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Return of the King

[ 11 ] September 29, 2014 |

I stop paying attention for a few months, and this happens:

1 332 353 267 328 3281 8048 99.9
2 324 312 201 292 3210 7819 99.4
3 371 333 357 309 3153 7749 99.0
4 269 374 368 311 3103 7376 95.1
5 373 316 323 308 3073 6810 84.4
6 221 250 320 260 3070 7538 97.2
7 287 296 366 310 3030 7573 97.5
8 308 318 345 274 3015 7145 91.0
9 319 278 226 294 2987 7452 96.1
10 264 329 308 226 2962 7167 91.5

Congratulations to Matt, who has an uncanny skill at the particular game. I’d offer an LGM prize, but Matt has always refused. Next year!

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Resistance in the Pennsylvania Coal Country: Past and Present

[ 23 ] September 29, 2014 |

Last week, I gave a talk at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, titled “Resistance in the Pennsylvania Coal Country: Past and Present,” although in reality, I talked more broadly about Appalachia in the second half of the talk. Anyway, it was filmed and is here if you want to watch it. I can’t seem to embed it so click the link. I got pretty warmed up during the talk and really laid into the horrors of the coal industry.

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Today In the New Gilded Age

[ 245 ] September 29, 2014 |

Let me preface this my saying that the tendency for reviews of Lena Dunham’s work to take the form of reviews of Lena Dunham the person is both irritating and sexist. Nonetheless, when Lena Dunham the person does something bad she should be called out for it, and this is really bad:

Last month, the writer, actor and producer Lena Dunham started an ambitious project. Nearly 600 people responded to an open call for video auditions on her website, including a sand artist, a ukulele player, a cappella singers, gymnasts, performance artists and stand-up comics, even some exceptionally charismatic babies.

The seven who made the final cut won’t be making cameos in “Girls,” Ms. Dunham’s HBO show about Brooklyn 20-somethings. Instead, they’ll be the warm-up acts — performing free of charge — on an elaborately produced, 11-city tour to promote Ms. Dunham’s new book, “Not That Kind of Girl.”

As Nolan says, what’s bad about this is not only did Dunham get a nearly $4 million advance for the book — an advance I have a very hard time believing is justified by the book’s commercial prospects — she’s charging 38 bucks a throw for admission to the talks. If you’re doing that, you really have no possible excuse for not paying the people you hire. Pay them, or do the tour solo. This kind of exploitation is just wrong, and please don’t tell me that you’re paying them in exposure.

…as commenters note, both John Scalzi and Steve Albini are excellent on the general principles here.

…I also agree with Abagail Nussbaum in comments that the publisher deserves criticism for this as well.

…UPDATE: a happy ending.

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Regulatory Capture

[ 93 ] September 29, 2014 |

Salmon and Lowrey on the devastating findings of a ProPublica report on the deference shown by the New York Fed to the firms it’s supposed to be regulating. The former’s depressing conclusion:

So we have a situation where bank examiners have every bureaucratic incentive to do nothing, and they also have a professional incentive to do nothing, lest the banks they’re examining start becoming more financially precarious. And then, as Dan says, there’s a third structural issue at play — which is that senior bankers have much more access to senior Fed officials than junior Fed officials do. If Segarra and her team kicked up a fuss at Goldman, Lloyd Blankfein could pick up the phone at any time and complain to the president of the NY Fed. The president of the NY Fed knows and likes and respects the CEO of Goldman Sachs; he probably never even met a junior staffer like Segarra. (None of this is helped by the fact that the NY Fed is a private institution, whose shareholders include the likes of Goldman Sachs.)

So while Bernstein’s story is an eye-opening look into how regulatory capture works in practice, the people complaining about the lack of a smoking gun have missed the point. The scandal is precisely that ’twas ever thus: that the Fed was captured, is captured, and probably always will be captured by the banks it regulates. If it refuses to admit that there’s even a problem, then there’s no way that the situation is ever going to improve.

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Attacking Two-Tiered Contracts

[ 4 ] September 29, 2014 |

During the economic crisis in 2007, the United Auto Workers was forced to accept two-tiered contracts to keep factories open. These contracts created a second pay scale for new employees that paid them less than other workers. The potential for this to become permanent is quite scary. In the UAW’s failure to win a majority vote in the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, the two-tiered contract was cited by union opponents as a reason not to join the UAW. Even if that was just cover for already existing anti-unionism, it was still quite damaging.

Luckily, the UAW, including rank and file workers, are working hard to fight back against the two-tiered systems as those contracts signed 5 and 6 years ago come up for renegotiation. Of course, employers have a number of tools at their disposal to pay workers less, including the use of subcontractors and the threat of capital mobility. So this is a hard fight but at least the resistance is real and there is hope that the system will end.

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Annals of American Meritocracy II: The Ballad of Clipboard Jesus

[ 91 ] September 29, 2014 |

After endorsing Barnwell’s take on Marvin Lewis, let me proceed to this excellent description of the career of Charlie Whitehurst:

• Whitehurst grows to 6-foot-5.

• He spends four years at Clemson, during which he fails to complete 60 percent of his passes (ending at 59.7 percent) and throws nearly as many interceptions (46) as touchdowns (49). The Tigers go 30-19 during his time in school.

• The Chargers draft Whitehurst in the third round of the 2006 NFL draft.

• Whitehurst spends four years as the third-string quarterback in San Diego behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek. He does not attempt a regular-season pass. His only experience comes during the 2006-09 preseasons, during which Whitehurst goes 104-of-197 (52.8 percent) for 1,031 yards (5.2 yards per attempt) with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.8

• Seattle’s new brain trust of Pete Carroll and John Schneider targets Whitehurst in a trade, getting their man by sending San Diego a future third-round pick and swapping Seattle’s second-round pick (40th) for San Diego’s (60th) in the 2010 draft.9 They also immediately give Whitehurst a two-year, $8 million contract extension.

• Whitehurst enters into a quarterback competition with 35-year-old incumbent Matt Hasselbeck.

• Whitehurst loses that quarterback competition.

• Whitehurst plays in nine regular-season games over two seasons with Seattle, starting four, most notably the division-clinching win over St. Louis in the fail-in game on Sunday Night Football in Week 17 of the 2010 season. He is benched in his last start after seven pass attempts for an already-injured Tarvaris Jackson. Over the two-year span, Whitehurst goes 84-of-155 (54.2 percent) for 805 yards (a terrifying 5.2 yards per attempt) while throwing three touchdowns and four picks.

• Returning to unrestricted free agency, Whitehurst signs a two-year, $3.05 million deal with the Chargers, including a $1 million signing bonus.

• Now 30 years old, Whitehurst spends 2012 and 2013 as the backup to Philip Rivers without throwing a regular-season pass. He takes 12 snaps during his stint with the Chargers, producing six handoffs and six kneel-downs for a total of minus-5 yards.

• Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt takes over as Tennessee’s head coach and brings Whitehurst along for the ride, giving the now 32-year-old a two-year, $4.3 million deal with $2 million guaranteed.

And it’s the first point that’s crucial here. He’s a tall white guy with a strong arm, so the fact that he’s never shown the slightest evidence of being an NFL quarterback can be overlooked. Coaches think they can teach non-prospects like this to play. They can’t, but they like to think they can. As I’ve said before, the Billy Beane outlook has never been about statistical analysis per se; in part, it’s about not letting your image of what a good player is supposed to look like cloud your talent evaluations.

The other striking thing here is that this isn’t just terrible organizations or obvious incompetents involved here. Wisenhunt isn’t a great coach but he did take an organization with virtually no history of success to within one play of the Super Bowl. Carroll and Schneider have built the best team in the league (granting that they’ve always been better identifying and developing defensive than offensive talent.) Perhaps one lesson here is that good organizations are ones that learn from their mistakes: Russell Wilson is the bizarro Charlie Whitehurst (short for an NFL QB, African-American, doesn’t have a cannon arm, has always been highly productive.)

[PC] See also.

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Deep Thoughts

[ 115 ] September 29, 2014 |

That the move toward more tobacco prohibition than anytime in U.S. history coincides with the move toward ending prohibition on marijuana is endlessly fascinating to me, and I suspect to anyone familiar with humanity’s complex relationship with body-altering substances.

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Crazy Time

[ 44 ] September 29, 2014 |

Your next batch of House Republicans–even crazier and more racist than this edition!

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[ 16 ] September 28, 2014 |

In order to avoid breaking my twenty-six year streak of attending at least one professional baseball game, this afternoon DJW and I made it to the Red’s final game of the season. The bulk of the drama was on Pittsburgh’s side, as the Pirates were trying to tie St. Louis and earn a playoff for the division title. For their part, the Reds were playing to give Johnny Cueto his twentieth victory of the season.

Cueto wasn’t dominant, but he pitched very well, pitching eight innings of one run ball and scattering six hits. In the bottom of the eighth, Jason Bourgeois tripled to lead off. Cozart lined out to third, bringing up the pitcher’s spot. To the deep surprise of nearly everyone in the stadium, Price sent Cueto to the plate. Cueto pushed it to a full count, then singled up the middle to score Bourgeois and take the lead. Price then lifted him for a pinch-runner. The Reds scored two more, then Chapman struck out the side in the top of the ninth to seal Cueto’s twentieth win.

I wonder about the clubhouse conversation; did Cueto insist on hitting, or was it Price’s idea? It was a nice bit of drama in an otherwise not-terribly-meaningful game.

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“But He Beat Southeastern Missouri!” Annals Of American Meritocracy I

[ 80 ] September 28, 2014 |


Charlie Weis was rewarded for failing catastrophically as not only a college head coach but as a college offensive coordinator by being given a cool $2.5 million a year to preside over unpaid employees in Lawrence.  Yesterday, KU decided to decline its decided schematic advantage.  Weis leaves the Sunflower state with many millions of dollars and a 1-18 conference record.

Speaking of which, a few years ago Chait wrote about the “negotiating” process behind the hiring of Brady Hoke.  Unlike Weis, Hoke was not a transparently stupid hire; he had a solid record at two lower-tier jobs and was a plausible candidate to step up to the Big 12.  But (to put it mildly) he was no proven major conference commodity like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer.  Despite the fact that he was desperate to come to Michigan and there were no other bidders for Hoke’s services, he was given a lavish contract with a guaranteed base pay of more than $18 million.  Hoke is, for some reason, still being employed as a head coach so that he can lose games and send badly injured unpaid players back on to the field.  The storied Wolverines were the 65th ranked team in the country before being curb-stomped by Minnesota (#56) in Ann Arbor.   I assume Paul will have more when the inevitable happens.

In conclusion, if a booster has taken a KU or Michigan player out for a Quarter Pounder, this would be the greatest scandal in known human history.  I will never stop being outraged by the attacks on this country’s most precious resource, its Noble and Consistently Adhered to By All Relevant Parties Ideals of Amateurism.

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Meaningful 162

[ 57 ] September 28, 2014 |

My consistent pessimism about the Mariners was certainly in full force after Austin Jackson lined a 5-0 3-2 pitch to right field in the bottom of the ninth, squandering a bases loaded-none out opportunity.  But with Jackson busting ass to beat out a double play in the bottom of the 11th, they somehow pulled it out.  As bad as the last 10 days went, if you had told me at the beginning of the year that they would be alive on the last Sunday of the year with King Felix on the mound, I would certainly have taken it and how.

And, yes, I can’t complain because As fans have been going through this for two months.  I’d be surprised if they lost to Texas today but evidently I didn’t expect them to go 9-20, either…

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Taking Dead Horses and Ketchup Rhode Island Wide

[ 65 ] September 26, 2014 |

I have long felt the decline in the newspaper industry is related to a lack of stories about me. Evidently, the Providence Phoenix agrees, which is why it is still in business. Thus, in a story about what professors do in its free time, it had me lead off. I cover many of the expected topics–silent film, dead horses, ketchup, the NRA. I thought about a vodka rant as well, but some of the students are under 21 and I wouldn’t want to be corrupting their pure minds and all.

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