey terms) sports. I will now evaluate which is superior:

"Concede" vs. "Give Up" or "Surrender"

In soccer, a team concedes a goal, penalty, etc. whereas in say, baseball, a team will give up a run. The one exception is match play golf, where a hole or a tie is "conceded" when only short putts remain.

And this is why I favor the American term. To my ears, "concede" implies there was some kind of intention involved.

Advantage: America

"Pitch" vs. "Field"

For the playing surface (of outdoor sports).

In this case, I think soccer has the advantage. I've been on the playing surface of CenturyLink field, and I would not consider it a field.

Advantage: Soccer

"Home vs. Visitor" vs. "Visitor at Home"

Soccer schedules and scores are typically presented with the home team first, and the American convention is to present the home team last.

This may be the American in me, but the American convention strikes me as more sensible, and conveys more information quickly -- "vs." could be at any site; "at" tells you where it is.

Advantage: America

"Supporters" vs. "Fans"

The people in the stands at soccer games are called supporters, and the Americans in attendance are typically referred to as fans.

Fans, of course, is short for "fanatics," which may be truthful, but is not something to aspire to. "Supporters" suggests a healthier relationship dynamic.

Advantage: Soccer

"Kit" vs. "Uniform"

For the clothes the plays wear.

"Kit" sounds more fun than "uniform," especially since the term "uniform" is borrowed from the military and police. Add in that we now have teams like the University of Oregon that rarely wear the same outfit twice, and "kit" seems more fitting, though it would be difficult to imagine referring to something like the New York Yankees uniform as "kit."

Advantage: Soccer

"Training" vs "Practice"

For non-game playing activity.

Training does sound more professional and focused, but also doesn't seem particular to sports, and again brings to mind the military. Practice seems to me a more precise description of the actual activity.

Advantage: America

"Clean Sheet" vs. "Shutout"

For holding the other team scoreless.

Is "conceding" a single goal dirty? Something shameful? This seems to suggest it is. Clean sheets should be the norm.  Shutout suggests something extraordinary, which seems more fair.

Advantage: America

"XI" versus "Starting Lineup"

A tougher call. XI is more compact, and also adds the information that there are 11 players (which should be unnecessary, but handy). On the other hand, it has the pretentiousness of Roman numerals, which even the Super Bowl dropped. The programmer in me will go for expressiveness.

Advantage: Soccer

"Side" vs. "Team" or "Club" or "Squad"

From the number of terms, you can see Americans haven't settled on a term. Side isn't great, but it's a bit more fun.

Advantage: Soccer

"Sent Off" vs. "Thrown Out" or "Fouled Out" or "Ejected" or "Game Misconduct"

Another case where Americans aren't clear. I like "sent off" -- it's active, yet also somewhat mild.

Advantage: Soccer

Before we go, I'll list the one thing soccer gets better than American sports is the running, ascending clock without an exact stop time, that nobody is certain when it ends. This prevents the games from becoming coaching duels where they try to manipulate the clock to get the last possession (and keeps the discussion from centering on the coach's "game management").

And in general, it seems like the coaches have much less impact on the action than American sports, perhaps excepting hockey.

One thing I don't like is the offsides rule, which seems to function to allow the defense to play high and prevent offense, rather than prevent cherry-picking.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How I Could Be Convinced To Vote For Clinton*

I have seen it suggested that regardless of my differences with Hillary Clinton, or whatever problems I have with how she has conducted herself in the offices she has served in during her career, I still must vote for her in November in order to prevent a Donald Trump presidency.

I will not be convinced to vote for Hillary Clinton in November by (further) recitations of how awful Donald Trump is, or how his disastrous is proposed polices would be.

What might convince me is if the Clinton campaign as their supporters behave as if they actually believe what they are telling me.

Specifically, if Secretary Clinton were to say something like the following:

Normally, presidential campaigns are about putting forward and comparing agendas, and having robust debates about the merits of each other's policies.
This is not a normal election.
My opponent has demonstrated in many ways that he is unfit for office in many dimensions, and it is my duty to do everything in my power to prevent him from taking this office and putting our nation in danger.
I know that there are many people who share this assessment, but feel they cannot vote for me for one of several reasons.This is addressed to them.
I know there are many hot-button social issues that people differ with me on. I am proposing a truce on these issues for the next four years. I will not be working to advance paying for abortion, now will I press non-government organizations and individuals to act in conflict with their values. I still believe they ought to, but it is more important that we prevent Trump from becoming president.
Another stumbling block for some has been concerns about how I have handled data during my time as Secretary of State. I think some of those investigations were overblown, but I understand why my behavior invited a certain level of suspicion. To that end, I am pledging complete transparency in how I conduct both this campaign, and my presidency. This starts today, as [well-regarded #neverTrump Republican] has agreed to be my compliance officer.
Another concern is the Supreme Court and other assignments. President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland for the current vacancy, and I believe he deserves hearings and a vote. Beyond that, I will honor the Senate's role to "advise and consent" me in choosing future nominees that are agreeable to all parties.
The same is true for decisions to send our armed forces to war. I will seek Congressional approval before taking any military action, that does not require immediacy.
I still have strong positions on all these issues, and I look forward to continuing to advocate for them. But right now, what our country needs to do now is to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president, and I'm doing my part to ensure that doesn't happen.

Is this fair? No.

In particular, it seems unfair that Congress would be rewarded for its years of doing nothing with more power.

Or that Hillary Clinton would work her whole life to become president, only to have to completely dull herself to make it happen.

But nor is it fair to ask voters like me to compromise our principles to stop Donald Trump, when the leaders who stand to benefit are unwilling to do the same. We should demand more from our leaders than from ordinary citizens, not the other way around.

I trust that Secretary Clinton and her campaign have a better idea of the threat Donald Trump represents than I do. If she doesn't make an act like this or similar, I will conclude that they value advancing their agenda more than they value stopping Trump. And I will similarly conclude that staying true to my principles and how a leader should behave is more important to me than stopping Trump.

Secretary Clinton will likely win anyway without the support of me or people like me. But if she wants to ensure it, if she wants to demonstrate how serious she considers the threat of Donald Trump, this is how she can do it.

*I do not have a similar post for Donald Trump, because I cannot imagine a scenario under which I would vote for him, even one as unlikely as what I sketch out here.