Saturday, February 01, 2003

Things that happen at most well-run invitational quiz tournaments
This narrative is about Stanford's 2003 Cardinal classic but written generically enough that it could apply to several tournaments I've been to over the years. If you're one of the quiz-bowl people reading this, see how much of it you identify with.

Both teams in the final came from the same school, a local rival of the host school. A frightening amount of the tournament talent came from that school, split almost evenly into four teams that all did quite well.

Also a legitimate contender was a team from the school that traveled by far the greatest distance to get to the tournament, a group of really nice, really wizened quiz vets whom I've seen at quite a few tournaments before and will see at quite a few again.

The tournament ran on time for the most part, with the biggest delays -- just before round 1 and just before the round immediately after lunch -- caused by straggling team(s). The printed schedule did not list times next to rounds (indeed, lunch itself would come around lunchtime when central command made the call, "okay, lunch after this round, be back at X o'clock"); the tournament ended between a half-hour and an hour later than anticipated. It was untimed but edited conscientously enough that no round accounted for more than five minutes' delay (based on 30 minutes a round), with rounds averaging maybe 32 minutes or so.

(The two being just enough to add up without any single round being annoying.)

Because of an unexpected shortage of printed schedules (you'd think N copies would be enough but it's unclear where they all went), I never really knew in advance who'd play in my room. I always could have found a schedule somewhere to confirm that the teams were correct. On nearly every team, all but one of the players relied on the other one to tell them what room to go to.

Exactly one team had a coach (with a College Bowl Inc. logo shirt on) and two alternates; a handful of teams had an empty seat or two.

In one round in my room, somebody's B team beat somebody else's A team, 95-45, on a relatively hard pack. Neither of the schools involved plays in a whole lot of invitationals but players on both sides seemed to be enjoying themselves despite realizing early on that between the packs and the opponents they were in for a long day.

There were relatively few repeats, perhaps none. (This part doesn't represent "how every tournament goes" so much as "just how far tournaments have come".) Exactly one question had to be skipped, where the TD came around warning people to read tossup 21 instead of tossup 18.

Of packs submitted by relatively new teams, one was astonishingly good, arguably the best pack of the tournament. I heard second-hand that another one was not at all appropriate for this tournament, with uneven difficulty and plenty of one-line, one-clue tossups. Because of pack trades, the round that would have needed this pack was instead devoted to a pack by a team not present at the tournament. (Again, "just how far tournaments have come": Ten years ago one would just hear the whammy pack and make the best of it, especially considering this was a 13-team, full round robin.)

The round right after lunch, my room was scheduled to get one of the best teams in the tournament (lost in the finals) versus one of the most inexperienced. Two players from the former team got caught up in some lunch-related snafu; the two players who did show up said to just go ahead and play. That pair of players still did extremely impressively, with a close side race on their individual stats but neither of them negging at all (despite both usually being aggressive buzzers).

There were no significant protests in my room. A few borderline cases on bonus parts that all turned out to be moot. The closest thing to a problem was when I inadvertently broke a judge (the power cord split; apparently it was already frayed) and we had to use an old, temperamental Quiz Pro that behaved significantly better during the game than during any given buzzer check.

There were relatively few pseudonyms but one team played as the Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Barbra Streisand) and another player requested that his stats be kept under the name Dick Posthumus.

The closest games in my room were the aforementioned 95-45 game; a 100-90 game between a different pair of teams that finished low in the standings (that one was fairly dramatic: 90-90 after 18 tossups, then 90-85 after 19 tossups, then 100-90); and a game that a player who should have known better almost gave away.

(With the score 240-195 in an untimed game and no power tossups, if the leading team didn't take an incorrect interrupt, the best the other team could do on that tossup-bonus cycle would still leave them trailing 240-235. A player on the leading team negged anyway but the other team could get only 10 out of 30 on the ensuing Norse myth bonus.)

Given a surfeit of staff, I read odd-numbered rounds and scored even-numbered rounds. Several months passed between a week ago and the previous time I'd read for a quiz tournament. Maybe it's age or throat rust but in hindsight it's surprising that so many people could read round after round, week after week. Paired with a really nice freshman from the host school -- coincidentally second week in a row he and I shared a room. He seemed very deferential, would have probably let me read more rounds if I'd asked to but I'm past being a prima donna about that sort of thing. (But not past it by much; as recently as a year ago I might have game-hogged.) Good reader, probably gets plenty of chances at practice, every now and then he'd be unsure about whether to take an answer and point out to me what they had on the sheet, hoping I'd make a good immediate judgment call.

As smoothly as the tournament seemed to go, nobody really knows just how close it came to being a total disaster. Given how things-behind-the-scenes looked for this tournament as of a week ago, it took a superhuman effort by a handful of people (really one when it comes down to it) to make things go so well. Since nobody really got to see the crisis stage (even I'm just going by fortuitously overheard conversations, reading between the lines a bit, and so on), not nearly enough people will appreciate just how superhuman the effort was.

The pack editor, having been up H straight hours (H > 24), fell asleep on the way from the tournament site to where people went out to eat. Right before that, the final was a back-and-forth first half but one team pulled away at the end. Most people stayed to watch the final, with someone keeping unofficial score on the blackboard for audience entertainment value.

There were some great buzzes; other times people said stupid things. Sometimes in bonus conferring, people would suggest two different answers and the one directed at me would be the wrong one of the two. Sometimes right as someone was starting to buzz for some other reason, I'd read either the word that suddenly made the question a dead giveaway or the word that suddenly threw the person buzzing for a loop. Often that person would still be right despite being temporarily confused.

People talked about upcoming events, February being the height of the competition season, what with the three competing regionals/sectionals on consecutive weekends. (If anyone is totally unfamiliar with this -- and yet somehow got sucked into reading all these paragraphs anyway despite not necessarily identifying with them -- there's the company that's been around forever and has the relatively buzzer-speed-driven questions; the non-profit that has very high abstact standards for what questions should be like (very depth-of-knowledge, not the style I like but still a worthy one) yet relies on packet submissions; and the one I write for, trying to stake out a happy medium and build a reputation on providing high-quality questions that are also fun to play on. Our part of things seems to be at least a modest success.)

Nearly everyone was friendly to the relatively new teams. At least a small part of my own motivation to be there was to encourage those teams to go to sectionals next week. But I wasn't alone; they got the spiel from me, from the team hosting the sectional they'd attend, and even from two other sources who just happen to like NAQT and want to point newbies in our direction.

Getting away from the self-promotion part, well... it's unclear how to put it without being too cryptical or too banal. Sometimes I wonder why people bother to run tournaments like this. It's an awful lot of effort and expenditure on all sides, after all, from the organizers' sleepless nights to the effort teams make at both pack assembly and travel. (The dozen questions each player sends to his team's pack editor probably blow an afternoon, and then going to the tournament blows a weeked if there's any travel involved.) I marvel sometimes that enogh people find it all worthwhile. But then the tournament gets underway and the same things happen that happened at any other well-run tournament and despite not quite being able to point to one incident/reason/argument, I still feel intuitively at home:

"Oh... that's why we all keep doing this." And it really does seem worthwhile.
Useful Idiots
I honestly wonder sometimes whether certain pacifists realize just how much blood is on their hands from standing in the way when people fight against evil.

"In two days of interviews [in Saddam City], there was no outward suggestion — not the subtlest arch of an eyebrow — of anything other than complete unanimity in support of Mr. Hussein." -- the New York Times, via Andrew Sullivan, who adds laconically, "Hmmmm. I wonder why."


"That first night of the [1991] uprising was the first time I ever saw Iraqis reveal themselves to one another and talk openly about who we were and what had happened to us and our families. Our neighbor, Said, a former army general, told us he had been jailed for ten years for refusing to join the Baath Party while he was in the military... Years before, Sami had been jailed for no reason and had spent four years in prison. He described how prison guards had beaten him, tied him to a ceiling fan, and then turned it on...

That night, we also discussed some of our hopes and visions for the future of Iraq. A medical student named Ali, who had come to the mosque and volunteered to treat the wounded, joked, "When we capture Saddam, we'll charge five dollars to everyone who wants to spit on him." We all started laughing because previously nobody had ever dared to make jokes like this. Ali continued, "If someone wants to kick him, ten dollars. That's how we'll raise the money to rebuild Iraq."

We were sure it was only a matter of time before the Americans arrived, and we were already thinking about how to build a democratic society."

--Iraqi refugee in The New Republic, via Joanne Jacobs, who adds: "No help came. The uprising was crushed. Suspected rebels were arrested, tortured and killed, their bodies left in the streets for dogs to eat."

Blame George H.W. Bush if you want for the repression that followed. But you know exactly who to blame if we don't get the job done this time.

Friday, January 31, 2003

The George Foreman Mail Sorting Machine
I just ate a really good turkey-burger and then reduced the size of my Yahoo! inbox from 200+ messages to about 129, all but 20 of which I've read and just need correctly to handle (where "handle correctly" may involve writing back to someone).
On the lighter side... Harvard might actually win another Beanpot?
That's what Mark's analysis leads me to believe. It's been exactly ten years. Win one your freshman year, assume it's a piece of cake, watch as two years later the Terrier dynasty begins.
More on sports and politics
Tim Keown comes so close to an insightful column but, in my opinion, blows it.

Sign that I'm a marginally better person but much worse football fan than you'd have guessed: Until reading Keown's column I honestly thought Barret Robbins was black. Am I the only one?

The part where he blows it, in my opinion, is drawing an equivalence between Terrell Owens and Jeremy Shockey. They are most certainly NOT "hideously self-absorbed and equally unappealing. " I'll yield to the New York Giant fan here and ask you this rhetorical question: Could you ever imagine Terrell Owens someday killing a man? No? Well then. Don't compare him to Shockey.

Not that the strawman Keown is addressing is right either: I suspect that the disparate treatment Owens and Shockey get has far less to do with Shockey's race than his media market. You can be a total SOB in New York and get a free pass as long as you appear to be our SOB.

Also, in a sense I think Keown is wrong when he says: "Until Raiders coach Bill Callahan came forth Tuesday with some late compassion, there hadn't been a shred of humanity exhibited by the Raiders' organization. Robbins blew it, sure, and he owes his teammates an apology when he's up to it. But the guy wasn't in control of his actions..."

At the very least he was in control of his actions when he went off the medication. It's a difficult battle, no doubt. I'm close to people with serious mental health issues; I wouldn't be surprised if I'm one of those people.

(For many many reasons I'm too stubborn to look into this further. Either I'm fine but joke about it to myself every now and then to excuse drastic underachievement; or I'm not fine at all and just living from day to day is miraculous. The former seems a lot less far-fetched.)

But in any case, in the end everyone is fundamentally responsible for his actions. Alcoholics, for example... I imagine it's really hard to live day after day after day of your life not being able to use the drug that got you through so much, but day after day after day it's in your power, just as it's in my power not to eat entire boxes of snack food in one sitting.

The guy really did let his team down. He also needs a lot of help. Don't let the truth of either of those statements obscure the truth of the other one. You can show a lot more than "a shred of humanity" precisely by refusing to lower your expectations. Don't patronize the guy, don't say, "it's okay, we know you couldn't have done any better than that," because in essence when you do that you're writing him off.

I actually know a whole lot of people who are talented but a little crazy. For many of those people, one of the worst things that could happen is when people excuse the bad things they do to themselves, almost like saying oh well, you wouldn't have amounted to anything anyway. Instead, I suspect -- I could be very wrong about this but I suspect -- that what a lot of people need to hear is, What are you DOING?!? You're capable of SO much more than that! Don't just settle for... and so on.
Amateurism = Slavery
Yes, after a headline that inflammatory I owe you a much better post than you'll get. No time to really flesh it out but read about this and decide for yourself.

Basically, ask yourself, for any given college (or in this case high school) star athlete, how many people are making how much money off his back, all while he gets no benefit from it?

(The counterargument of course, always presented really indignantly by university types, is He's getting an education! In most cases all one can say is, the hell he is! Now I have no idea what this guy's academic career has been like, and therefore making generalization is a really bad idea. That said, for your typical big-ticket-program college athlete -- this is mostly limited to football/basketball, maybe hockey -- take a long look on what classes he's actually taking and whether he's actually learning anything in those classes. Maybe it's hard to study when you have six hours of practice a day.)

Am I irrationally angry? (Well, actually I am. Angry about a lot of things where this story became a healthy place to channel the outrage.)
This reminds me: Are we doing the humanitarian food drops in Iraq?
I would assume not, since the whole point of that food-for-oil thing was to prevent Iraqis from starving by letting Euroweasels buy their oil from (and secretly sell their weapons to) Saddam.

(By the way, which nation(s) do you really think are motiviated by oil in all this? Think carefully.)

But in any case, assuming we really do give the Iraqi people food aid, this protest plan (yet a third Joanne Jacobs link) is 100 times more idiotic.

Reminds me of all these classmates in the 1980s who wondered why we hated the Russians so much. We didn't, of course; the thing we hated was... well, duh, but ask Reagan and he'll tell you. Of course, the people I knew in the 1980s who wondered why we hated the Russians had a pretty good excuse:

They were children.

I suppose you could say that a whole bunch of church groups these days are just kids at heart. One of the best lines of the State of the Union address must have just come after their bed time:

"And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation."

Or we could just make Saddam come back inside for a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.
"...rebound by Hull, shoots, scores!"
More Joanne Jacobs goodness, this time on Richard Reid considering himself "saved" by Islam.
Painful metaphor of the day
Kevin Johnson (yes, that Kevin Johnson) wants his alma mater to become a charter school. According to Joanne Jacobs,

Sac High's last school-improvement plan was studded with exclamation points, shy on accountability and called for empowering the school to 'tease out the mighty oak tree encoded within each student.' Sounds painful.

(emphasis added)
Guns for Tots!
Come to read the goofiest idea I've seen in awhile, stay to wonder how mad John Elway would have been at Al Hirschfeld.

UPDATE: My goodness does this the blog that InstaPundit pointed me to have a weird content grouping. Next time I add a tagline to this blog, the A's are going in there somewhere, probably not with the snarky graphic.
Meredith Brooks, call your office
I actually have no idea what Froemming said but if it wasn't the obvious choice then what exactly could it have been? Where does one go to find these things out?

As smarmy as I feel when I read references to profanity where the naughty word/phrase is obvious anyway, I hate those rare occasions where somebody tiptoes around something dirty and it isn't obvious what the naughty word/phrase was.
From the Sublime to the Banal
Good heavens, the Back Fence is always a step down after reading the Bleat. But then only by reading the Bleat and seeing the links at the bottom do I remember the Back Fence. (And in fairness it's in the top 5% of its genre, the local-flavor columnist who appears in either the Metro or the Lifestyle section and writes pieces about sweet nothing.)

I have to comment about the one I linked to: There's a reason I almost never use either "this Saturday" or "next Saturday." It's so much more precise to say "Saturday the 8th" or at the very least "Saturday ten days from now." (The Saturday could actually be nine, or even eight days from now but if you say "ten days from now" instead of "three days from now" then nobody gets confused.)

Probably makes me sound like a total dork. Nonetheless, this and next are far more trouble than they're worth. Any time you have that many people on both sides convinced that other people are wrong, the words just aren't useful anymore.
The Future
Fascinating Bleat today. Lileks writing is almost uniformly excellent -- politics that make me want to bellow my approval, cute stories about his two-year-old, and so on -- but this one genuinely fascinated me, moreso than anything else he's written this year.

His general thesis is vaguely similar to the general thesis of this book. You all should read this book despite its off-puttingly strident title. In my opinion the title makes this book sound like exactly the opposite of what it really is. Read it for the anecdotes; don't sweat the (over)analysis too much. At the absolute worst, you can treat it like an Ayn Rand novel and skip the preachy parts surprisingly easily.
Musem Exhibit: Conception to Birth
This looks interesting and appears to be apolitical.

This commentary is somewhat political but appears to be interesting.

This post (my source for the two links above) is no-bones-about-it political but has a great line comparing the sperm-and-egg CT scan to what happens when a bunch of guys at a bar see a hot single woman walk in alone.
What's your favorite dining hall entree?
(Inspired by a post elsewhere but put here because this one has a bigger, or at least less reluctant-to-comment, audience...)

Went to the Indian buffet again today -- arguably my least unhealthy meal this week, unless my least unhealthy meal was actually the Afghan chicken kebab meal from when I was in the East Bay on an A's-related errand -- where I had the usual basmati rice, nan, chicken curry sauce, tandoori chicken, and this time some bell pepper potato (vegetable dish named for its two ingredients).

The bell pepper potato is most delicious but its name reminded me of the bell-ringing beef that Harvard's dining halls often served. (Mildly spicy; I liked it but many people loathed it, or at least made fun of the name.) Actually, the Indian buffet experience itself sort of reminds me of going to a dining hall. The people at this one recognize me by now. I come in; they nod at the table where they want me to sit; I walk right over to the corner, slide my plate under the sneeze guard, and ladle up what I want.

(There was a medium-sized issue at Harvard around my sophomore year of converting dining halls over to a relative self-service model. The one where the food service people make your plate for you might be marginally more nutritious and sanitary but letting people ladle their own food turns out make lines go faster. It's all-you-can-eat anyway.)

In any case, personal favorites included:
Chicken parm
Chickwiches (but EVERYONE liked these first two)
Seafood pasta (probably imitation seafood, probably prepackaged but if I knew which company made that package I'd buy it)
Top-your-own hamburger night (big bowls of bacon bits, sauteed mushrooms, and grated chesse -- embarrassed to admit how much I gorged myself here)

Anything else, good or bad, has faded from memory. I can tell you that top-your-own hamburger night was nearly always a Saturday (every four weeks?) and chicken parm usually a Tuesday.

Then at Boston University there was the George Sherman Union food court. Old stand-bys there included either the personal pepperoni pizza (Pizza Hut, in a box under a heat lamp) or the chicken tenders (Burger King, also in a box under a heat lamp), with a "salad" that I'd make almost entirely of sliced green peppers and spinach leaves. Toss the chicken tenders into the "salad" for a most savory taste sensation.

There was a pasta place that offered decent if overpriced (and overportioned) calzones. If I weren't such a lone wolf I should have consistently split a calzone with someone.

UPDATE: Make your own fajitas! Lunch, every three weeks or so. A real Harvard '96 person wouldn't have forgotten this.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Mumbling incoherent swear words in a fake British accent
Felt okay when I woke up this afternoon, blogged a bit and surfed a bit. Then when I went out in the world to procure food, I reached Ozzy levels of disorientation. The nadir came when I locked my keys in the car. Fortunately this was at the end of the trip; went home, got a coat hangar, and stuck it through my barely-cracked-open window to flip the automatic lock switch upward.

Bonus tidbit only baseball fans (especially Red Sox or Ranger fans) will understand:
This is the most frightening news I've seen all winter. A few months ago I heard about some college baseball player suing because the aluminum bat makers were putting infielders in danger from balls being hit too hard. Anyone playing behind Darren Oliver at high altitude could make a similar case; I say that as one of his biggest fans.

(Straight-up for Carl Everett he was probably still a decent pickup.)
Final State of the Union comment, I promise
On this page Chris Buckley brings up my favorite line of the night:
"Many others have met a similar fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."

At the time I laughed nervously and my roommate Chris cringed. In hindsight, though, it's a great line, hopefully not just because I'm so subconsciously jingoistic.

The best part of any Bush speech, in my opinion, is when he just lays out the facts. A series of simple, declarative sentences, building up to a bigger point, but as they're delivered they're there to fill you in on the background. The specific allegations about Iraq's bio-weapons fit the bill exactly here.

It probably helps that Bush has the reputation as not a mental giant. If it were some egghead spouting off lines of data, he'd come across as a wonk with useless trivia. But coming from Bush, coming with the Bush delivery, it's just... okay, here's the situation.

Also, the best lines in a Bush speech use one- and two-syllable words for obvious reasons relating to his delivery. That makes them clearer and, to me, makes the words more powerful, especially when he (as Chris Caldwell mockingly puts it) "really likes to bang you over the head, using parallelisms ('("our faith is sure, our resolve is firm, and our union is strong')."

Just call me a sucker for a well-formed parallelism.

(Everything Caldwell says about the parallelisms and slowing down the delivery reminds me of the Apostle's Creed for no apparently reason. Now I'm hearing Bush in my head "For thine's'da'kingdom. And the pow'r. And the glory. F'reva and eva. Amen." It almost works.)
More SOTU commenting stuff
Slate has you covered. Skip the rest and scroll to Chris Caldwell's message dated Tuesday, 10:05 p.m. PT, especially his comment on how to react to applause lines.
Obligatory State of the Union Commentary
In my lifetime, almost no State of the Union address has ever been a good speech. To be such a thing it would have to be way shorter and more rhetorically unified. The worst criticism one could give a State of the Union (at least it used to be given pejoratively) would be to call it a "laundry list."

(Why laundry? Who knows. That's just a phrase the talking heads used.)

Bush's this year actually did seem to be crafted with an underlying strategy: Soothe, soothe, soothe, bond, bond, bond on the domestic issues, and then build up to the three big foreign policy issues as problems we (the U.S.) have to solve together. If you actually look at what he proposed, this is a shockingly ambitious speech. For that very reason it's good that he come across as humble (and my goodness did he trip over a lot of seemingly not-difficult words) when he explains why these things seem like good ideas.

My only minor quibble is that anytime somebody claims to be proposing both massive tax cuts and ground-breaking new spending, I would check my wallet. Maybe he's found some creative way to make this all work (best guess: dynamic reveue forecasts finally take growth-caused-by-lower-taxes into account); I'll believe it when I see it.
Estimated System Downtime: Four-and-a-Half Hours
I think something woke me up about every half-hour of that. I was alert enough strongly to consider getting back up and moving on with the day but each time laying motionless seemed the far better option.
"A woman's right to choose"
If I had some sort of political creed I'd add this paragraph to it:

"I believe in a woman's right to choose any job someone will hire her for. I believe in a woman's right to choose to own a gun. I believe in a woman's right to choose the school she thinks is best for her child, public or private. I believe in a woman's right to choose what kinds of art she will spend her money on, even if she prefers Madonna or Randy Travis and Congress wants to give her money to Robert Mapplethorpe or Luciano Pavarotti. I believe in a woman's right to choose to drive a cab, even if she doesn't have a license. I believe in a woman's right to choose the employees she wants for her business, even if they don't fit some government quota. I believe in a woman's right to choose the drugs she prefers for recreation, whether she chooses Coors or cocaine. I believe in a woman's right to choose how to spend all of her hard-earned money, without giving half of it to the government."
--from an excellent column on "choice," arguing that Democrats focus far too much on one choice they give women at the expense of other choices they ought to give women but don't
POLL: How long will I be awake?
I just took one NoDoz tablet and three Excedrin migraine tablets. That's the equivalent of N cups of coffee for some value of N.

After I hit "Post & Publish" I plan to run out for some diet soda and perhaps a low-fat snack (pretzels the early favorite).

Then I plan not to blog for awhile, regardless of wake or sleep.

Now is your chance to post in the comments widget your best guess as to how long I stay awake. At this point my best guess for when I fall asleep is noon or so.

In my imagination, every so often I picture a giant R illuminated against San Francisco's night sky. It's a variant on the bat signal. It happens a few times a year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Talking back to your minister
(or rather, rebutting him on-line)

I wish I'd thought of doing this years ago, although back when I would have found it most useful, the web was still nascent.

By the way I've been to church exactly once in three years (maybe four years). Maybe I'll drop by one of these next month.

Giving credit where it's due: Link via Cut on the Bias, as are the links in both of the two posts right below this one.
I'd promise this would be the last political post but it's State of the Union day...
Anyhow, nothing like anecdotal evidence that so-and-so is a total prick (in this case, Gore), especially if the post right below it is a brutally funny takedown (and pro-McCain) of how elections work these days.
This seemed to have everything going for it, and yet still didn't work
A Mark Steyn column is usually excellent. A well-reasoned pro-life case will usually appeal to me. And yet, this column completely failed to win me over. (To nitpick, I was already "won over," but you get the idea.)

(If you don't have time to follow the link, a summary: To Steyn, reproductive freedom -- that is, the right NOT to reproduce -- isn't in societal interest given that western nations aren't having enough children to keep a stable population rate.)

In fact, the more I think about it (while typing), the more convinced I am that this is the worst pro-life argument I've ever heard.

Actually, nearly every line of argument in any abortion debate is deeply overrated compared to the two important points, the irresistable force versus immovable object of balacing the taking of a human life against the nine-month occupation of a human body.

Steyn also brings out poll numbers (heaven help us all if an issue the magnitude of abortion is ever decided purely on poll numbers) and writes that "in the middle are a big swath of people whose position is more nuanced, and the trouble for the abortion absolutists is that, thanks in part to advances in medical science, all the nuances are moving in the pro-life direction."

I actually wish he'd written more about the "advances in medical science." See, in my experience a lot of people either just ignore the human life side of the big argument (it's inconvenient) or explain it away either with the philosophy of when one actually starts to enjoy life or with offbeat cell division hypotheticals.

Instead, I imagine that the sooner (within a pregnancy) scientific research establishes a point of viability, the more reluctant people will be to sanction abortions past that point. Also, to me, I'm really surprised that anyone who's ever seen a sonogram isn't significantly more pro-life than people typically are. A pro-choice person would scoff: It may be shaped like a person, but then a rock formation could be shaped like a person. True enough, and yet (pardon the extreme intuition here at the expense of any coherent logic) it really seems to miss the point. As the cliche goes, If it walks like a duck...
Eddie Murphy & John McCain
Interesting column here with a good pop culture reference (especially in the money sentence at the end).

I love McCain. I would even if he became a Democrat. (In fact, I'd be doubly happy if he won the Democratic nomination, on the theory that barring some absurd set of events that led to a third-party victory, we'd have a president I really liked no matter what.)

No Democrat currently in the running even comes close to what makes McCain so appealing.
And now, instead of being angry and partisan, I can be angry and bipartisan
Here's a sad, sad story, hearkening back to the ridiculous child sexual abuse scare of the late 1980s. The worst thing about that whole set of hysteria is that with so many innocent people falsely implicated, I imagine it made it much harder to track down actual sexual predators.

After all, actual child abuse is also pretty horrific.
Mark Shields is an even bigger idiot
This column links to the news story two posts below here. If ever someone wrote something lately that needed to be "Fisked," this would be it. And yet I haven't seen such. Is this where I jump in, sleep on this, revise it a little, and then spam all the famous people to say Hey look at me, taking down the CNN dude? Probably not; nonetheless I'm really angry as I write this.

Look, if we're going to get into trading insults, I think Shields deeply insults the people who volunteered for military service by insinuating that they just did it because they would have been drafted anyway. (This happens a lot on the Left: Surprisingly many times someone will accuse a righty-type of some flaw -- racism as often as anything -- and yet the accusation itself will be far more deeply racist, or whatever the flaw is, than whatever it was that led to the accusation. Example: Apparently it's racist to hold blacks to the same college admission standards as other prospective students.)

Rumsfeld is dead-on about the relative lack of military value of draftees. Take me, for example. (In light of my offer to enlist below.) Suppose you took me and put me in Baghdad next month. Even under the most rigorous crash courses there wouldn't be enough time to make me physically fit, much less a physical asset. That's not necessarily a blameworthy thing. (Well, in my case it is, I need to work out.) But Shields falls into a common trap when he conflates X is not the right tool for the job into a personal attack on X.

(This actually comes up a lot in baseball analysis: Take a favorite stathead whipping boy -- say, Tony Womack or Doug Glanville. He's not a bad person, just grossly misused by the team that has his contract.)

The crassest part of Shield's column is when he tries to bring up casualty rates to explain/defend the conscripts' usefulness. Okay, fine, anyone can be useful as cannon fodder. Somehow thinking of them that way doesn't seem to be doing them much honor either.

Am I overreacting? I don't think so. Please tell me if you think I am, but I think this is easily the worst column of 2003. (We have a long time to see whether it keeps that honor.) And I honestly wonder -- you'll think I'm asking this for rhetorical effect, but I really do wonder -- is he that stupid?! Or just that much of a partisan hack? (Same options go for Rangel.)

That is to say, does he honestly believe what he wrote? (Tell me you don't see what's wrong with it also.) That would reflect badly on him as a thinker, but if he didn't honestly believe what he wrote and instead wrote it just to slam the Bush administration, that would reflect badly on him as a person.

Of course this is CNN, so obviously their op ed section is perfectly balanced... in this case, by a mostly opinion-free Robert Novak speculation about Bush's next Supreme Court justice.
Stupidest thing I've done this week
For some reason I'd thought the State of the Union address was Monday night rather than Tuesday. I kept wondering why the web coverage of it was so delayed...
Charles Rangel is still a f*cking idiot
If this harebrained scheme actually passed, I would enlist. Please hold me to that. The problem is that he's cutting off several noses to spite one face.

In the Vietnam era, if you didn't want to fight, you had to get religion or go to college or go to Canada. These days, if you don't want to fight, there's a very simple way not to have to: Don't sign up for military service. And anyone who claims that people are there for lack of better options is being at best too patronizing for words.

I think I'd be even more appalled by Rangel's comments if I were poor or black. He's trying to speak for people who can do just fine without his trying to speak for them.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Two deeply true, non-stereotypical statements from Virginia Postrel
(By the way, she recently had eye surgery. She has remarkably candid, personal observations about both vision and depression. I could identify with at least one, possibly both of these. I think she also hand-rolls her HTML -- who needs permalinks when you can use anchor tags?)

These are both very simple things that I think we can almost all agree on without ceding any deeper ideological ground...

On sport utility vehicles:
BTW, I loathe SUVs. I know it's politically incorrect in my circles to have that opinion, since all the wrong people are against them. But they're ugly, dangerous, and rude. They erect huge opaque barriers that force you to pull into traffic blind and as often as not they're driven by women on cell phones who are barely paying attention to the road.

On "why they hate us":
I've come to the conclusion that a little humility and routinely better manners would go a long way toward improving U.S. diplomatic relations. Never mind Iraq, what about taking all the good parking places? In small countries at least, U.S. embassy personnel routinely throw their weight around, getting all sorts of special privileges that have nothing to do with our national interest. Special parking places, special escorts through airport security, a thousand minor irritations that tell the locals our officials (no matter how personally nice and well-intended) aren't guests and equals but lords and masters come to call. The State Department needs to remind our diplomatic corps that they should not demand, or even request, privileges unavailable to the locals merely for their personal convenience. Only in matters of serious national, as opposed to personal, interest should the U.S. government ask for special treatment.

In fairness, my understanding is that some of the rudest people in New York City (which is quite a standard to set) are the diplomats who've come from other parts of the world for United Nations stuff. All the same, just because the other diplomats (ironic word!) do it doesn't mean we should.
I have achieved test-taking nirvana
Your data suggest little or no preference for PRO-LIFE relative to PRO-CHOICE

(By "data" I think they mean the rapid-fire associations. My answers to the accompanying survey might show otherwise.)

It looks to me as though the more times I screw up overall, the less of a subconscious bias my choices seem to reveal. In this particular case I kept screwing up both "Planned Parenthood" and "Christian Coaltion," two entities for which the 'correct' categorization is Pro-Choice and Pro-Life, respectively. I'd dispute the choice of "Christian Coalition" as a representative pro-life thing. Even Planned Parenthood has a lot more than abortion going for it: I'm fine with the birth control side of things.

Meanwhile, if I get into a good rhythm with close to flawless answers, the couple of times I do screw up will apparently reveal a bias if they're directionally consistent.

If you never bothered to follow this link, each test tries to reveal your implicit preference between two entities (say, "FOO" and "BAR") has a series of parts in which you need to assign words to the left-hand column or the right-hand column:
1. FOO on the left, BAR on the right (or vice versa, probably 50/50 chance)
2. GOOD on the left, BAD on the right
3. GOOD -or- FOO on the left, BAD -or- BAR on the right
4. same as prevoius
5. BAR on the left, FOO on the right (reverse of #1)
6. same as #2
7. reverse of #3
8. same as previous

So you might see "paradise," then a picture of a Coke bottle, then "nasty," then a picture of a Pepsi bottle, when you're supposed to put either (good things and Coke things) on the left or (good things or Pepsi things) on the left. They encourage you to go really fast. It should be obvious how/why this produces useful data.
More on the Super Bowl ads
So here are the USA Today results.

In hindsight I didn't like the Sierra Mist ads quite as much as the test audiences did. On the other hand I'm deeply gratified that Bruce Almighty was everyone's favorite movie ad.

Underrated (in my opinion): Terry Tate, Office Linebacker; The FedEx ad; both the "Yo!"/"Yao!" Visa ad and the twins Visa ad ("just an observation..."); and the H&R Block.

Overrated (in my opinion): The clown-suit ad; the Pepsi Twist; both the Subway and Quiznos ads. (Yes, the Subway one was in the bottom 5; even there it's overrated.); but especially the Cadillac ad.
Football: Guest Commentary
> From: "Chad Kubicek"
> Subject: So..
> Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2003 16:55:03 -0800
> A month after the in-over-his-head team president, after consulting with
> the in-over-his-head owner, announces that the in-over-his-head coach will
> return, he reverses himself.
> Is it any wonder so teams just suck???? This team should be renamed the
> "Peters" or the "Principles".
> K-W

BONUS COMMENTARY: Block that metaphor, Sean Salisbury!
("This is a tough situation for Mornhinweg and his staff, though, because the rug has been pulled out from under them after feeling they had a new lease on life.")
Be a lab rat
Go to Project Implicit.

From the random quiz I took, Your data suggest little or no preference for NUMBERS relative to LETTERS

I also have little or no preference for TOM CRUISE relative to DENZEL WASHINGTON. (Apparently my conscious dislike for Cruise's politics is balanced out by either implicit racism or, more likely, my just being marginally less sucky than the general public at rapid-fire association tests. It's almost like a video game: Really disorienting at first but then I got used to it.)


Little or no preference for SOCIAL PROGRAMS relative to TAX CUTS

Slight preference for CATS relative to DOGS

Slight preference for COFFEE relative to TEA (!?)

Moderate preference for STABLE relative to FLEXIBLE (this surprised me!)

I suspect I'm too non-sucky at the test to show an extreme preference anywhere.
Dead Pool: Near Miss
I'm ashamed to admit that my first reaction to this story was, Damn, no points for me... On the other hand I got mentioned by name here. Woo.
Super Bowl ads
The obligatory comment-magnet...

Best? Worst? Looks to me as though the first one (Anheuser Busch, with the zebra) was best. Worst was the jeans ad with the bison.

Unlike everyone around me I liked the cola ads where the dog busts the fire hydrant and the monkey plunges into the polar bear pool. Then again I didn't like them enough to remember the name of the drink.

Most unsettling: The anti-marijuna ad with the pregnancy test.
"That's it, I'm going to go light a joint!"
"That's it, I'm pro-choice now."

(The first comment was someone else but the second comment -- those words did fly out of my mouth. Thing is, if the issue were as easy as some pro-choice bumper stickers would have you believe then the situation in the ad wouldn't actually be a problem. "Honey, we're going to the doctor..." To me the situation is one of the toughest cases/biggest tests for what I believe. But if it weren't also a tough case for the other side then wouldn't the ad just fall flat? Not that it doesn't fall flat already -- I hate all the anti-drug PSAs -- but I wonder what the makers of this one were thinking. "About to become the youngest grandparents in town." Uh, yeah.)

Backing away from the controversy... this one wasn't in the Super Bowl but I still have to rail against the McDonalds radio ads set in a musical.
Janeane Garofolo is making sense...
...or not. Isn't this oddly self-referential?
Re: Fred -- Career dead.
(The title's from an old Dilbert cartoon in which a VP, fired for incompetence, begged Catbert not to send out a conspicuously terse announcement.)

Saddam will be pursuing other opportunities soon.

InstaPundit finds lots of dirt in the Blix transcript but now I can't hit his site.
The state of the Volokh conspiracy
Gender vs. sex here. This post immediately reminded me of G. Gordon Liddy of all people. In the very brief time I listened to his radio show, he had a memorable rant or two in the Words have gender, people have sex vein.

Tried to get confirmation of this but only the first link was relevant.

(Incidentally, weird dream last night: At one point I was showing my dad how to use Google. In the dream he'd never seen it before; I'm sure in real life he has.)

Much more importantly, here's a thought experiment about what we all know is coming up in Iraq. My best guess (maybe wishful thinking): Nothing catastrophic happens. The usual suspects say, See, you were wrong!, but then we do discover evidence of atrocities even more unspeakable than what we already know about.
The State of the Union Address Drinking Game
You know what to do... link via Amish Tech Support.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

There's something oddly reassuring about Andrew Sullivan when he's on his high horse
Go here and read the one long entry with four titles: "The Best Case," "The Alternative," "Two Bad Options," and "Bush's Terrible Burden." (Pardon the color scheme.)

The title of this post is mocking him, just a little, but it really is reassuring to see somebody that well-known and well-respected (and generally seen as non-partisan) be so earnest and so outspoken and put the case exactly the way it needs to be put.
Why do Internet affinity groups always turn into high school?
There's a lot of bullshit in the comments section here. I'd heard talk of some people being really dissatisfied by how those awards came out but never bothered to follow the issues. Then went and read this rant. The guy who wrote the comment she complains about seems like a prick.

In other Asparagirl goodness, she links to this sex weblog, of which I highly approve.
Why Amazon will one day rule us all, but also why one day trial lawyers will bring society to its knees
Excellent extended discourse on both topics here. Obviously I'm exaggerating about Amazon, but trust me that I'm not exaggerating at all about the trial lawyers. They're vermin.
On the other hand, on a completely different issue...
Eugene Volokh is dead-on in this rebuttal to an asinine statement by Reason. One good thing about football-induced rage is that it really blunts the edge of political rage.
I will say this exactly once, and either you will agree with me or you'll at the very least understand that I won't argue about this:
Contrary to this claim, which I imagine you'll see all over the place, this year's Super Bowl was over when Gannon threw the next-to-last interception and NOT ONE SECOND SOONER.

They were at midfield with just under two minutes left. Granted, only one timeout, but a touchdown and an onside kick and another touchdown was (while obviously improbable) nowhere near out of the question.

Part of the reason of course why a good comeback deserves to be revered is that you need to have so many things all go your way, one good break after another, to the point that the probabilities get lower and lower. All the same, there was a comeback in the making there, and I'm apoplectic at how many people just wrote it off. The hell with all of you.
Excellent program direction or fortunate coincidence?
What song do you play at a Bay Area hard-rock station right after the Raiders lose the Super Bowl? (Don't worry, it's not like this comes up every day or even every decade.) Some station actually nailed it: Metallica, "Fade to Black." There exists no song more appropriate for that esoteric occasion.
I hate the Raiders
You know that, I know that for all I know deep in their hearts the Raiders know that. I was rooting for them anyway, because this is where I live, because Jon Gruden is arguably the most overrated head coach on the planet, because Warren Sapp... either you understand right away why I couldn't root for Tampa Bay or it's just not worth explaining.

"Pep talk" given late in the first half: All right, Raiders, I don't like you and you don't like me but... -- Paul correctly picked up on the Homer Simpson's brain reference and completed the thought.

At this moment what I hate most about the Raiders is they drew me in. I not only honestly wanted them to win but honestly thought they could. Even when it was 34-3, I was the only person in the room (only person in the country?) who kept saying, This isn't over. Three unanswered touchdowns later I was talking back to the screen, babbling to Michaels and Madden about how the bandwagon still had plenty of room, wondering whether Oakland had already achieved a moral victory or if they were still one touchdown away from that.

Wondering whether they could get away with kicking it deep twice or if the second kickoff would have to be onside. (Yes, a lot of people thought they'd have to kick onside twice. I dunno. If the pass interference call were correctly ruled an uncatchable ball, they'd have gotten it back down two scores but with well over five minutes left.)

Instead... you all probably bailed at the half, saw the final score, felt vindicated when you saw the score, and completely missed out on what drama the second half had. Bastards.
Fantasy baseball stuff: Simbase
Given that I've foolishly traded away first-rounders from y19 and y20 (actually the former is a deferrable y18 first-rounder that I'm almost certain to defer), the y18 draft will need to be a good one. It looks to be one of the largest draft classes ever, in particular the largest starting pitcher crop ever; we'll see how good they all are. I'll have at least three picks. Let's say they'll be on the order of #5, #13, #27, and #33 of about 35 players.

Biggest team needs, in no particular order:
One more starting pitcher, in fact a really good starting pitcher would do nicely. (I guess any team looks much better with an ace, just as any major league team becomes instantly better with Greg Maddux around.) I have two overachieving second-starter types. Actually either would look great as a third starter, kind of adequate as a #2.

A good hitter who plays great infield defense. This would either knock John Deere to the bench (good shortstop but really can't hit -- Wilhelm at short would be even more objectively valuable than he is now, though with the current roster the best lineup has him at 3B) or make Paul Bunyan tradebait (not for the slow start so much as all the errors).

Someone, anyone, who can hit off the bench. (Obviously that's not a need one addresses with a high pick or even trades much to get. Then again Sabrina is old and doesn't contribute much defensively. Gets on base a lot but doesn't have world-beating hitting stats. It's plausible that a really good rookie could start at 1B or bump her, or start at 2B/C and bump someone else to 1B, bumping her.)

The three hitters who are underachieving (by their standards) not to have bad years again. Well, one is in a sophomore slump and one is a rookie who had eye-popping college stats.

Maybe one more good RP; it's unclear who of my best RP I'd waive.
Fantasy baseball stuff: Scoresheet
Apparently the one stat that matters for scoresheet baseball analysis/projection is Runs Above Replacement. (If you think about how scoresheet works, how they do the simulation to create an actual game log, that makes sense. Also, RAR is a sexy acronym.)

In a typical scoresheet league you get 13 keepers. (No draft-pick penalty.) Based on the latest RAR projections I've seen (you can get such at Baseball HQ but you'd need a subscription), the NL team I inherited has no sexy young prospects but eleven players with double-digit RAR. Two are catchers (Damian Miller, Todd Pratt) and three are relievers (Trevor Hoffman, Cliff Politte, Steve Kline -- Politte is in the mix because each team can keep one, but at most one, NL-to-AL "crossover" player). Would keeping all five of those guys be overrating catchers and relievers?

Other obvious keepers: Jeff Kent (77.8 RAR!), Mike Lowell, Rich Aurilia, Brad Wilkerson, Hideo Nomo.

Other reasonable keeper candidates: David Roberts (negative 1.6 RAR but creams LHP), Geoff Jenkins (still owns great power, but negative 14.4 RAR?!), Kevin Brown (positive 14.4 RAR despite injury risks and age), Jason Jennings (negative 5.4 but young and good and maybe the Rockies would trade him sometime), Jason Middlebrook (9.6, poised for decent things at Shea), Elmer Dessens (good 2002 but soft skills, projected to just 4.6 RAR).

(There are unreasonable keeper candidates: Sean Casey, Todd Ritchie, Joe Beimel, Mike Buddie, generic relief pitchers...)

Of the choose-between guys I'm leaning towards Brown and the two Jason's, for an unusually pitcher-heavy keep list.

The AL team I inherited has remarkably few guys projected to even a positive RAR, much less a double-digit. Alex Rodriguez (94.1 RAR), Magglio Ordonez (65.0), and Nomo (18.0) are the high-flyers. J.C. Romero and Bobby Howry both clock in right around 10; Herbert Perry at 8.9. It does have a lot of promising young players, of whom only Carlos Pena can swing a bat. (Many hit-or-miss pitchers.)
Fantasy baseball stuff: Rotisserie
According to Steve Moyer (analyst, used to be at Rotowire but now does his own stuff), Randy Johnson is a 5x5 pitching staff.

Which is all well and good, except that you still have to draft (or bid on) players for the other N pitching roster spots (and also meet the minimum Innings Pitched). Last year after getting Johnson in the first round in an "experts' league," my subsequent pitchers (with round # drafted):

5. Trevor Hoffman
6. Kaz Sasaki
15. Jarrod Washburn
18. Felix Rodriguez
19. Arthur Rhodes
20. Juan Cruz
22. Paul Quantrill
23. Rich Garces

(I have a newfound appreciation for Yahoo!, which lets you play empty roster spots in your fantasy games. Most leagues, including this experts' one, don't give you that option.)

The two closers went higher than most similar closers -- big opportunity cost there for my offense. Of the two starters, Washburn worked out well but Cruz didn't. Rhodes did what he usually does but F-Rod (I waived him shortly before he admitted how hurt he was), Garces, and Quantrill all imploded. Quantrill didn't really implode, he just didn't get any of the handful of saves I expected from him. It was a team built to dominate ERA/WHIP, contend foir saves (two elite closers, 12-team league?), hope that the absurd expecteds-strikeout-per-innng would give me a respectable K total, and ignore Wins unless/until I needed those points.

The pitching worked out okay but not great. (Around May or so I abandoned the middle reliever scheme and loaded up on the likes of Paul Byrd and Josh Fogg off of FAAB.) The offense... despite some great keepers, I was done in not just by my catchers (Charles Johnson, Toby Hall) but also how highly I'd overdrafted them.
One ghostly voice of reason in an otherwise ghastly thread
This may be a site about baseball but this thread decidedly isn't.

The post I linked to is uniquely well-reasoned among the rest of the over-the-top flaming. On the other hand it has a minor flaw, which I realized in the middle of this entry.

Those of you who post to Primer (or any site remotely like it): If you ever take the opportunity to post as some other thing (not necessarily a person but an entity relevant to the topic -- this makes much more sense if you read Primer than otherwise), what's the coolest (where coolness depends in part on how abstract it is) entity you've ever posted as? This one is my new favorite.
What I did today (Saturday)
Slept five hours overnight.

Went to read for the first part of an intramural quiz tournament at Stanford.

Saw a movie (more on that elsewhere).

Ran out of steam around 7 p.m., woke up around 11 p.m.

Now my body is completely confused about sleep versus wake.
Why I loathe socialists, naysayers, and dumbf*ck judges
Been to a movie theater lately? By any chance was it a much, much better experience than you had even ten years ago? Did you notice anything one way or the other about disabled seating?

Read this and tell me it's not one of the most ridiculous things you've ever heard of. Makes me want to go read an Ayn Rand novel and then spit on a public interest lawyer for good measure.

Speaking of the ADA and public accomodations, you probably heard about the people who tried to get the Super Bowl stopped by court injunction. If not, Google has you covered.

Disabled activists are among the lowest forms of life on Earth, especially since I'm sure most of thing would think of themselves as doing good. The whole thing cries out for a South Park episode. Handicapped people, you see, are capable of anything everyone else can do, just so long as they get the government to make life fairer for them.