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Category: General

Is Henry Aaron the Real HR King?

[ 100 ] April 9, 2014 |

I join the opinion of Justice Marchman. I also love this comment:

Bonds’ 762

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should have an asterisk beside it, and that asterisk should reference a note at the very bottom of the list, and that note should read “762 is greater than 755″.

…and as commenters note, Craggs and Posnanski are also excellent.

Dead Horses in American History (XI)

[ 22 ] April 9, 2014 |


Pile of horse and human bones, the aftermath of

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the Battle of Little Bighorn, 1876.

Data is Not Objective

[ 132 ] April 9, 2014 |

This takedown of a FiveThirtyEight article on Venezuela is pretty complete and damning. Once again, data is in no way “objective” and Silver’s belief that it is has lead to some pretty bad articles at the new site.

Jim DeMint on How Slavery Ended

[ 327 ] April 9, 2014 |

Obviously I need to change the way I teach my Civil War course. Since Jim DeMint has the ear of God, we know his view of history is also correct.

DeMint: This progressive, the whole idea of being progressive is to progress away from those ideas that made this country great. What we’re trying to conserve as conservative are those things that work. They work today, they work for young people, they work for minorities and we can change this country and change its course very quickly if we just remember what works.

Newcombe: What if somebody, let’s say you’re talking with a liberal person and they were to turn around and say, ‘that Founding Fathers thing worked out really well, look at that Civil War we had eighty years later.’

DeMint: Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

This is funny on so many levels but my favorite part of this “interpretation” that the federal government didn’t free the slaves is that in fact not only is this wrong, but doing so led to the largest expansion of the federal government in the nation’s history to that time.

Dumb upon Dumb

[ 84 ] April 9, 2014 |

Sadly today, as you have probably heard, a high school kid went ballistic with a knife in a Pennsylvania high school. Gun nuts are joyous–guns don’t kill people, people kill people!

Oh yeah, except that this kid didn’t actually kill anyone (at time of writing, word is everyone will survive) whereas he might well have killed dozens with a gun.

Of course, only a gun nut would celebrate school stabbings.

Hank Aaron likens Breitbart’s John Nolte to Klansman in a tailored suit

[ 93 ] April 9, 2014 |



I’m not sure what I find more amusing:

  1. Aaron’s actual statement, in which he likens the GOP to the KKK in “neckties and a starched shirt” instead of a “hood,” or
  2. John Nolte’s stuttered tweets about Aaron’s statement, all of which whine the same thing in the same words.

The comments at the Breitbart article — linked to in Nolte’s tweets, as I’d rather not directly provide him with any traffic — are priceless. There’s something about old white men saying that the black man who called them racist “needs to learn his place” just warms the cockles of my soul.

The Leafs Collapse And Hockey Analytics

[ 84 ] April 9, 2014 |

Happy Leafs Elimination Day! This year’s edition is especially entertaining, and of interest beyond NHL fans, because it represents another disaster for old-school media troofers who, as part of their identity, feel it necessary to attack even the most obvious insights derived from analytic methods.

Sean McIndoe’s Grantland piece at the beginning of the season did an excellent job laying it out. The core of the contemporary analytic view of hockey is an insight similar to Voros McCracken’s transformative insight about pitching. McCracken, and those that applied his findings, found that a pitcher’s strikeout rates and HR rates were better predictors of his ERA going forward than ERA itself, because what happens to balls in play is mostly beyond a pitcher’s control (essentially, it’s a combination of luck and defense.) Similarly, in hockey analysts found that a teams ability to maintain the possession of the puck predicts goal differential better than goal differential itself. In part, this is because shooting percentage isn’t really a skill, but is a combination of luck and goaltending. If you keep getting outshot when the game is on the line, unless you have Dominik Hasek in his prime or something you’re likely to lose in the long run.

One thing worth emphasizing is that the statistics that analysts use as a proxy for possession aren’t complicated or esoteric. Fenwick looks at unblocked shots for and against; Corsi includes blocked shots. The differentials, however, are most meaningful even strength when the games are close. When you see someone discuss a team’s Fenwick or Corsi close” this reflects the fact that the stats are only meaningful if you eliminate the garbage time. because when the game isn’t close it affects the shot patterns. (Just as, when analyzing football, you can’t put a lot of weight on yards gained by an offense in the fourth quarter of a blowout; it’s in the interest of the defense to trade yardage for time, so accumulating yards doesn’t prove much about your ability.)

The Leafs were a key test case because they made the playoffs last year (and made it to Game 7 of the first round) but were a terrible possession team. (I’ll present it ordered by Fenwick close because it was developed by a Flames fan, but as you can see the difference between the two are marginal.) The verdict of the analysts was clear: if the Leafs didn’t make actual improvements they were going to regress substantially. Adding to fuel to the controversy is that 1)the Leafs organization is as notably hostile to analytics as their media sycophants, and 2)this was reflected in their widely-mocked offseason moves.

For much of the year, there was a lot of crowing from the Murray Chass equivalents in hockey, since the Leafs seemed safely in a playoff spot. And this wasn’t because they actually improved. Their Fenwick close is 29th in the league: Worse than the disastrously rebuilding Oilers, substantially worse than the Flames, a poor organization in year one of a rebuild. Worse than everyone but a Sabres team with a historically bad offense. Their Corsi is also 29th. Did this prove analytics wrong? Nope — the Leafs’ success, such as it was, was built on exceptional goaltending and luck in the skills competition that the NHL idiotically uses to award points in regular season games. Their massive collapse at the end of the year, taking them all the way out of the playoffs, is what happens when the luck runs out.

So remember this when you hear that the Avalanche – a young team in the playoffs ahead of schedule despite terrible possession numbers — are defying the NERDS because of Patrick Roy’s coaching wizardry or whatever. Either they’ll actually improve, or the odds are overwhelming that they’ll be picking in the lottery again. But I, for one, hope the Leafs never change…

What are the moral limits of freedom of association?

[ 195 ] April 9, 2014 |

The fickle Gods of peer review have directed me to turn my critical eye toward this article. Wellman defends the possibility of highly restrictive immigration policy, up to and including, potentially, rejecting any and all legitimate political refugees, on freedom of association grounds. It’s a clever argument and well executed, but I’m inclined to think the analogy fails on a number of grounds (some of Sarah Fine identifies here). For one thing: a central feature of freedom of association of association is the right to end that association. It’s not clear to me that states have that right: banishment (of citizens) is generally understood as an anachronism; not a right that modern states have. More importantly, while large associations can ban sub-associations that conflict with their larger mission (such as Catholic University can, for example, ban student atheist clubs) the state is something other than a large association with many sub-associations beneath it. It also has a mandate to protect the freedom of association of its citizens, in addition whatever right it has to exercise it, and it seems to me there are good reasons to think the former should trump the latter. Regardless of whether the argument is successful or not, the paper is a good reminder about the general status of freedom of association in a liberal society–namely, that liberal norms protect it fiercely but regulate its exercise lightly. With limited exceptions, the reasons you might choose to enter into (or terminate) a business partnership, or join/leave a club or church are yours alone, and your reasons need not reflect strictly liberal values for you to maintain your standing as a good liberal citizen. While I don’t think Wellman’s analogy works, he’s right to remind us that liberal norms protect illiberal exercises of freedom of association.

Back to Eich: assume his resignation was indeed forced by the board, and was a direct response to the negative publicity surrounding his Prop 8 donation. For this to be an injustice, we’d need to identify one of two things: either unjust acts or an unjust rule. I’ve not heard anyone suggest the latter exists here, so someone must be behaving lawfully but unjustly. Since as far as I can tell no major gay rights groups organized a campaign or made a public statement against Eich (if I’m wrong about this please correct me), it must be those people, acting individually, exercising their own freedom of speech and association. I scrolled through around the first ~100 hits in a “mozilla boycott” google search; virtually everything was right-wingers talking up a post-resignation boycott. The only exceptions were a few references to OKcupid’s marketing gimmick and a startup called Rarebit, whose founders explain their decision to withdraw from future partnerships with Mozilla in light of Eich’s hire here. Rarebit’s founders were recently married; which helped one of them get a green card. So Eich’s political activity was an attempt to make not just their marriage but their business impossible. Note that there is no call for organizing a larger boycott here; merely an explanation of their decision.

Perhaps there’s a case to be made that it was immoral for Rarebit’s founders to use their freedom of association to decline to associate with someone who petitioned the state to revoke their marriage and threaten their business (and freedom of speech to explain why). But it’s difficult for me to see what such a case might look like. Any time we criticize others for immoral behavior, or decline to associate with others for immoral behavior, we impose reputational costs on them, and the scope of those reputational costs are ultimately beyond our control. Any case that Rarebits’ owners were out of line would, it seems to me, have implications more chilling for freedom of speech and association than Eich’s resignation could possibly have.

My question, for those who feel Eich’s resignation constitutes an injustice, is this: if you discovered your boss or business partner spent $1000 of the money you helped him earn to petition the state to nullify your marriage, would you feel duty-bound to refrain from making any changes to your business arrangement out of concern for his freedom?

The “moral panic” of tenured literature professors

[ 30 ] April 9, 2014 |

I scored an interview with the author of the controversial Chronicle article, Marc Bousquet.* I tried to make the stakes of the debate clear to non-academic readers, and I think I succeeded.

Feel free to tell me if I didn’t, and more importantly, why I didn’t. I’m in a bit of a forest-for-the-trees position when it comes to writing about academia. I know the landscape really well, but I’m not entirely sure you’d want me to draw you a map.

*By “scored” I mean I asked him and he said, “Of course!”

Wingnutism in a Wingnutshell

[ 154 ] April 9, 2014 |

Listen to what Dana Perino has to say about the new film,  ”Noah.” She basically says “This film does not mirror my ill-informed, misty, water-colored childhood memories therefore it’s wrong.” Can there be a better distillation of wingnutism around? I mean, is wingnutism anything more than ill-informed nostalgia for a world that never existed?


[ 50 ] April 9, 2014 |

Yet another depressing article about women in technology. If you value your sanity, don’t read the comments section, which is a compilation of petulant hand-waving and mansplaining.


[SEK] In other news, The Other Madison on my cul de sac asked if I had “let Jesus into my heart.” Kinda grossed out that her (otherwise very nice) mother didn’t immediately tell her that that was inappropriate. [/SEK]*


*This is an SEK-like experience; SEK did not interject here.

Brendan Eich Contributed to a Disgraceful Campaign

[ 176 ] April 9, 2014 |

A valuable reminder:

It’s proper to revisit that campaign, which established a new standard for odious political advertising. That’s a real achievement, given the deceitful nature of most of the TV campaigns for and against California ballot propositions.

Over at Slate, Mark Joseph Stern has compiled a remembrance, with videos, of the Proposition 8 campaign to which Eich donated $1,000. As Stern observes, the focus of the campaign was on the effect of gay marriage on children. (Recall that Prop 8 overturned a California court ruling legalizing gay marriage and wrote a gay marriage prohibition into the state constitution, so a “yes” vote was anti-gay marriage.)

More contemptably, several of the commercials suggested that legal gay marriage would “confuse” children who would have to be taught about it in school. One depicts a schoolteacher fretting to his principal about the mandate that he’ll have to introduce the concept in the classroom: “Just don’t call it marriage, and confuse a kid with a social dynamic that they can’t possibly understand.”

That ad, by the way, spelled out another theme of the campaign, that the failure of Proposition 8 would introduce a new level of government coercion. The teacher ad came complete with ominous music as the principal explained that “our hands are tied here.”

Another ad featured a little girl interrogating her gay fathers about where babies come from if not from a mommy and a daddy, as they shift uncomfortably in their seats trying to conjure up an answer. A third ad featured Pepperdine University law professor Richard Peterson warning that “second graders” would have to be taught that “boys could marry boys.” (Pepperdine objected to being named in the ad, but the sponsors refused to remove the identification.)

As Stern observes, “The campaign’s strategy was to debase gay families as deviant and unhealthy while insinuating that gay people are engaged in a full-scale campaign to convert children to their cause.” 

It’s nearly impossible to overstate just how odious that campaign was.  No argument that opposing same-sex marriage isn’t bigotry could survive an examination of the rhetoric of Prop 8 supporters.

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