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Category: General

Trans-Atlantic Diplomacy

[ 62 ] October 3, 2015 |


New York Jets style, on the sage advice of an intern:

“the toilet paper was very thin because their plumbing isn’t as good”.


Over the Tallest Bridge in the State of Ohio

[ 44 ] October 2, 2015 |

We haven’t had a thread about the nation’s best band of the last decade lately, so it’s worth noting that “Little Miami” might be the best song Wussy has ever recorded. Chuck Cleaver thinks so anyway. I can’t really argue, although there are 5 or 6 others that I think have a claim to the title.

Not a Dime’s Worth of Difference!

[ 129 ] October 2, 2015 |


Barack Obama:

We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.

And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic. I would ask news organizations — because I won’t put these facts forward — have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won’t be information coming from me; it will be coming from you. We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?

This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction. When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives. So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense.

Jeb! Bush:

“I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It’s very sad to see. But I resist the notion, and I had this challenge as governor—look, stuff happens.”

In conclusion, don’t vote, it just encourages the bastards.

For Corporations, Sticks, Not Carrots

[ 19 ] October 2, 2015 |


Before this story gets totally forgotten, I want to revisit the Volkswagen issue. For it shows something that I point out repeatedly in Out of Sight (now available for a James Blaine campaign price of $18.84 if you have not purchased it) as well as Empire of Timber. Corporations simply cannot be trusted to self-regulate. It will never work because all the incentive is there for them to cheat. They want to profit and if the government isn’t watching, they will cut corners to do so. The auto industry has shown this for decades. Only sticks will work. You have to punish corporations–and specifically corporate executives with massive fines and jail time if you want corporations to obey the law and take safety and pollution seriously. One estimate has the Volkswagen emissions leading to approximately 106 deaths in the United States. VW will be punished for this, but if we want to stop other companies and other industries from similar evasion of regulations, we simply have to beef up our regulatory powers and funding for regulatory agencies significantly. Otherwise, other versions of this will happen again and again.

Jamaica: Another Nation That Should Be Grateful to the West

[ 92 ] October 2, 2015 |


Slaves in Jamaica

David Cameron visited Jamaica this week. Presumably, the farmer’s pig farmers locked up their stock for the duration. Anyway, Cameron went full Cass Sunstein in his speech to the Jamaican Parliament, telling the nation to get over slavery and focus on all the great things the British brought the island.

David Cameron has called for Jamaica and the UK to “move on” from the deep wounds caused by slavery but ducked official calls for Britain to apologise for its role or pay reparations.

Speaking to the Caribbean country’s parliament, the prime minister struck a defiant note as he spoke of his pride that Britain had played a part in abolishing the “abhorrent” trade, without highlighting its historic involvement in the transfer of slaves from west Africa and ownership of slaves in the Caribbean.

He called for the two countries to “move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future”.

His trade trip to Jamaica, the first for 14 years by a UK prime minister, has been overshadowed by the issue of slavery. Cameron was warmly received by a military band playing God Save the Queen on arrival at the airport and received a hug from the country’s prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller.

Reparations obviously are controversial and could be problematic, although given the amount of wealth the British stole from the island, one could argue for them on a number of levels. But to not apologize over slavery? Why? Oh yeah, because David Cameron is a massive jerk.

But hey, Sunstein would be proud because of yet another gift from the western world to a developing nation!

The UK is to spend £25m on building a prison in Jamaica so that foreign criminals in the UK can be sent home to serve sentences in the Caribbean.

More than 600 Jamaican nationals are in UK jails but cannot be deported because of Jamaica’s poor prison conditions.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced the deal as he began a visit there.

Importing Africans to work on brutal sugar plantations, holding Africans under colonialism until 1962, and now building them prisons to incarcerate Africans. It’s gifts all the way down!

Violent crime in America: A complex story

[ 94 ] October 2, 2015 |

(1) The United States is on average much more violent homicidal than other developed nations. For example, here are the most recently available homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants for ten countries:

Canada: 1.6
South Korea: 0.6
Denmark: 0.8
Ireland: 1.2
UK: 1.0
Italy: 0.9
Spain: 0.8
Australia: 1.1
China: 1.0
United State: 4.7

(2) Both the violent crime rate and the homicide rate in the US have declined by about half over the past 25 years. Over the past half century violent crime and homicide in America have followed a roughly parabolic pattern:

homicide rate

violent crime

(3) The reasons for the massive run-up in the violent crime rate between 1960 and 1990, and (especially) for the equally sharp decline in the rate since then are not well understood. Many theories have been proposed, but none of them are especially well supported. The most that can be said at this time is that both the run-up and the decline each had many causes, but identifying and sorting out the relative importance of those causes is extremely difficult to do.

(4) Mass shootings intended by their perpetrators to draw media attention have a symbolic cultural significance that goes far beyond their minuscule role in overall crime statistics. Among other things, they throw light on the fact that the United States remains, in comparative terms, a remarkably violent place, although it is true that we are now “only” about five times rather than ten times more violent murderous than our economic peers.

Edited to reflect that the big gap between the US and otherwise similar nations is in regard to homicide, as opposed to violent crime per se.

Another Massacre, Another Interview

[ 3 ] October 2, 2015 |

My accent does media over here the United Kingdom, explaining to the fair citizens of the southwest of England why my home country appears to be composed of blood thirsty gun owners, while likewise utterly unable to do a damned thing about it.  Bill Buckley, the 1-3pm presenter on BBC Radio Devon, is very good.  He had me on today in response to the Umpqua Community College massacre.  Find it here about 1:31 in:

On a couple points I was slightly off at the margins — public opinion is 50-48 for tighter gun control right now (pre-Umpqua) whereas I went slightly in the other direction. It was also recorded, not live, and some bits were excised, including my discussion of Erik’s experience following his head on a stick tweet in December 2012.

I’m also on BBC Radio Cornwall, airing right now, also recorded (at least I got the public opinion data correct), as well as being yet again pissed off.


A Day in Mass American Death

[ 86 ] October 2, 2015 |


So let me tell you about my day yesterday.

I am on one of my periodic trips to western Pennsylvania and I chose this day to do some exploring. If you are out here, most of the history is kind of depressing, although I did run across the Edward Abbey historical marker since he is actually from here. Anyway, among my destinations yesterday were the newly opened Flight 93 National Memorial visitor center (very minimalist, not sure what I think about it) and a visit to the the site where the wealthy Pittsburgh-based hunting club’s dam broke causing the Johnstown Flood. These are 2 of the 6 worst disasters in American history by death toll.* So I was feeling pretty great about our history, as you can imagine. Then while I was out, I heard about the shooting at Umpqua Community College. This hits a bit close to home, although not quite as close as in 1998 when my high school Spanish teacher was killed by her son who then went on to shoot up the other high school in town. It’s an hour south of my home town. In fact, in high school I was dragged to a hilariously awful Christian rock show in the auditorium at that school.**

So yesterday was a full embrace of the massive death that happens to the people of this nation. That it has become so common because people love their guns so much is even more depressing. There’s almost nothing to say at this point, except that I would like to see the Second Amendment repealed, the government to invade your homes and take all your guns, and those who resist should serve time in prison for breaking my new anti-gun laws. And yes, I would indeed like a pony.

But I notice that each of these three disasters have a particularly evil person behind them. So it’s time for an LGM readership poll. Who is the most evil? Is it Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11? Henry Clay Frick, the comically evil capitalist who was head of the club that did not maintain the dam that caused the Johnstown Flood? Or Wayne LaPierre, head of an organization that is the U.S. equivalent of the wealthy Saudis who fund terrorism?

Personally, I’d say it’s a tie. Wayne LaPierre and his henchmen are as evil as Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen. And Frick and his fellow Gilded Age capitalists are as evil as the other two. But maybe we can lighten up our morning by discussing who is actually the most evil.

Good times America. Good times.

*In order, it’s the 1900 Galveston hurricane, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1928 Florida hurricane, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the Johnstown Flood. Hurricane Katrina is 8th.

** The music was, of course, atrocious. But the real comedy came when the drummer for this band, who, even obvious to my 1990 very unhip self, was not very far in the closet for a Christian rock band, got upset that his electric drum kit was having some problems. He had to switch to real drums. He then told us how he asked God for His forgiveness over his anger and frustration over the electric drums and that it was a lesson for all of us. Truly a classic moment.

The American Way of Death

[ 147 ] October 1, 2015 |


I’m not sure I can say anything about the latest mass killing referenced by Paul below that I haven’t said before. So instead I will take the blogger’s prerogative to reiterate:

When Bullshit Was King: The 2005 NFL Draft, Insiders and Outsiders

[ 91 ] October 1, 2015 |


Paul recently mentioned the kind of extraordinary numbers Aaron Rodgers is putting up; even adjusted for era, and in substantive as well as freak show accomplishments, he’s one of the very greatest NFL players ever. It always amazes me that the Packers were able to get him with the 24th pick in the 2005 Draft. Rodgers was not a diamond in the rough. I mean, whenever someone turns into Aaron Rodgers you’re somewhat lucky, but QBs with his level of NCAA performance at his age are much more likely to become good NFL QBs than not. A QB prospect like this should go in the top 2 or 3 picks of the draft barring extraordinary circumstances.

What’s even better is that 3 running backs were selected with the first 5 picks of the draft. Could the idiots who would blow a top 5 pick on a running back — a silly decision in contemporary football even if Aaron Rodgers isn’t on the board — at least identify really good ones ex ante? Well, the picks were Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams, so no. Did those teams at least have solid starters at QB? Nope: they had Gus Ferrotte, Kyle Orton/Rex Grossman, and Chris Simms/Brian Griesie.  The Packers did have a Hall of Fame QB rather than a terrible one, but they jumped on Rodgers anyway because Thompson knows what he’s doing.

Bill James’s classic early essay about insiders and outsiders is, alas, not available online. But whenever someone is on the losing side of a sports argument — “trading Nick Foles and the equivalent of the 39th pick for the right to pay Sam Bradford $13 million was perfectly reasonable,” say — you can always retreat to the “the insider knows more than you do” argument. Chip Kelly stayed up all night analyzing that dogshit stock Sam Bradford game film. Who are you to criticize his actions?

But, as James said, the fact that insiders know much more about many aspects of the sport doesn’t make them more reliable analysts of everything. His example was Fred Lynn, who insisted that he would hit better in Anaheim than he had in Boston and was paid like it by the Angels, although he reliably had an OPS 300 or 400 points better at Fenway. Sometimes an intense knowledge of the details prevents you from seeing the big picture. Sometimes outsiders can see things insiders who know a lot more about many things cannot. In 2015, running backs are for the most part correctly valued by NFL teams, and the exceptions tend to be outright joke organizations like the Mike Holmgren-led Browns. But the massive overvaluing of running backs in the 2005 draft is an example of something on which outsiders were ahead of many insiders. Going back to the 1980s, any remotely sophisticated analysis of the question would show that the quality of a team’s pass offense and defense was far more important to its success than the quality of its running game and running defense; proto-sabermertics showed this conclusively.  This has been repeatedly confirmed as analysis has become more sophisticated, the marginal quality of a team’s passing game has if anything increased in importance. But a lot of insiders clung to GROUND AND POUND sentimentality for a long time. It was a prejudice — the SMASHMOUTH running game is REAL AUTHENTIC FOOTBALL and the forward pass WHY NOT PUT PLAYERS IN A DRESS — that could be supported by a statistical illusion (for strategic reasons, good teams tend to run more often, so if you use the measures of bulk yardage that were generally printed in newspapers and featured on broadcasts rather than measures of efficiency, it looks like good teams reliably run more effectively than bad ones even though they don’t.) In addition, a lot of coaches cut their teeth in the NCAA, in which there’s a much greater spread between good running games and bad ones and the attrition of individual running backs is less of a problem.

Nick Saban’s justification for taking Brown reflects a lot of this:

In four games against LSU when Saban coached there, Brown carried just 35 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Still, Saban liked what he saw — especially a short fourth-quarter run in a close game.

“It’s not one of the plays that are on the highlights, but he ran over about nine guys,” Saban said. “It was only about a 7-yard gain, but I had to say to myself, ‘Man, what a competitor.'”

Looking at the record as a whole, Brown didn’t even play particularly well against elite competition, but THERE WAS THIS ONE PLAY THAT ONE TIME AND HE DID THIS AND WOW. In terms of personnel evaluation, there’s no magic to game film. Sometimes it reveals things that aren’t in the statistics; many times, you lose sight of the forest for the trees. Perhaps Chip Kelly’s study of Sam Bradford game film was part of a dispassionate analysis. Much more likely is that he got tired of seeing Nick Foles’s flawed game up close, focused on Bradford as an alternative, saw what he wanted to see in the film, and then decided he had to get Bradford whether or not the cost was reasonable.  This last step is the real key, the flaw that often distinguishes bad organizations from good ones. It was completely reasonable for the Bills to evaluate Sammy Watkins as the best wideout available in the 2014 draft. It was not reasonable to think that the difference between Watkins and Mike Evans or Odell Beckham Jr. was worth an additional first round pick. There’s a reason good organizations are lot more likely to trade down than up.  I’m sure Ryan Grigson spent a lot of time analyzing that dogshit stock Trent Richardson game film,  and you can always find isolated footage showing that despite all evidence Richardson is a beast, and before you know if a first round pick you could have used to fill one of your team’s many holes is out the window in exchange for less than nothing because you have to have the player. In fairness, Saban (who wasn’t formally in charge of personnel but seems to have been the dominant decision-maker) did want to trade down — he is a Belichick disciple, after all.  But when the right offer didn’t come, he made a huge blunder that sent his NFL career on the path to oblivion.  The reason to do systematic analysis, as James said, is to avoid paying the price for believing things that aren’t true.

Sometimes insiders do know things that even sophisticated analysts don’t, and in cases where the evidence is ambiguous and someone has a good track record deference is warranted.  But a lot of times more systematic analysis is right. To reiterate, by any statistical measure Sam Bradford is a below-average QB, and the more sophisticated and context-sensitive the measure the worse he looks.  (This isn’t surprising — as an ultra-conservative thrower playing on generally bad teams, Bradford was well-situated to piling up safe yards in garbage time against soft coverages that make his numbers look superficially more efficient but don’t constitute any actual value to his teams.) This data was something Kelly should have paid more attention to.  Between the relative lack of importance of the marginal quality of a team’s running game and the relative fungibility, short shelf life and unreliability of running backs, under modern conditions it’s virtually never a good idea to invest a premium draft pick in the position, but it took an agonizingly long time for teams to figure this out.   A lot of GMs sacrificed their jobs to old-timey nonsense about the surpassing importance of the running game.

A final point of interest.  Saban’s time with Miami is generally remembered as just a bust.  But he did take a 4-12 team and improve it to 9-7, with Ferrotte at quarterback.  The improvement wasn’t quite as great as it looks in the record — “only” 80 points — but it was real (and, by the same token, his second and last Miami team was better than its 6-10 record suggests.)  His ability as a coach didn’t completely abandon him — but when you do stuff like “take Ronnie Brown with the second overall pick” all the motivational ability in the world will only get you so far, and of course when you show you don’t know what you’re doing it undermines your ability to lead the team. (Matt Williams ordering good hitters to bunt with 3-1 counts is much more damaging in making him look like a buffoon than for the direct effects of the suboptimal strategy itself.)

To be clear, all kidding and co-blogger trolling aside, I’m not saying that Kelly is doomed to a short and unexpectedly brutish career as an NFL head coach.  He has already won 10 games twice with retread quarterbacks, and the division being what it is could even return to the playoffs with his emaciated talent base this year.  I’m sure even Saban would acknowledge that Kelly is a better tactical coach (as opposed to recruiter/talent developer.)  But if he’s going to succeed in the long term, he’s going to need someone else to collaborate in picking players.  Tactical innovation just can’t overcome talent mismatches in the NFL like it can in the NCAA.   And you just can’t win in the NFL in 2015 with huge investments in running backs.

A not very well regulated militia

[ 87 ] October 1, 2015 |


Message board tips for aspiring mass murderers.

Background on the 4chan board where this thread appeared:

The board is famous for its stories of social awkwardness and nostalgia of the simpler times, as well as discussion of abnormal social behaviour. It is heavily used by NEETs[4] (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who regret their life decisions and hold anger and disdain over males with active social and sexual lifes. it also containts [sic] Constant discussions about relationships with females and family. Dispite [sic] all of this, the board holds heavy pride in its own nature, with heavy hate over normies or “Normalfags” who do not understand their culture as well as constant calls for a “Beta Uprising”. [T]his has spawned different memes.

I’m making the right enemies

[ 44 ] October 1, 2015 |

Apologies for the pun, but come on, are you not entertained? Apparently “quoting verbatim” is the new “lying,” at least according to some people.

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