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Math is hard!

[ 34 ] September 15, 2008 |

No it isn’t.

Denver Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan was clearly having a Herm Edwards moment Sunday. You play to win the game, but Shanahan’s decision to go for a 2-point conversation for a victory over the Chargers instead of an extra point to tie the score should teach a few other coaches a lesson: stop being so conservative.

The Broncos’ rookie receiver Eddie Royal beat San Diego safety Clinton Hart to score a two-point conversion and give Denver a victory with 29 seconds left in the game.

NFL coaches are famously reliant on charts that prescribe when to take timeouts, when to kick extra points, sometimes even when to kick field goals or to go for it on fourth down. But Shanahan’s channeling of a riverboat gambler flew in the face of every chart and every shred of logic.

If he goes for the gimme extra point, he almost certainly sends the Broncos into overtime. Last season, N.F.L. kickers missed just 13 extra points in 1,178 attempts. Then again, he probably had little faith in a defense that had yielded three second-half touchdowns.
Just twice before had teams converted successful 2-point attempts while going for a victory since the play was added in 1994. And last season, N.F.L. teams converted just 30 of 61 attempts, a paltry .492 rate of success. Shanahan’s own career record with the Broncos before Sunday was only slightly better — 15 of 28 (.535).

“I just felt like it was a chance for us to put them away,” Shanahan said.

Ummmm . . . how tough is this to figure out? If the NFL average for converting 2-pointers is 49%, and Shanahan’s average is 53%, and you’re in a game where the teams have scored 75 points so far, and your opponent’s defense is exhausted and demoralized because for among other reasons the refs have just blown a call that should have won the game for them, and you assume that the odds of winning in overtime are 50%, then how does going for two fly in the face of “every shred of logic,” as opposed to being, say, the obviously correct decision?

My favorite aspect of this is how the writer gets the statistical analysis totally wrong, and therefore concludes that going for it is sort of crazy, but then recommends that coaches ought to make lots of similarly crazy decisions because this one happened to work. I mean how many ways can you be wrong in 200 words?

Still, props to Shanahan for going against the conventional wisdom, when failure would have gotten him excoriated by every TMAWS in America.

Powerless in the City that America Would Prefer to Forget…

[ 8 ] September 15, 2008 |

After a nasty windstorm yesterday, wide swaths of Cincinnati remain without power, including my house. Fortunately I’m in Lexington, leaving the task of eating all the food in the freezer to the wife…

The Soviet Missile Threat

[ 0 ] September 15, 2008 |

Pavel Podvig has a fabulous article in the Summer 2008 IS on the development of Soviet nuclear doctrine and force structure in the 1970s:

The data presented here demonstrate that concerns about the U.S. “window of vulnerability,” which figured so prominently in U.S. political discussions of the Soviet Union’s missile modernization program in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were unjustified. Contrary to the perception that existed at the time, the program did not have the potential to pose a serious threat to U.S. strategic forces. The evidence also strongly suggests that the Soviet Union had neither a plan nor the capability to fight and win a nuclear war.

The upshot is that there’s no indication that the Soviet consciously sought a first strike capability against the United States, or at any point structured their force around that eventuality. Rather, Soviet aims were predominantly defensive, oriented around the threat that US missile capabilities presented. Of course, as Podvig notes:

This is not to say that the Soviet military programs were benign or that the Soviet Union did not strive for military or political advantage, or at least parity with the United States. As documentary evidence of the Soviet programs continues to emerge, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Soviet military buildup was driven primarily by the inertia of the military industrial complex and by a lack of mechanisms to contain the country’s military programs.

The most notable implication of this study is confirmation that the “Team B” exercise of the 1970s, commissioned in substantial part by George H.W. Bush, was an unmitigated disaster. It was wrong in pretty much every way that intelligence analysis can be wrong, and it should stand as a lasting black mark on the reputations of its participants and adherents. While we can never fully demonstrate whether Team B was engaged in pure fantasy or intentional deception, I’m guessing predominately column B. Never a bad time to revisit this hilarious little piece of propaganda:

Always look on the bright side of life

[ 12 ] September 15, 2008 |

This WAPO op-ed from chief McCain economic adviser Donald Luskin may set some kind of record for unfortunate timing. Shorter Luskin: unless you happen to be among the few million wretched refuse of our teeming shores who purchased a subprime mortgage things are still pretty good so quit your bitching (I guess that’s not that short. It’s my first try at doing the blogger shorter thing, so spare me your elitist latte-sipping elitism about how it’s not very good. I am trying to become aware of all internet traditions).

In regard to the substance of Luskin’s argument, I know almost as little about economics as John McCain, but I do know this: Over the past 30 years median household income in the United States has barely risen, from about $40K to around $46K. At the same time, the gross domestic product has increased by about 120% (all of this in constant dollars. If GDP had remained the same per capita it would have increased by about 40%). In other words, the wealth of the nation has nearly doubled in real terms per person, yet the typical household is pretty much where it was 30 years ago. Which means, of course, that the typical household is vastly worse off relative to the top 5%, and 1% and especially top .1% of its neighbors.

Furthermore, in recent centuries American culture has been constructed around conspicuous consumption, constant televangelizing for the gods of consumerism, and media celebrations of fantasies of unlimited wealth.

So why is Donald Luskin surprised when the peasantry rattle their pitchforks?

Get Over It

[ 0 ] September 15, 2008 |

I’ll have more on the general subject of the 2000 election because of a new book this week, but since I happened to catch the replay of Leslie Stahl’s puffball interview with Antonin Scalia today, I thought I’d mention this argument:

Gee, I really don’t wanna get into – I mean this is – get over it. It’s so old by now. The principal issue in the case, whether the scheme that the Florida Supreme Court had put together violated the federal Constitution, that wasn’t even close. The vote was seven to two,” Scalia says.

Hmm. Roe v. Wade was a 7-2 opinion — and a real 7-2 opinion, not an opinion where two justices who were played for suckers articulated an actual equal protection argument and 5 justices (who got no other votes for any part of any of their opinions) invoked some sort of mysterious unspecified equal protection right that ended as soon as the justices’ candidate was safely ensconced in office — and indeed as Stevens pointed out its holding has now “been endorsed by all but 4 of the 17 Justices who have addressed the issue.” So I assume we can expect Scalia to just get over it and start joining opinions re-affirming Roe?

And while Stahl taking Scalia’s word that he is a consistent originalist at face value was inevitable, perhaps she could have asked Scalia for some of the sources he consulted to discover that the 14th Amendment was originally understood to require uniform recount standards?

The Ghost of Dusty Baker

[ 15 ] September 15, 2008 |

Idiotic. Hopefully it won’t hurt the career of the UW alum.

As (I think) Joe Sheehan argued earlier this year, I do think that managers have gotten a little too conservative about pitch counts, especially being to conscious of the arbitrary “100” number. I don’t think there’s any problem with having a mature pitcher who’s proven he can handle a major league workload throwing 120 pitches if you need him. And I even think that the fact that flags fly forever should enter into the equation; if you’re in a situation like the Mets, in a crucial close game in pennant race with a ghastly bullpen, then maybe you throw Lincecum 120 once even if you’d rather limit him to the low 100s. But to have him throw 140 in a meaningless game for a non-competitive team? It’s an indefensible risk, bad for the player and bad for an organization that needs Lincecum if it’s going to stay ahead of the Pirates.


[ 0 ] September 15, 2008 |

Think good thoughts for Teresa.  

Look out below

[ 36 ] September 14, 2008 |

Looks like Lehman is going to be liquidated. Merrill may be next.

Remember all those glossy paens to investment bankers and hedge funds and CDOs and the frictionless magic of the market in an age of global capitalism and how government regulation of our financial institutions and their newfangled complex financial instruments that nobody really quite understands but which sure do manage to make some people very rich very quickly just gets in the way of progress world without end amen?

Update: Good morning, gentlemen. This is a twelwe-story block combining classical neo-Georgian features with the efficiency of modern techniques. The tenants arrive in the entrance hall here, and are carried along the corridor on a conveyor belt in extreme comfort and past murals depicting Mediterranean scenes, towards the rotating knives. The last twenty feet of the corridor are heavily soundproofed. The blood pours down these chutes and the mangled flesh slurps into these…

David Foster Wallace

[ 62 ] September 14, 2008 |

This is unfortunate. A great writer.

…what to say? Didn’t strike me as the type. He was one of my favorite contemporary writers; I didn’t find his work depressing at all.

…I suppose this wouldn’t be terribly different from learning that Roth had died, except that I didn’t expect Roth to produce good material for the next 30 years.

700 Ton Robots Coming to Kill Me

[ 26 ] September 13, 2008 |

This is troubling:

Carnegie Mellon University, whose team placed first at Urban Challenge, is partnering up with tractor-maker Caterpillar to build the world’s largest ground robot: a 700-ton robo dump truck capable of hauling 240 tons of earth.

Isn’t this always the way? If somebody can build a 700 ton robot, or a monkey-cyborg, they just go ahead and do it, without ever thinking about where that 700 ton robot is going to drop those 240 tons of earth, or where that monkey-cyborg is going to try to fling its poo.

This is a civilization laying the foundations of its own destruction, very possibly at the robotic hands of 700 ton monkey-cyborgs.

Has anyone considered the possibility that the reason McCain lies all the time even though he’s so honest and mavericky . . .

[ 24 ] September 13, 2008 |

. . . is because of the injuries he suffered as a POW?

I mean have they?

h/t Jason Zengerle.

Thanks for the Clarification

[ 27 ] September 13, 2008 |

Shorter Krauthammer:

The Bush Doctrine? It’s forty different things! It’s democracy, whiskey and sexy! It’s John Kennedy! Suck on that, Charles Gibson!

Here’s a testimony to the profound fucktacularity of the Bush years: In defending the the most ill-informed and incurious vice presidential nominee in modern American history, conservatives are reduced to pretty much conceding that they’ve been endorsing an incoherent foreign policy for eight years.