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Archive for September, 2009

Yes, Virginia, Derek Jeter Does Have a Non-Laughable MVP Case

[ 0 ] September 3, 2009 |

The wife, a Bronx native, demands to know whether Derek Jeter deserves this year’s AL MVP award. Jeter’s VORP of 56.8 is second only to that of Joe Mauer, but it’s distant second; there’s as much distance between Jeter and Mauer as there is between Jeter and Kendry Morales. BP indicates that Jeter has been almost exactly average as a shortstop, while Mauer has been a slight plus as catcher. There’s no question that average is a staggering achievement for Jeter, but it’s still not close; Mauer is having a much better year. In terms of second order considerations (the bizarre metrics that MVP voters sometimes use to support their preferred candidate), Jeter wins the all-important “Valuable Because He Plays for the Best Team,” but Mauer conquers in the equally important “His Team Would be Hopeless Without Him.”

If we included salary as an MVP metric (and there are good arguments on either side), I think that Jason Frakking Bartlett would be our MVP:

Bartlett: $1.9 million
Mauer: $10.5 million
Jeter: $21.6 million

But then again, Allen Barra points out that Jeter possesses Jeter-itude in greater abundance than any other candidate:

No one would argue that Mr. Jeter’s statistics are better than those of Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, the current favorite in the MVP sweepstakes, who is leading the American League in batting (around .370), on-base percentage and slugging average. For that matter, there are several players, particularly Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who are outhitting Mr. Jeter in batting ­average and have better power numbers.

The case for Mr. Jeter as American League MVP is being made by more subjective arguments. “How do you measure the value of inspiration and professionalism?” asks Marty Appel, author of “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain.” “Some people will ­argue that intangibles don’t ­exist, but in the ninth inning of close games everybody believes in them.”

Funny Barra mentions that; Mauer’s “Late Inning Pressure, Runners on” OPS is .950, while Jeter’s is… .522. You probably shouldn’t use that as an MVP metric, but if you want to, well, just go ahead.

The best case for Jeter is the “Lifetime Achievement” MVP; he’s been an outstanding player on an outstanding team for fifteen years, and this is likely his last, best shot. It would be robbery to give Jeter the MVP over Mauer, but given the general mushiness of MVP metrics, it would in some senses be defensible robbery.

Sawyer v. the Dixie Chicks

[ 0 ] September 2, 2009 |

Unlike Atrios, I hadn’t remembered the interview, so I looked it up. And yikes:

That wasn’t good enough for Sawyer. She spent an hour trying to bend the Chicks with a combination of false sympathy and crass sensationalism. Time and again, she cut back to a typeset insert of Maines’ original remark, as if Maines had called for the pillage of Crawford. “Ashamed?” Sawyer said, incredulously. “Ashamed?” In the tradition of a Stalinist show trial, the women were forced to affirm their patriotism and their support for the troops. At every point they—who are, after all, entertainers with no particular training in political science—were thoughtful, modest, and firm. At every point Sawyer tried to force them into a crude, Manichaen choices. “Do you feel awful about using that word about the president of the United States?” she asked at the start of the interview—in a prime example of the sort of leading question no self-respecting first year AP stringer would ask. “Well,” replied Maines, carefully, ” ‘awful’ is a really strong word.” Later, when Maines was trying to apologize and clarify, Sawyer said, “I hear something not quite, what, wholehearted.

More here.

As Duncan says, this was just straightforward cult-of-personality stuff. Leaving aside the question of whether singers have some obligation to be publicly patriotic, she was just talking about a particular public official, not the country. If conservatives want to make an issue out of it they can, but what was Sawyer doing?

College Rankings

[ 0 ] September 2, 2009 |

This year’s Washington Monthly college rankings are out, and it appears that once again I’ve helped thwart my university’s ascent into the top 258 schools, at least if we list them in order of the public good they provide. My undergraduate alma mater, James Madison University, also fails to make the list, while the University of Minnesota — which was probably able to write off the cost of my 2001 Ph.D. as some sort of charitable gift — lands at #50. Make of that what you will.

Paul Glastris’ editorial — explaining the rationale and broader context for the rankings — is well worth reading. He makes the point, for example, that the market distortions in higher education are a result of schools’ unwillingness to make public data that might prove unflattering; lacking accurate information regarding how well colleges and universities do what they claim to do, applicants are less able to compare and judge the value of different schools. Unfortunately, as I complained in a previous blog life, most universities acknowledge that problem to one degree or another but have elected to solve obfuscate it by encouraging a “culture of assessment” that develops new quantitative and qualitate methods for judging student performance.

So while Glastris is right to note that “[i]f we can decode the human genome and figure out what happened in the first milliseconds after the Big Bang, we can arrive at some reasonably accurate estimate of how much various groups of students learn over two or four years,” that process is, for the time being, dependent upon (a) faculty who generally lack the training, time, and compensation structure to develop useful, portable measures for evaluating learning; and (b) university administrators who I’d suspect are no less eager to spin and cook the new data (for legislatures, trustees, accrediting agencies, etc.) than they ordinarily would be. For anything like what Glastris has in mind to actually work, schools are going to have to invest a lot of money, not just to develop systems for measuring learning, but also for staff who are actually good at sorting and analyzing the data those systems provide. Are schools actually willing to pay for that sort of thing? I’d like to think so, but I have my doubts.

I’m Sorry, I Just Can’t Resist

[ 0 ] September 2, 2009 |
The ex-governor of Alaska and her husband were not great parents?  She wanted to secretly adopt Bristol and Levi’s baby?  Really?
So claims Vanity Fair, quoting Levi Johnson.  Ordinarily, I’d find this sort of story difficult to believe, and there remains the distinct possibility that Levi is making it all up, but with this family, I’m oddly able to suspend my natural cynicism more readily.  And, as Ben Smith at Politico suggests, it is satisfyingly similar to the rumor that was largely rejected during the campaign . . . 
It certainly does not help Palin’s craptastic spin control, but the response from both her and the movement right is predictable:
And the picture he paints will most assuredly give ammunition to Palin’s many critics outside of and inside of her party (her rivals for the 2012 nomination will be grinning), lead to her angry response dismissing it as the word for a disgruntled former almost-family member, and cause her defenders to label it a lie and Vanity Fair as being out to get her.

This is classic.
UPDATE: and keeping to the script.  Shockingly, Conservatives4Palin.com offer a dissenting view.

The Last Stevens Term?

[ 0 ] September 2, 2009 |

That’s the most plausible inference, anyway, and evidently it wouldn’t be shocking. I just hope that Obama is thinking hard about who he’ll nominate to fill a seat that has been held since 1916 by three giants (Brandeis, Douglas, JPS.)

I Said From The First You Were The Worst

[ 0 ] September 2, 2009 |

Some good discussion of the worst songs ever in comments, along with the expected dubious choices (“These Boots Are Made For Walkin‘” is the kind of terrific fluke AM radio should have been for.) Kudos to Charlie Pierce for citing “I’ve Never Been To Me.” Special kudos to #46 for noting that while I suppose “We Built the City” might be pushed over the top by being so self-congratulatory in the midst of such an unmitigated piece of shit, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” is probably the worst actual Starship song, and hence extremely strong contender for worst song in history:

Indeed, I think one omission from the discussion is throwaway themes from terrible movies, an epidemic that produced a remarkable quantity of bad songs, like this strong candidate. What’s even worse about it is that two of the three guilty parties at one point had actual talent, although I suppose the one who’s been coasting since the first term of the Nixon administration doesn’t count…

…Weiner’s on-point citation of a Sting lyric reminds me of this classic.

What? More Reasons For the U.S. Senate to Bemuse and Befuddle?

[ 0 ] September 1, 2009 |
Normally, my opposition to the continued existence of the U.S. Senate concentrates on how it hilariously distorts representation at the Federal level.  Now, TPM has a decent overview of the twisted procedural gymnastics necessary to pass decent health care reform here.  Most of this will not be foreign material to regular readers of LGM.  
Short version:
“But that doesn’t change the underlying dilemma. The path of least political resistance is beset by procedural obstacles; and the path of least procedural resistance is beset by political ones.”

Longer version: the 3/5 super majority requirements of the filibuster / cloture rule can, oddly enough, make it difficult to get things done.  In order to overcome this obstruction, bills can be passed using the reconciliation procedure, but this is regulated — a bill needs to involve a significant budgetary footprint, and it can not violate the Byrd Rule by increasing the budget deficit beyond the period covered by the reconciliation bill in the first place.
This has several ramifications in terms of representation and translating preferences into stable majorities in a legislative assembly.  To begin, the filibuster / cloture malarkey immediately creates a preference aggregation environment where the outcome will always be significantly to the right or left of the median voter in the assembly.  Regarding Health Care Reform, this point is clearly to the right of the median voter: the filibuster would force a more conservative bill on the country than the majority of the Senate (and the House) would otherwise support.  Reconciliation provides a perfectly appropriate tactic to get around the anti-democratic obstruction of the filibuster (and as has been pointed out, Republicans are happy as hell to exploit reconciliation except for when it’s used against them), but the Byrd Rule creates an interesting unintended consequence here: in order to be cost neutral, it’s rather possible that the public option would be to the left of the median voter in the U.S. Senate.
Of course, while I’m clearly in favor of the public option, I’m having almost as much fun in watching the U.S. Senate violate most norms of representation, small-d democracy, and preference aggregation.

Does anyone actually edit the Washington Post?

[ 0 ] September 1, 2009 |

Though I understand that Richard Cohen remains one of the most insufferable pseudo-intellectuals in contemporary American media — and, to that degree, there’s no percentage in arguing with him on specific “ideas” — would it be too much to ask his editors to restrict him to one Bulwer-Lytton Award entry per quarter? Behold:

Call him Ishmael.

Call him a terrorist or a suicide bomber or anything else you want, but understand that he is willing — no, anxious — to give his life for his cause. Call him also a captive, and know that he works with others as part of a team, like the Sept. 11 hijackers, all of whom died, willingly. Ishmael is someone I invented, but he is not a far-fetched creation. You and I know he exists, has existed and will exist again. He is the enemy.

Any decent university writing instructor would automatically dock a student for so ham-fistedly invoking the only line from Melville that people who haven’t read any Melville actually know. Was he simply unable to figure out how to riff on Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy? Wasn’t there an unused cliche from Dickens lying around?

And though I wouldn’t expect a functioning idiot like Cohen to know or remember that Ishmael happens to be an Islamic prophet — the fellow who, among other things, sanctified Mecca by building the Ka’bah with his father, Abraham — it would be nice if someone at the Post would actually monitor the sluice box that runs between Cohen’s brain and the printed page.

Turkey and Armenia Establish Diplomatic Ties

[ 0 ] September 1, 2009 |

This is important:

Turkey and Armenia, whose century of hostilities constitutes one of the world’s most enduring and acrimonious international rivalries, have agreed to establish diplomatic relations, the two countries announced Monday.

In a breakthrough that came after a year of tiny steps across a still-sealed border and furtive bilateral talks in Switzerland, the foreign ministries of the two countries said that they would begin talks aimed at producing a formal agreement.

One of the touchy elements in this has been the Armenian diaspora. The diaspora (especially in the United States) is an important asset to the Armenian government for a variety of reasons. At the same time, the Armenian government has been far more reticent about arguing for American recognition of the Genocide, because Yerevan has to live next to Turkey, and understands the practical value of maintaining cordial relations with its larger neighbor. Pressing forward on diplomatic normalization while at the same time remaining legitimate in the eyes of the diaspora has been a delicate project.

A Giant Space Vacuum Cleaner!

[ 0 ] September 1, 2009 |

Anyone hyping the EMP threat ought to be laughed out of public life…

You Can Support Jim Cooper. You Can Support a Good Health Care Bill. You Can’t Do Both.

[ 0 ] September 1, 2009 |

What’s most striking to me about Joe Klein’s leaked JournoList messages are the mash notes to Jim Cooper, the right-wing nominal Democrat who played a major role in destroying health care reform in 1993 and is doing what he can to make any bill that passes in 2009 be as expensive and ineffectual as possible. To Klein — as with, one suspects, all too many Democratic Villagers — it’s more important that something that can be called “health care reform” passes Congress than that the bill actually be any good.

I, On the Other Hand, Am Happy He Got it Right

[ 0 ] September 1, 2009 |

Shorter Ross Douthat: If only Ted Kennedy had understood that arbitrarily enforced laws forcing (poor) women to carry pregnancies to term (or seek unsafe abortions on the black market) are very effective ways of fighting the patriarchy and helping the downtrodden. Why, they probably don’t know what they want, the poor dears — just ask Tony Kennedy!

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