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Archive for October, 2009

The Success of Moneyball

[ 0 ] October 28, 2009 |

Whatever the limitations of his baseball knowledge, Matt is in fact correct about Buzz Bissinger’s latest silly anti-Billy Beane screed.

The biggest problem with Bissinger’s rant is that he doesn’t seem to understand that the core of the philosophy laid out in Moneyball was arbitrage: that is, teams with lower payrolls had to focus on skills that were undervalued by teams with higher payrolls. Beane would have been proven wrong if it turned out that on-base percentage and power weren’t in fact undervalued but were already priced correctly. But this, of course, if manifestly false. The most successful regular season franchise in the last decade, the Yankees, have emphasized working long counts and power throughout the Brian Cashman era. The defending champion Phillies are a power and walks based offense. The Red Sox, with two World Championships in the last five years, literally hired Bill James. So it’s not that Beane was wrong; it’s that the arbitrage opportunity has vanished. (Nothing in Moneyball said that having more money wasn’t an advantage.) Conversely, one franchise in baseball has a Process in place representing Bissinger’s alleged beloved values of explicitly ignoring sabermetric evidence and focusing on grittitude, clucthiosity, and the Enduring Wisdom of Old-Time Baseball Men: Mr. Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals. We know how that’s working out.

None of this is to say that Beane is beyond criticism; his talent judgment has often been shaky in the last couple years, and while he’s had a brilliant run it may be time for him to move on. Bissinger is also right that his focus on performance over skills in drafting probably went too far. But looking at the best organizations in baseball is a vindication of Moneyball, not a repudiation.


Ideas on Toughness…

[ 0 ] October 28, 2009 |

Indeed; and of course it’s even worse if establishing a reputation for toughness is simply impossible under any circumstances...

If Democrats Wanted To Be Serious

[ 0 ] October 28, 2009 |

This wouldn’t even be debatable. The idea that Senators who vote to filibuster major initiatives of the party — filibusters that are highly deleterious not only on the policy merits and for democracy but politically — should be entitled to special policy-making privileges from the party is absurd. (For Lieberman, of course, this doesn’t go far enough; his office should be transferred to a broom closet somewhere in Camden.) It should also be noted that while there may be certain risks in alienating Senators in red states, this doesn’t apply at all to Lieberman.

Well, At Least That’s Cleared Up

[ 0 ] October 28, 2009 |

While I’m flying on a NW A-320 tomorrow from the west coast to, presumably, MSP, I now know who will not be piloting the aircraft.

And to think, just the other day in ATL I was lamenting Delta’s buyout of “my” airline.


[ 0 ] October 28, 2009 |

My friend Southern Female Lawyer is pretty excited by Glenn Beck’s Christmas book, as well as by all the touching and heralding and redeeming that will accompany it.

Meantime, I’ll note that the subtitle to Beck’s parable — “A Return to Redemption” — is quite possibly the silliest thing ever.

Briefly, on the Pro-Israel Point…

[ 0 ] October 27, 2009 |

I agree with Ackerman and Yglesias that defining “pro-Israel” on the basis of belief in a particular narrative of national foundation is ridiculous and absurd. In addition to being practically nonsensical, such a metric would serve to throw a blanket on genuine historical scholarship of Zionism, the development of the Jewish population within mandate Palestine, and the early Arab-Israeli wars. Although I count myself as a patriotic American, I have few illusions about the validity or accuracy of the mythical narrative of the founding of the United States.

At the same time, I find myself pretty comfortably within the “pro-two state, pro-Israel” faction. The case against the two state solution rests, as far as I can tell, on two arguments. The first is that the creation of Israel represents a historic crime against the Palestinian people, and that this crime should be rectified. The second is that a cosmopolitan, democratic single state covering the territory of Israel/Palestine is possible, and is both ideologically and practically preferable to the division of the area into two states.

Regarding the first argument, I can only say: Meh. The founding of Israel involved brutality, theft, appropriation of land, ethnic cleansing, and murder. It also involved heroism, selflessness, generosity, hard work, and sense of historic destiny. Furthermore, the narrative that developed within Israel regarding the founding emphasizes the second set of traits at the expense of the first. These two facts distinguish Israel from approximately zero nation-states in the international system. Statebuilding and consolidation is brutal, murderous work; every major modern nation-state has bloody hands, and every modern nation-state has developed a narrative that de-emphasizes the brutality of its founding. The historic crime of Israel’s founding, such that it was, is different only in that it was more recent than the crimes associated with the development of Russia, Japan, France, the United States, and so forth. The crimes serve to “delegitimate” Israel only in the sense that such crimes delegitimate the project of the modern nation-state. There’s some value to that, but there’s little reason to make Israel the focus of such an effort.

Regarding the second, every democracy includes groups of people who are likely to disagree with each other about how the state should be constituted. I think it’s fair to say, however, that some groups of people may, as a practical matter, have views regarding the nature of the body politic that are so divergent that there is little point in including them under the same state. I think that Israelis and Palestinians represent, collectively, an example of this; the institutions of a prospective Israeli-Palestinian state seem unlikely to me to function in a very democratic or effective manner. Another way to put this is that I trust neither Israelis nor Palestinians to live in a state with the other; I trust neither to sufficiently respect the rights of the other to make democratic life enjoyable, or even possible.

And so, in this sense, I’m strongly pro-Israel. I think that the achievement of a two-state solution is both possible (although perhaps not forever) and desireable, and that both the Israelis and the Palestinians will benefit from such a separation. Moreover, within this context, I strongly support policies that increase the security and prosperity of both states. I also strongly oppose policies that make the development of two states more difficult; Israeli settlement activity is among the most important of these policies, as is the quasi-eliminationist rhetorical stance adopted by Hamas. Such a settlement would, in some sense, validate the historic crime of Israel’s founding, but for me that objection carries very little weight.

He called it "motivationalness," but you get the point

[ 0 ] October 27, 2009 |

“Motivation” — already one of the most useless words in the language — was apparently dragged into the woods and shot yesterday.

After nine months of being nearly invisible — a big outing has been to a Dallas hardware store for flashlights — George W. Bush made his debut Monday in his latest incarnation: motivational speaker.

Nearly 15,000 people heard the former president, known more for mangling the English language than for his eloquence, reminisce about his White House days. Bush, who is writing a book about the dozen toughest decisions he had to make, used much of his 28 minutes onstage to talk about lighter topics such as picking out a rug design for the Oval Office that reflected his “optimism.”

. . . His speech came after the crowd at the “GET MOTIVATED!” seminar stood up and danced to the Beach Boys’ song “Surfin’ USA” and batted around beach balls tossed into the audience.

Though I’d prefer he be forced to wear a scarlet letter in public — you could pretty much have your pick — I don’t begrudge the former president the opportunity to make some money after nearly destroying the universe during his eight years in office. If P.T. Barnum could persuade thousands of people to surrender good money to view a the upper half of baby monkey sewn to the lower half of a fish, we can’t be too surprised that 15,000 people might choose to spend a half hour listening to George W. Bush talk about his Scotties, or Jenna’s wedding, or whatever the fuck. But I’ll admit the “motivational speaker” billing threw me a bit. I’d assumed Bush’s post-presidential appearances would more closely resemble the court-mandated speeches a drunk driver who’d obliterated a family of four. But then again, I’ve never really had an ear for marketing.

Actors May Actually Differ From Characters They Portray

[ 0 ] October 27, 2009 |

If you understand this, you’re probably too smart to write for the Weekly Standard.

In comments, p emphasizes Continetti’s argument that to women “fulfillment” can be assumed to come from motherhood, not professional success. Gak. And cer reminds us of this classic scene from Extras which could perhaps be shown to all staffers at the Kristol ship:

Predatory Lenders

[ 0 ] October 27, 2009 |

What happened to my old bank provides a pretty instructive example of the practices that contributed to the Bush Depression.

The Story, Not the Facts

[ 0 ] October 27, 2009 |

That pretty much sums up Milbank. And the story, as always, is that it’s awful when dirty hippies occasionally have enough influence to shift policy in a very modestly progressive direction, when influence should be left to more grown-up factions. Now, the insurance companies that buy off Mary Landrieu, there are some interest groups you can set your watch to!

Meanwhile, Olympia Snowe seems to be auditioning for the return of Mouthpiece Theater With Poochie and Rupert Pupkin:

“I still believe that a fallback, safety net plan, to be triggered and available immediately in states where insurance companies fail to offer plans that meet the standards of affordability, could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate,” she said.

[Rimshot] Try the veal!

At least Harry Reid finally seems to be in on the joke, even if Dana Milbank isn’t…

A bit more on visual rhetoric.

[ 0 ] October 27, 2009 |

Since people seemed to like the previous pedagogical post, here’s a link to what I’m doing in class tomorrow. (Short version: I inform my students they’re all murderers, they rebel, I put them in their place, etc.)

Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] October 26, 2009 |

Fred Hiatt. “If the cost controls from a public option go away then Congress will magically impose cost controls that affect vested interests even more directly” is a pretty impressive feat of illogic even by Hiatt’s standards. It’s almost as if Hiatt saw that DFH were in favor of something, needed to develop an ad hoc argument against it, and leaned back on his familar Pain Caucus arguments even though they obviously don’t make any sense.

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