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Greenspan shrugged

[ 54 ] April 15, 2011 |

tree

One thing I feel ever so slightly-guilty about (in what is apparently a very non-Objectivist way) is that I’ve never been able to summon the energy to read any Ayn Rand. Given the salience of her views to a large wing of the contemporary GOP, I feel this involves a certain dereliction of intellectual duty.

Maybe I can just see the movie.

Speaking of anachronistic baseball institutions

[ 16 ] April 9, 2011 |

Who's who

Scott’s observations about Murray Chass not cottoning to newfangled statistics or the computer geeks who frighten and confuse him came to mind when I was in a Barnes and Noble this afternoon, and saw copies of Who’s Who in Baseball on the magazine stand. The cover of the thing looks exactly as it did 30 years ago, and the inside is also exactly the same: the editors have decided to stick with the identical stats I remember from the days when the Bee Gees ruled top 40 radio. For example, among the abstruse new stats that still haven’t found their way into Who’s Who’s batting statistics are “walks,” “slugging percentage,” and “on-base percentage.”

Which raises the question, who is plunking down $9.95 for a compendium that has about 2% of the information available for free (in far more up to date form) on a site like Baseball Reference? Apparently the nostalgic tendencies of baseball fans extend to the products of the publishing industry.

Bill Kristol to Barack Obama: You’re the wind beneath my wings

[ 6 ] April 7, 2011 |

PC police cost another white male his job

[ 92 ] April 6, 2011 |

Wisconsin — land of union thugs and activist foie gras-consuming judges — has claimed another victim of liberal orthodoxy

From the WSJ:

Brian Deschane – the 27-year-old son of a prominent lobbyist – was demoted on Tuesday following a public uproar over his appointment to a cushy job earning $81,500 per year working in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.

But check out the two candidates Deschane beat out to get the position as head of environmental and regulatory affairs in the state Department of Commerce:

The first, Oscar Herrera, is a former state cabinet secretary under Republican Gov. Scott McCallum with a doctoral degree and eight years’ experience overseeing the cleanup of petroleum-contaminated sites.

The second, Bernice Mattsson, is a professional engineer who served since 2003 in the post to which Deschane was appointed.

By contrast, Deschane has no college degree, little management experience and a couple of drunken-driving convictions. His father represents a trade group that gave more than $121,000 to Walker and his running mate.

Herrera and Mattsson didn’t get far in the process.

“Neither candidate was interviewed,” said agency spokesman Tony Hozeny.

A superbly qualified white man has been fired from his job because of the whining of a couple of affirmative action hires, which is to say that once again The Market and Meritocracy have been crushed beneath the jackboot of socialist hegemony.

Seriously?

[ 12 ] April 6, 2011 |

I just did a quick Nexis search, and discovered that the query “(Paul Ryan) and serious” produced 314 hits in the last 48 hours.

Browsing through a couple of dozen of them I discovered that Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is a serious proposal, which seriously engages with our serious budget problems.

Now here’s what puzzles me: chairs of congressional committees issue legislative proposals all the time. This proposal obviously has no chance of going anywhere. Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and privatizing Medicare (the centerpiece of the whole thing) is no more likely to be approved by either entity than a proposal to change the motto on our currency to From Each According to His Abilities; To Each According to His Needs would get serious consideration if Sarah Palin were president and the Tea Party had 52 senate seats.

So why are “we” (meaning, I suppose in the first instance the Village) all talking about this?

. . . Reading the comment thread in Scott’s post below, it suddenly seems clear that having a “national conversation” about this Winger fever dream is a classic goal post shifting move, whereby the Catfood Commission suddenly becomes David Broder’s the ghost of David Broder’s favorite example of moist, tender and flaky moderate consensus goodness.

Worth a thousand words

[ 44 ] April 5, 2011 |

Barnum

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Tax documents show unwed mother Bristol Palin earned more than $262,000 for her role helping raise awareness for teen pregnancy prevention in 2009.

The most recent data for The Candie’s Foundation that’s posted online by research firm GuideStar shows compensation at $262,500 for the now-20-year-old daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.

Bristol Palin was 18 when she was appointed as a teen ambassador for the New York-based foundation in 2009, months after giving birth to son, Tripp. She and the 2-year-old boy’s father are no longer together.

Don’t follow leaders

[ 95 ] April 5, 2011 |

Anyone who has blogged or indeed done any form of journamalism for very long has published things they regret, so it’s a bit unfair to focus too much on particular lapses of judgment by a good writers, especially whenever such authors, like Job and Robert McNamara, abhor themselves and repent (sort of).

So the point here isn’t to bash anyone in particular, but rather to focus on the substance of the claim that it makes sense to trust Barack Obama’s judgment over your own because he’s supposedly smarter, better informed, better able to understand the the consequences of his actions, and more far-sighted than you are.

On at least one level I would like to believe this is true — few people are completely immune to the attractions of authoritarianism, and it would be pretty to think that our leaders are at heart good parents, who want only the best for the sometimes wayward children they protect and defend.

But I would also like to think that when I became a man I put aside childish things, and a child-like trust in the authorities is one of those things.

So in general I don’t trust Barack Obama’s judgment over my own, and I see no reason to do so. The reasons given for doing so really come down to two: he’s smarter and better-informed than I am (I take “better able to understand the consequences of his actions” and “more far-sighted” as just specific examples of, respectively, having better information and being smarter).

But is this true? In what sense is Obama “smarter” than me (or you?). It’s become a platitude that intelligence comes in many forms, but it’s a platitude precisely because it’s true. Now it so happens that Obama’s demonstrated forms of intelligence — doing well in school and being a fluent writer — are ones we share. It also happens that the value of that kind of intelligence for the purposes of political leadership, while not negligible, tends to be overstated by fluent writers who did well in school. (In terms of sheer analytical intelligence, two of the top three presidents were probably Wilson and Nixon, who are also two of the very worst). Anyway, the claim that Obama can be trusted to make good decisions because he’s “smart” depends, to put it mildly, on a great deal of faith-based reasoning in regard to both his general intelligence and especially in regard to the degree to which the specific sort of intelligence he possesses translates into being a good leader.

Then there’s the claim that Obama is “better informed.” This could mean he’s better informed in general — better educated and possessing greater relevant experience — or it can mean more knowledgeable regarding the specific issue at hand. The first claim is weak. Obama’s education was a typical one for members of the professional classes in contemporary America, and his relevant experience for the office of the presidency was unusually slender for someone in his position. So, in my view, “trusting” Obama about Libya or Guantanamo or anything else comes down to the claim that he is privy to information that makes his judgment more trustworthy than yours or mine. Now obviously this is by nature an untestable proposition — the evidence for it being the kind of evidence that ex hypothesi isn’t available to you and me — but it’s worth noting that this is precisely the same claim that was made for why people should trust George W. Bush to “keep us safe” by locking people up forever without trials and torturing some of them in the bargain.

It goes without saying that a president is going to have access to some information that isn’t available to ordinary citizens (it should also go without saying that presidents are constantly trying to expand the extent of that information gap). But in the end, decisions such as whether to place people in “indefinite detention” rather than charging them with crimes and putting them on trial, or whether to engage in unilateral warfare in the pursuit of this or that supposedly crucial national interest or universal value, are at bottom matters of principle more than of pragmatic judgment. And on that score, there’s not the slightest reason to think that Barack Obama’s judgment is to be trusted any more than George W. Bush’s was — especially given the striking similarities in many of their policies regarding the central political and moral questions of their respective administrations.

More on the constitutionality of US participation in the Libyan civil war

[ 37 ] April 4, 2011 |

Bruce Ackerman points out that Obama’s actions are arguably even more imperious than the constitutionally questionable actions of his predecessors, in regard to unilateral presidential decisions to engage in war.

As in the case of civil liberties abuses, this is yet another instance where progressives have as a practical matter almost no representation in the political process. Most Republicans have decided that their love for imperial adventures trumps their hatred of Obama (at least until something starts to go wrong), while most Democrats have either chosen to duck and cover, or have decided that Obama is so smart and wise and full of good judgment that they’ll put their objections aside.

On a related note.

Death and taxes

[ 19 ] April 3, 2011 |

I suspect James Madison et. al. would be appalled to discover that it would eventually become much harder for presidents to pursue even the most modest aspects of their preferred domestic policies than it would be for them to launch, with no congressional participation of any kind, unilateral wars against nations that hadn’t attacked America, and posed no threat to our security.

Submitted for your approval

[ 49 ] March 29, 2011 |

nash

Assume you’re a coach of a basketball team that features a great offensive player who is awful on defense — an undersized point guard who is a brilliant play maker but whose relative lack of size and strength makes him mostly a liability on D (Steve Nash), or a small forward who can light it up on O but has terrible defensive technique and instincts and is fairly useless on on the defensive boards (Ricky Davis).

Why not play a cherry picking strategy (CPS), in which you leave that player on the offensive half of the court either all the time or at unpredictable moments? Obviously this strategery would work great if the other team is forced to take a player out of its offense, since that player’s offensive value in a 5 on 5 situation is ex hypothesi greater than your crummy defender’s defensive value. But let’s say the other team decides to play 5 on 4 instead. Advantages of the strategy

(1) If the other team turns the ball over that’s pretty much an automatic score for you.

(2) Many defensive rebounds would result in easy transition buckets — if the rebounder was apt at firing quick outlet passes, either to the cherry picker or to a team mate who could make a quick second pass.

(3) Even after made baskets the scoring team would have to be conscious of the importance of rotating someone into the defensive half court fast enough to avoid a long inbound pass to the cherry picker. This would have the additional beneficial effect of keeping the offense from crashing the boards as aggressively as they otherwise might.

The disadvantages are obvious. For one thing you would pretty much have to play a (short-handed) zone, probably a 1-2-1, and the higher the level of basketball, the better offenses become at exploiting zone defenses in a systemic way.

This makes me suspect that CPS would be more effective at lower levels of competition — that it might not work in the NBA, but might work in college ball, or lower-division college ball, or in high school.

A related caveat would be that it might work only to the extent that it was employed unpredictably: that it wouldn’t work well if a team did it 100% of the time, but it might if it were an intermittent or occasional tactic, the possibility of which the opposition would have to take into account.

I’ve watched a lot of basketball and I’ve never seen anyone try anything like this, which could mean that the idea is wrongheaded for some reason I’m not taking into account. Or it could mean that nobody has tried it for the same reason nobody used to go for it on fourth and five from the other team’s 36 yard line — i.e., there isn’t a good reason.

Update: Lots of interesting comments. On reflection, using a point guard to cherry pick is obviously a bad idea. You don’t want to use a decent rebounder or shot blocker even if he/she can’t defend worth a lick, so that pretty much means using a wing player who hates to defend but can score like hell. While there are about 30 guys who fit that description in the NBA, I tend to agree with the commentators who point out that a remarkably large number of NBA players become effective long range shooters when wide open, so that argues for using some version of the strategy at lower levels. I also like the suggestion of a soft version of the strategy, where your Derrick Rose type releases as soon as a shot goes up, or maybe very late in the shot clock. Of course you do see some of that already at all levels, but it tends to be frowned on.

Anyway, I think this is an area that, like the use of relief pitchers in baseball and kicking strategy in football, could probably benefit from more experimentation. (What definitely seems suboptimal is the point made in comments about holding players out relatively mechanically because of foul trouble).

That joke isn’t funny any more

[ 16 ] March 28, 2011 |

bunny

As he explores the prospects for turning all of America into his own personal reality TV show, the Donald has gone full birther.

The GOP establishment now has a real problem. Having engaged in ever-increasing levels of flirtation with the lunatic fringe, a.k.a., “the base,” it has awoken to find itself in bed with the ideological equivalent of Alex Forrest — and she will not be ignored.

To borrow Thomas Frank’s terminology, a few weeks ago the Mods at the Weekly Standard, George Will etc., started trying to put the kibosh on attempts by the Cons to go all in on the Crazy. Yet the Bill Ayers nonsense Scott linked below — which has since been noted approvingly by the ever-moderate and independent voices in our midst (or possibly in our heads) — makes one suspect a good part of the body politic has gone literally insane.

Update: Adam Serwer provides a useful lexicon to describe the many flavors of birtherism.

Whoops

[ 29 ] March 27, 2011 |

ci

Jay Bilas is now two games away from achieving Maximum Possible Predictive Error.

Update: Apparently two of the 5.9 million entries in ESPN’s NCAA pool chose all four semi-finalists correctly.

Given that the average seed of the four teams is 6.5, while the average seed of the tourney participants is 8, entries that chose the teams randomly were probably almost as accurate on average in regard to the composition of the final four as those which tried to determine the teams via the power of human reason.

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