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Half Empty

[ 0 ] November 20, 2008 |

To follow up on Kaufman and Lookout Landing, maybe it would help if the BBWAA would just release the winners. It’s sort of amazing that a group of voters that all other evidence suggests are wholly inept and unqualified managed to get both of the awards right (or at least reach reasonable answers for both.) I probably would have voted for Mauer over Pedroia, but I admit that this is for not better reason than that if it’s a close question you should never vote for the Scrappy White Guy who will be a media darling for the next decade+l; Pedroia was a fair choice.

But the rest of the ballots, oy. About the best you can say about the AL is that at least Morneau was closer to being as good as Mauer than in the year when he actually won the award. And it’s not just that the #2 guy in the NL plays the same position at the MVP and is far worse offensively and defensively, but that he was at best the third best player on his own team (and a lot closer in value to Burrell than Utley, grated that it’s partly about the Bat being very underrated.) I think Bill James wrote in one of the first Abstracts, the bias framework of the 50s (up-the-middle player on championship team) was at least better than the still-current “Juan Gonzalez” bias framework (guy who drives in the most runs irrespective of defensive value, how many guys were on in front of him, etc.) I just can’t explain how a tremendous offensive defensive player like Utley — whose peak at the position is exceeded in NL history only by Hornsby and Morgan — can’t even break the top 10 in a year in which his team won the division. But it certainly reflects horribly on the alleged professionals who do the voting.

Oh, yes, and in other baseball news it’s not clear to me that the rest of baseball has to pitch in and help the Yankees get back to the postseason; seems to be they have plenty of resources already. I think the negotiations went something like this.

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Mittens

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

I think I just became a lot more sympathetic to the bailout…

Haven’t Those Thighs Been Rubbed Enough?

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

I’m generally agnostic about having Clinton at State. But part of me would like to see it happen as a thumb-in-the-eye to the shameless hacks trying to gin up yet more ridiculous Clinton pseudo-scandals. (Apparently, powerful politicians know rich people!) As with most of the alleged “scandals” starting with Whitewater, it’s far from obvious what the there is here.

…I would also have to agree that if Kristof thinks the “war on brains” is over he hasn’t been reading his colleagues on the op-ed pages…

Holder

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

Obama’s apparent AG choice certainly sounds promising, even granting that the previous administration hasn’t exactly set a high bar…

Talking Turkey

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

If you don’t prefer my heretical choices (i.e., just skip tradition altogether and if you’re a carnivore go with ham or salmon or roast beef or some other meat with flavor in it), Lindsay has good tips. And, actually, having tasted roast turkey done well at Thanksgiving in recent years (including once by Lindsay herself) has increased my appreciation somewhat…

Ugh

[ 0 ] November 18, 2008 |


Shorter Democratic Party: Please, endorse the other party’s presidential candidate and smear ours. We don’t mind!

The Stevens Situation

[ 0 ] November 18, 2008 |

Hopefully Alaska’s voters will be shown to have made the decision before the Senate has to…

Bailouts And Consequences

[ 0 ] November 17, 2008 |

I think this article by Jon Cohn is very important. There are two points here that I think should be emphasized. First, I do think that there’s a tendency to go a little overboard when it comes to the quality and popularity of American cars. This is largely the fault of the companies themselves — if you buy one crappy, unreliable car in the 70s or 80s you won’t buy another one — but in addition to what Jon mentions the Malibu is selling well and has been well-regarded by critics, and Cadillac makes as good a car as anyone in the luxury market. I don’t think it’s terribly unreasonable to think that GM and Ford, at least, could become profitable companies after the downturn.

But secondly, and more importantly, I think that at the very least it’s important to be clear-eyed about the consequences of bankruptcy. I don’t think sanguine claims that auto companies could just file bankruptcy like an airline and keep running their operations and re-emerge in better shape. This might work for airlines — where all that matters to most consumers is price to the destination, many customers aren’t even paying the modest price themselves, and you don’t care if the airline you fly next Tuesday is in business in 5 years — but car companies, who need customers to make one large-term purchase with their own money they will be exceedingly reluctant to make if they don’t think a company will be around to honor warranties and provide parts. Bankruptcy will almost certainly lead to liquidation with horrifying economic consequences.

Does this mean that the bailout is good policy? Not necessarily; we have to see what the plan looks like first. There are real reasons to be skeptical of government intervention. I do think, however, it’s important not to kid ourselves about the consequences of deciding against the bailout. Is it worth letting hundreds of thousands of jobs (many of them good union jobs) go while a region of the country is completely devastated as a selective token of adherence to Free Market Principles? Maybe, but let’s be clear about the choice we’re making. The idea of GM going through an orderly Chapter 11 restructuring in this economy is almost certainly dreaming in technicolor.

Haloscan

[ 0 ] November 17, 2008 |

This does not seem to have been a…smooth rollout of their new technology.

Wishing Conflict Away

[ 0 ] November 17, 2008 |

I certainly respect E.J Dionne far more than I do Will Saletan. But it must be said that his new column has a pretty strong whiff of the “originating policies pro-choicers have been advocating for many decades” routine that Saletan has patented. Apparently, the solution to ending the conflict over abortion includes “contraception programs, even if these are a sticking point for some social conservatives, along with ‘programs that are going to encourage women to bring their children to term.’ Among them: expanded health coverage for women and children, more child care, adoption help, and income support for the working poor.” Since pro-choice liberals have pretty much always supported these policies and they don’t seem to stop the anti-choice minority from supporting criminalization (as well as opposing most or all of these programs, almost as if reducing abortion rates isn’t a terribly important goal for American “pro-lifers”), it’s not clear what’s actually supposed to change about the abortion politics here.

Of course, if fine old wine can broaden the coalition for reproductive freedom if we dust off the bottles with some rhetoric that appeals to some members of the ofter side, what’s the harm? Well, I worry about defending good policies with such justifications as “encouraging women to bring more pregnancies to term,” justifications that can pretty quickly end up in arguments for burdensome abortion regulations. But the real problem with Dionne’s argument is his apparent belief that enacting this (as stated) worthwhile program would somehow “make cultural warfare a quaint relic of the past.” This won’t happen, simply because anti-abortion politics tends to be bundled up with an array of other reactionary attitudes about women and sexuality that undercut support for other policies that will reduce abortion rates. Some examples from Margaret Tabot’s superb new article:

But, according to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their “sexual d├ębut”–to use the festive term of social-science researchers–shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.

Another key difference in behavior, Regnerus reports, is that evangelical Protestant teen-agers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception. This could be because evangelicals are also among the most likely to believe that using contraception will send the message that they are looking for sex. It could also be because many evangelicals are steeped in the abstinence movement’s warnings that condoms won’t actually protect them from pregnancy or venereal disease. More provocatively, Regnerus found that only half of sexually active teen-agers who say that they seek guidance from God or the Scriptures when making a tough decision report using contraception every time. By contrast, sixty-nine per cent of sexually active youth who say that they most often follow the counsel of a parent or another trusted adult consistently use protection.

Read the whole etc. It would be fine if Democrats passed legislation funding contraception and rational sex-ed, as well as assistance for young mothers (not to mention legislation recognizing a federal right for a woman to choose an abortion.) But even the Democrats pass only the first two sets of policies, it’s not going to magically end conflicts over abortion or take the issue off the table. You’d thunk contraception use would be an issue on which it’s easy to build consensus, but it’s not.

Is This Rich?

[ 1 ] November 16, 2008 |

All-star commenter IB says:

OT (but appropriate to a previously stated position of this blog): Another smart Sunday piece by Frank Rich.

(Noted because: About a week ago, someone (SL, I think, but correct me if I’m wrong) argued a la Somerby that one’s saying something unfair about Al Gore in 2000 should forever banish one from publication. I defended Rich by saying that, while he has certainly on occasion been wrong, he is more often right and worth reading. So here’s what I feel confident is the first of many examples offered in treal time.)

Well, first of all, “something unfair” is one thing, “making up lies about Al Gore when not obsessing about trivia while repeatedly arguing that he was indistinguishable from George W. Bush” quite another. (And, to be frank, I am in fact inclined to think that someone who thought that it wouldn’t make any difference whether Al Gore or George Bush is in the White House really shouldn’t be pulling down six figures a year to write about politics.) At any rate, while I will concede that (as with many of his columns) there’s nothing especially objectionable about this one, I would also be interested in IB (or anyone else) IDing the point at which Rich tells any mildly informed liberal anything they don’t already know. Parties engage in circular firing squads after losing elections? You don’t say!

I should also say that, to the extent that Rich’s point isn’t banal, I don’t actually agree with it. Obviously, comparisons to 1936 are silly; the Republicans, working in exceptionally bad structural conditions, got 162 electoral votes (as opposed to, say, 8) and lost several other states by very close margins. They maintain a solid regional base that is going to gain electoral votes in 2010, and their coalition remains probably more internally coherent than that of the typical large brokerage party in a two-party system. Party fissures are always more apparent in defeat, but it’s premature at best to think that 2008 portends a major realignment in American politics.

Moneyball Campaigning

[ 1 ] November 15, 2008 |

I think Ezra gets this right. Obama’s primary campaign, in particular, was clearheaded, methodical and rational, focusing on delegates rather than “media cycles” and other mystical nonsense. With the Clinton campaign, the frightening thing was not merely their “voters/states that vote for us count more even if it’s a minority coalition” spin — when doomed campaigns are spinning, they have to by definition say things that aren’t true — but that they acted as if it was true.

None of this is to say, of course, that Obama’s win was inevitable. Resources and institutional advantanges matter; you can get away with hiring a Mark Penn or a Ned Colletti if your opponnent is a Bob Dole or a Brian Sabean. If Edwards had been Clinton’s major opponent, her old-school campaign/attractive candidate combination would have been enough. And Obama’s ability to get funds from online donors is a rare instance of the internet really having a major impact on a campaign. Even Billy Beane can’t win consistently with nothing to work with, and without the ability to tap enough small donors to make his campaign clearly viable the Obama’s vastly superior tactics wouldn’t have been enough. Same thing in the general — although I rarely say such things, I think McCain’s campaign really was abysmal, but under the right structural circumstances he could have won. (And conversely, under these structural circumstances he had virtually no chance; we can quibble about margins, but I don’t think there’s any serious question that Clinton/Penn would have also beaten them pretty badly.)

But, then, sabermetric analysis is always about probabilities, not certainties. Obama’s smart decisions increased his odds, and in both cases it was enough.

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