Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

And thus concludes a very tumultuous 2005! Tra and I are very much looking forward to 2006 and all the promise that the new year brings. We've survived our own personal version of Harvey Pekar's "Our Cancer Year" and we now set our sights on happier pursuits -- new jobs (yes, that's "jobs," plural, because even I plan to reverse the inertia), new plans, and New Years resolutions we won't keep.

We've spent a very relaxing day playing "Guitar Hero" for the PS2 (yes, even Tracy's hooked now) and will be spending NYE at the Funny Farm in Roswell with comedian Tom Simmons. We're convinced we've seen him before but it's been a few years.

Anyway, one quick housecleaning item: tonight is the last chance to give to charity and still qualify for deductions on 2005-2006 taxes. Everyone has causes they hold near and dear, and for me, I'm contributing to keep alive the best libertarian site on the Intarwebs.

Best wishes to all for a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2006!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Eliot Spitzer Is An Evil Fucking Douchebag

New York's evil Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is in the news again, this time for threatening John C. Whitehead, who recounts in today's OpinionJournal:

After reading my op-ed piece, Mr. Spitzer tried to phone me. I was traveling in Texas but he reached me early in the afternoon. After asking me one or two questions about where I got my facts, he came right to the point. I was so shocked that I wrote it all down right away so I would be sure to remember it exactly as he said it. This is what he said:

"Mr. Whitehead, it's now a war between us and you've fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter."

Spitzer's bullying tactics and abuse of power have garnered a lot of attention nationally, and are chronicled most notably by Tom Kirkendall. Many of the fine columnists on have also done good work exposing this jackass, including Michael S. Rozeff, J.H. Huebert, Paul Craig Roberts (here and here), and most passionately, William L. Anderson (here, here, here, and especially here), to whom Spitzer is known appropriately as "Mr. Evil."

But it's not enough to point out that Spitzer is an evil fucking douchebag -- the man is legitimately dangerous. In his hands the law is not an instrument of justice but a weapon to be wielded against politically convenient victims. The many lives ruined by Spitzer's recklessly aggressive posturing are mere collateral damage to him; necessary sacrifices to his political ambitions. The man is a bully, demagogue, and opportunist. Make no mistake -- Spitzer intends to use his AG position as a springboard, first to the governorship of New York, and then on to the White House. The thought of this megalomaniac wielding supreme executive power sends chills down my spine.

Design Within Reach

I promised that this blog would reflect my myriad interests and idiosyncracies without regard to local customs or social taboos. In that spirit, this post represents something of a confession, and it may surprise even those of you who know me well. So here goes: I'm a full-blooded heterosexual male who also happens to be keenly interested in design. There, I'm not afraid to say it.

Design Within Reach offers some amazing pieces of functional art at prices only moderately beneath "spit take" reaction levels. Some of my favorite items include:

Sapien Bookcases:

Ideal for the bookworm who needs to store many tomes within a limited footprint.

Malena Chair:

Hard to tell from the profile view but the ladder back really gives the chair its signature look.

Eames® Soft Pad Chair (I believe these appear on the set of Stephen Colbert's show during the interview segment):

It's important to nourish the soul as well as the bile -- the political ranting, economic wonkery, and sports commentary can really mess with the chi. So be sure to recharge over the holidays by checking out these and other cool, upscale pieces. And indulge your inner architect/designer for a fraction of what you'd pay for a mid-sized American sedan or a kidney on the black market (what, you think cachet is free?).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

In Defense of "Goldbuggery"

Hat tip to Angelica of Battlepanda for linking to James Hamilton's and Brad DeLong's critiques of the gold standard. Her blog post is interesting:


James Hamilton has written the definitive take-down of the supposed benefits of pegging one's currency on a gold standard. Brad Delong says it shorter: "If your government doesn't have monetary-policy credibility, attempting to establish that credibility by going on the Gold Standard is a recipe for disaster. If your government does have monetary-policy credibility, going on the Gold Standard doesn't gain you anything."

I was surprised by her characterization of Hamilton's piece as a "definitive take-down" of the benefits of the gold standard -- I found it singularly unimpressive. Hamilton and DeLong attack the same old strawmen about the gold standard that the Austrians have repeatedly refuted.

For examples, see Joseph Salerno, "Money and Freedom":

Those who implicate the gold standard as the main culprit in precipitating the events of the 1930’s generally fall into one of two groups. One group argues that it was an inherent flaw in the gold standard itself that led to a collapse of the financial system, which in turn dragged the real economy down into depression. Writers in the second group maintain that governments, for social and political reasons, stopped adhering to the so-called "rules of the gold standard," and that this initiated the downward spiral into the abyss of the Great Depression.

From either perspective, however, it is clear that the gold standard can never again be trusted to serve as the basis of the world’s monetary system. On the one hand, if it is true that the gold standard is fundamentally flawed, that in itself is a crushing practical argument against the principle of monetary freedom. On the other hand, if the gold standard is in fact a creature of rules contrived by governments, and it is politically impossible for them to follow those rules, then monetary freedom is simply irrelevant from the outset.

The first argument is the Keynesian argument and the second the monetarist argument against the gold standard.


In the face of the historical evidence they adduce, can any defense be mounted in favor of the gold standard? The answer is a resounding "yes," and the defense is as simple as it is impregnable. As I have tried to indicate above, the case against the gold standard is from beginning to end a case of mistaken identity. The genuine gold standard did not fail in the 1920’s, because it had already been destroyed by government policies after 1914.

The monetary system that sowed the seeds of the Great Depression in the 1920’s was a central bank manipulated and inflationary pseudo-gold standard. It was central banking that failed in the 1920’s and stands discredited to this day as the cause of the Great Depression.

And Lew Rockwell, "Our Money Madness":

Should our monetary system be reformed so that it is based on a pure gold coin standard? Yes it should. This would be the single best reform we could make for the cause of freedom. Its commercial benefits include stability, predictability, and honesty in finance. Its moral benefits include a financial system that does not reward living beyond one's means. From the point of view of government, a gold standard would tie the hands of the state. They could wish and long for wars, welfare, foreign aid, bailouts, subsidies, and graft, but unless they could raise the money by taxing, all their talk would be pointless. That is a country I want to live in.

For years I've heard people suggest that the Mises Institute come up with a detailed plan for how the conversion would work. In fact, there are many models to choose from, from Joseph Salerno's to Murray Rothbard's to George Reisman's to Ron Paul's own legislation, which has been before the House for some two decades. What is lacking is not a plan. It is the political will. It would require that the government recognize the error of its own ways, agree to limit its power and influence, abolish the Fed, and return the control over economic structures back to the people. And you wonder why the movement for a gold standard struggles!

Finally, if the gold standard were the Force, Murray N. Rothbard would be its Yoda. For goodies too numerous for snippage in this space, see the following from Rothbard:

***NOTE: Honestly, I have no intention of starting an econ wonk slapfight. I admire Angelica's well-written, entertaining blog and am a regular reader of Battlepanda. The point here is to raise awareness of the counter-counterarguments to the gold standard. The scholars have done the heavy lifting on this issue already, so -- having no scholarly credentials of my own -- consider my contributions here a mere conduit into further research on this debate. Please read the links. Carry on.***

Sunday, December 11, 2005

"The Impossibility of Imposed Freedom" by Lew Rockwell

Many times I've used the word "stunning" to describe Lew Rockwell's writings but his latest piece, "The Impossibility of Imposed Freedom," is especially so:

We flatter ourselves into believing that our central planning mechanisms are imposing not socialism but freedom itself, with Iraq as the most obvious example and the reductio ad absurdum, all in one. Here we have a country that the US invaded to overthrow its government and replace it with martial law administered by tanks on the street and bombers in the air, a controlled economy complete with gasoline price controls, and handpicked political leaders, and what do we call it? We call it freedom.

And yet some 15 years ago, when Saddam invaded Kuwait, threw out its leaders, occupied the country and attempted to impose a new government, the US president called it an aggression that would not stand. He took us to war to send a message that the sovereignty of states must be considered inviolate. It seems that everyone got the message except the US.

Iraq is hardly the only country. US troops are strewn throughout the world with the mission to bring about the conditions of freedom. Ads for military contractors emphasize the same theme, juxtaposing hymns to liberty with pictures of tanks, bomber’s eye views of cities, and soldiers with gas masks on. Then we wonder why so many people in the world bar the door when they hear that the US government is going to bring the blessings of democratic freedom to their doorsteps.

We have developed some strange sense that freedom is a condition that can be imposed by government, one of the many policy options we can pursue as experts in public policy. But it is not real freedom of the sort described above, the kind Jefferson claimed was to be possessed by all people everywhere whose rights are not violated. Rather it is freedom that conforms to a particular model that can be imposed from the top down, whether by the US government domestically or by US troops internationally.

Please do yourself a favor and read the whole piece.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In Defense of the A.J. Burnett Signing (sort of)

Sheesh, been a slow news cycle lately, huh? The Bush Cabal hasn't of late done anything flagrantly, uncharacteristically stupid, and this absence of tomfoolery has left many bloggers feeling blue. At least baseball's hot stove is burning bright; even the Braves have moved on some minor deals but commentary on those will have to wait for now.

One thing I did want to touch upon: A.J. Burnett's free agent deal with Toronto. The Blue Jays have taken a beating for the signing and not undeservedly so -- 5 years/$55 million is a huge gamble on any pitcher and the Jays are unlikely to get full value for this investment.

But what's interesting to me is the logic underpinning many of the criticisms. It's fair to say Burnett will suffer statistical backsliding in '06 -- he's trading a terrific pitching environment (NL East in general and Dolphins Stadium in particular) for one far more friendly to hitters (AL East/SkyDome). 9-man lineups (with a DH) are tougher to pitch against than 8-man lineups (no DH). But what puzzles me is how many sportstalk hosts have been trumpeting Burnett's career record (49-50) as prima facie evidence of the deal's folly.

Two problems with this approach:

  1. It overrates the importance of W-L records, which are often dictated by factors beyond a pitcher's control, such as bullpen and run support, team defense, etc. It's probably the single worst way to evaluate pitcher performance.

  2. In general, teams are paying for expected value moving forward, not rewarding past performances. Toronto sees the 98 mph fastball and comparatively low mileage and gambled $55 million chips on Burnett taking a developmental leap forward. It's a huge risk but not entirely implausible to pay off.

The reason is there are historical precedents for mid-career developmental spikes, especially among power pitchers. The comparison hardly seems valid but there are superficial similarities between A.J. Burnett and Randy Johnson. Burnett is unlikely to approach even 40% of the Big Unit's accomplishments but let's not dismiss the odds based on evidence as flimsy as W-L totals.

Let's examine the parallels:

  • After Johnson's age 28 season (where Burnett now resides), his career record was 49-48 in 130 career starts. He had a no-hitter to his credit and was best known for his overpowering wildness, prickly demeanor, and flyaway mullet. His numbers: 818 IP, 649 HA, 519 BB, 818 K, 70 HR, 3.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 0.77 HR/9.

  • After his age 28 season (2005), Burnett's career record is 49-50 in 131 career starts. He has a no-hitter to his credit and is best known for his overpowering stuff, prickly demeanor, and nipple rings. His numbers: 853.2 IP, 719 H, 377 BB, 753 K, 66 HR, 3.73 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 0.63 HR/9.

(According to baseball-reference, Randy Johnson's most similar by age at 28 is...(*drumroll please*)...A.J. Burnett!)

Now, I am aware that there are tons of unexamined variables here such as park effects and league contexts, but the point is simply this: hardly anyone would have predicted superstardom for Randy Johnson based on his statistical achievements through age 28. But Johnson went 75-20 in his age 29-33 seasons -- Burnett will make the Jays look pretty S-M-R-T if he spikes so dramatically. I realize that the differences between Johnson and Burnett are manifold and let me emphasize that I am not predicting the same career trajectory for Burnett.

But it's waaayyy too soon to judge this signing; all this idle speculation is just that until Burnett takes the Toronto mound. I really wish the talking heads would just shut the hell up about his record already. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be skeptical but A.J. Burnett's career W-L record strikes me as the weakest.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Austrian Economics Go Mainstream: Koch to Acquire Georgia-Pacific

Business stories bore the ever-living shit out of me 99% of the time, but when Austrian economics and Ludwig von Mises get mentioned in the mainstream press (in this case, the AJC), I take notice. Koch Industries, a $60 billion privately held juggernaut, is in the process of acquiring Georgia-Pacific and infusing it with a free market, entrepreneurial spirit. This is innovative, invigorating stuff (to me, anyway).


Koch promotes performance-based pay, doled out in the form of bonuses and other incentives to people who "create value," and thereby, profit. Top executives can pull down million-dollar bonuses, but Koch will share the bottom-line love with secretaries, janitors or anyone who comes up with a way to make the company some money.

When a team of pipeline operators in Minnesota took it upon themselves to figure out how to change pump pressures to boost capacity by 15 percent instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on expanding the pipeline, Koch cut each worker involved a check averaging 15 percent of his annual pay.

"Koch is known for rewarding people," said financial economist Mark Skousen, who used Koch Industries as a case study in a management class he taught last year at Columbia University in New York. "Koch is very focused on having and hiring the right kind of people --- hardworking people who are comfortable with this idea that creativity comes from the bottom up.

"But that cuts both ways. People who are just rolling along probably won't make it," Skousen said.

And more snippage:

Of all the virtues Koch sees in his free-market philosophies, none may cut closer to home at Georgia-Pacific than freeing the company from the frustrations of Wall Street. Georgia-Pacific stock has languished --- hamstrung, Correll contends, by the fixation on asbestos litigation.

The litany of Sarbanes-Oxley regulations and disclosures hasn't made public life any easier either.

Koch company literature, on the other hand, extols the blessing of being private.

With no pressure to live quarter-to-quarter, Georgia-Pacific can now focus on long-term goals, Koch told employees in announcing the deal. Rather than paying out dividends, Koch typically reinvests 90 percent of profits into the businesses where they are generated.

Koch told Georgia-Pacific executives Tuesday that he's still learning quite a bit himself about Market Based Management, likening it to the North Star.

"You know you'll never actually reach it but you still use it as a guide because it moves you in the right direction," he said.

Bingo! Isn't this how business should be run? Contrast this with the myopia and short-term thinking that dominate most corporate cultures and strategies. "Hitting numbers" and pleasing secondary constituencies (shareholders, SEC regulators, business magazines/forecasters, etc.) become ends to themselves rather than the means by which successful businesses are run. It used to be that "success" was achieved by pleasing customers as measured by the good old-fashioned profit and loss test: maximize profit by bringing goods or services to market at prices sufficiently above the costs needed to produce them. Now the whole incentive structure is distorted by short-term forecasts and "leveraging" things, instead of cultivating long-term, symbiotic relationships. I don't get it.

Lest you think I've gone soft, I'm going to sound my usual drumbeat here: much of the blame for this crazy thinking lies with the government and its depredations. Corporate America is way too focused on flattering the state and its surrogates: it must comply with a litany of SEC regulations, negotiate the minefield of tax laws, deal with anti-trust issues, keep unions fat and happy, satisfy environmentalists, and manage operations in a society whose litigiousness goes beyond reckless.

Koch has similar problems but quietly manages to send the message that incentives matter. And this is the essence of economics! There are consequences to making life difficult for the entrepreneurs who enrich our lives and make civilization possible. Civilization flourishes when free people are left alone to peacefully trade and exploit their comparative advantages. Government intervention, mercantilism, and corporatism wrecks prosperity and impoverishes us all.

Many of us work in a setting way too reminiscent of the film "Office Space" but it doesn't have to be that way. Koch gives us a glimpse of what embracing freedom and innovation can do, and to me, that's pretty damn cool.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Contra Doris Kearns Goodwin, Part Deux: DiLorenzo's Take

Warm greetings! Hope everyone had a safe, enjoyable, and thoroughly gluttonous Thanksgiving. Having digested my fair share of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes, I now have a nice amount of political bile to spew. Yay! On to the divisive historio-political ranting...

As a quick followup to my post about Doris Kearns Goodwin's new book about Abraham Lincoln (and the vigorous debate with Abe that it prompted), check out Thomas DiLorenzo's scathing review of the book on today's LRC:

Although this is supposed to be a book about Lincoln’s "political genius" most of the means by which Lincoln eventually grabbed on to dictatorial powers are not mentioned. There is no mention of his long career of writing anonymous letters to the editor smearing his political opponents, for example. There is no mention that he was a wealthy and politically-connected railroad industry lobbyist. In discussing the Lincoln presidency Goodwin makes no mention whatsoever of the fact that literally tens of thousands of northern political dissenters were imprisoned without due process, that hundreds of opposition newspapers were shut down, that elections were rigged, that West Virginia was illegally separated from the rest of the state, that all telegraph communication was censored, private firearms were confiscated in violation of the Second Amendment, habeas corpus was illegally suspended, and that for these reasons, among others, generations of scholars have written of "the Lincoln dictatorship." She doesn’t even cite the two pro-Lincoln books that catalogue all of this – Constitutional Problems under Lincoln by James Randall and Fate of Liberty by Mark Neely – despite all her boasts of having spent ten years researching and writing the book (which has several thousand footnotes).

Good times! This heroic article is lengthy (nearly 5400 words strong) but well worth the effort.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Separated at Birth: Obscure Poker Edition

While watching reruns of the 2005 World Series of Poker on ESPN, I noticed that final table player Andrew Black of Ireland:

Bears a striking resemblance to veteran character actor Paul Giamatti:

"I am not drinking any FUCKING MERLOT!!!"

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Domestic Mystery

So after dropping Tra off at the airport and reenacting key scenes from the films "Risky Business" and "Home Alone," I spent the majority of my Sunday afternoon shlepping leaves around the front yard. Raking, blowing, mulching, lifting, bagging, etc. A more punishing brand of drudgery is scarcely imaginable. But I had ignored the task as long as possible and the leaf cover threatened to undo the overseeding and aerating job we'd recently deployed for the hilarious patchwork of weeds and crabgrass we call a "lawn."

Anywho, the mystery. After two and a half hours and seven Home Depot bags' worth of leaves, I was done. I dutifully arranged the overflowing bags along the curb, Home Depot labels facing out as is my anal retentive wont, and left them for the yard waste pickup (which is Wednesday). I dragged myself inside, stumbled into the shower, and flopped down on the sofa to watch the Falcons soil themselves in an uninspired loss to the previously 1-7 Packers. No problem, right? Just business as usual for a Sunday afternoon?

Well, no. When I went out around 7:30 this evening to answer a sweet tooth calling, the bags were missing.

Gone. Vanished into thin air. Was this some sort of prank? The handiwork of leaf bag hooligans? I can't even hazard a guess. My neighbors' bags (across the street and next door) are all intact. I half-expected to find the bags spilled around my yard or scattered about the street, but no. It's as if the Leaf Bag Fairy swept down from her magical realm and cleared my curb. Fat lot of good our street's "Neighborhood Watch" signs did. Anyway, all I know is that at some point between when I finished clearing the yard at 3:45 and when I left the house at 7:30 this evening, somebody (or some..thing?) hauled away those bags, and I cannot fathom why. It's really no big deal but, to be perfectly honest, I'm a little freaked out by this curious episode.

Any theories? Anyone in the neighborhood with suspicious sightings or other leaf bag malfeasance to report? I'm all ears.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bill O'Reilly: Al-Qaeda Should Blow Up San Francisco for Defying the U.S. Military

Professional instigator/insufferable jackass Bill O'Reilly is making headlines for recent comments he made attacking San Francisco's referendum decision to ban military recruiters from public high school and college campuses (link courtesy of boingboing):

"Hey, you know, if you want to ban military recruiting, fine, but I'm not going to give you another nickel of federal money. You know, if I'm the president of the United States, I walk right into Union Square, I set up my little presidential podium, and I say, 'Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead. And if al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead."

What planet is this guy on? O'Reilly's comments are laughable for a lot of reasons but consider the following scenarios:

1. The ballot measure disallows military recruiting on public high school and college campuses only. Military recruiters are still welcome on the private property of whomsoever wishes to invite them. For example, they're still permitted to ply their trade at any SF property Bill O'Reilly may own (if this is so important to him) or at FOX News' SF bureau headquarters. You know, if they actually cared enough about the issue to do something in response.

2. Here's the really hilarious part: if San Franciscans followed O'Reilly's advice and attempted secession, odds are they'd be attacked by the U.S. government sooner than Al-Qaeda! Don't believe me? Ask the South how its attempt to escape the clutches of the federal hegemon worked out. The ridiculous irony is that Al-Qaeda's incentive to blow up the Coit Tower decreases if the building resides outside U.S. territory. But let San Francisco (or any other municipality) declare its independence from federal control (despite no longer costing the treasury a nickel) and guess who gets deployed to quash the "resistance" and "insurgency" in San Francisco? The very military whose recruiting tactics triggered the confrontation in the first place!

O'Reilly's not smart enough to see the humor or irony in his preposterous statements. But thank goodness FOX keeps that windbag around to keep the rest of us entertained...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Contra Doris Kearns Goodwin: "The Real Lincoln"

During lunch with Mark and Abe on Saturday, our conversation turned to the new Lincoln hagiography from Doris Kearns Goodwin, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Goodwin has been aggressively pimping her book of late, having appeared on forums as varied as NPR and "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." The subject has even captured the hearts and minds of Hollywood, for Steven Spielberg is directing the film adaptation of Kearns Goodwin's book (Kearns Goodwin herself is writing the screenplay and Liam Neeson is slated to play Lincoln).

I post this neither to recommend nor to much disparage Goodwin or her book. Instead, I'd like to balance the other side of the story against the whitewashing of history that permeates these rock star treatments of "Honest Abe": if you read this book, please give equal time to Thomas DiLorenzo's "The Real Lincoln." From the book's dustjacket:

Through extensive research and meticulous documentation, DiLorenzo portrays the sixteenth president as a man who devoted his political career to revolutionizing the American form of government from one that was very limited in scope and highly decentralized -- as the Founding Fathers intended -- to a highly centralized, activist state. Standing in his way, however, was the South, with its independent states, its resistance to the national government, and its reliance on unfettered free trade. To accomplish his goals, Lincoln subverted the Constitution, trampled states' rights, and launched a devastating Civil War, whose wounds haunt us still. According to this provocative book, 600,000 American soldiers did not die for the honorable cause of ending slavery but for the dubious agenda of sacrificing the independence of the states to the supremacy of the federal government. Lincoln's aggressive agenda triggered an uncontrollable swelling of big government, which has been tightening its vise grip on our republic to this very day.

Exaggerations are bound to appear in both books, but before brushing aside Dr. DiLorenzo's interpretation, ask yourself why Lincoln has been deified by both sides of the political establishment.

The 2005 PGA Tour Championship

Yesterday I was privileged to attend the final round of the 2005 Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Course. Very few sporting events can measure up to golf in terms of the "in person" experience. By comparison, most sporting events offer static, inert experiences; you purchase an assigned seat and get, in most cases, confined to it for the duration of the game. And those games usually end in a few hours. But you can spend literally the whole day on the course during a PGA event, and (except for the corporate tents) you have complete freedom to roam just about anyplace you like. Choose your own viewing angle and experience: you can watch the action from the tees, the fairways, the greens, etc. Follow your favorite players or choose a comfy spot on one hole and watch the pairings march through. And unlike other games where the fans are more or less omniscient -- you always know the score and can watch just about all the action as it unfolds -- golf relies far more on word of mouth, which enhances fan interaction and enriches the social experience. Roars erupt around the course but at the moment it's unclear why.

Anyway, yesterday was amazing. The weather was perfect and the course immaculate. The players were accessible and gracious, tipping their caps for nearly every ovation. They even seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the pressure. Some personal highlights included:
  • Watching Tiger rip a tee shot: he attacks the ball like it owes him money. I'm not sure there's another moment in sports that can compare to this in terms of anticipation -- maybe Barry Bonds swinging at a 3-0 fastball. Maybe. But the buildup during Tiger's pre-shot routine as he waggles the club and surveys his target, then the payoff as he practically shatters the sound barrier with his explosive uncoil and 125 mph clubhead speed -- incredible! People just shook their heads in disbelief. I watched him tee off on the par-4 13th and couldn't believe how the ball explodes off his club face -- it disappears down the fairway at such impossible speed and with such a high trajectory, it looks like it's never coming down. What an awesome display of power and finesse.

  • The incredible shotmaking. I was fortunate enough to witness several amazing recoveries: after eventual champ Bart Bryant dunked his tee shot on the par-3 6th, he pitched an amazing recovery about 50 feet over the water to within 8 feet of the cup. He drained the bogey save, pumped his fist, and never looked back. I also saw Scott Verplank chip out of the rough on 10 right into the cup. And I watched Padraig Harrington pull off a similar shot on the par-4 17th -- he practiced his mechanics at least 5 or 6 times, settled over the ball, and confidently stroked it from a difficult angle. While the ball was still 8 feet from the hole, Padraig raised his club in triumph because he knew it was going in.

  • The funny or touching little moments you don't necessarily get to see on TV. I raced ahead to 18 just in time to watch Bryant approach the tee, and he seemed genuinely touched (and a little surprised) by the boisterous ovation he received. He was high-fiving fans before he'd even teed off at 18 but, with a 6-shot lead it was just a formality, and he seemed to let the thought creep into his mind: I'm about to win the Tour Championship. After he sank the winning putt, his caddy (who looks like a pro wrestler) ripped the flag from the pole as a keepsake.
I have to admit, I walked around with a goofy grin on my face for most of the afternoon. Just taking in the scenery, the history, the aura of Bobby Jones' home course, the smell of the grass, etc., was truly memorable. I hope to return next year.

Special thanks to Roger Lowenthal for providing my ticket.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

U.S. Congress: All Your Pro Sports Are Belong to Us

For whatever reason, this story didn't make many waves in the sports headlines yesterday, but Congress is reiterating its threat to introduce steroid legislation "to standardize drug testing and penalties for professional leagues:"
Three House bills with similar testing minimums and punishments have been proposed, including one sponsored by Tom Davis, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Government Reform Committee. That panel held the March 17 hearing with Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and baseball officials.

"If pro sports leagues don't get a handle on this problem on their own, members of Congress will be more than willing to do it for them," Davis spokesman Dave Marin wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "No matter which bill ultimately moves forward, one thing is certain: In the absence of self-initiated progress, legislation becomes a matter of when, not if."

What arrogance! It is telling that Marin uses cryptic terms like 'this problem' and 'progress' without being explicit about what they mean. Because the first obstacle for Congress is defining baseball's "problem." Is steroid use rampant in baseball (however 'rampant' is defined)? And if so, is enough being done to discourage and punish steroid use? These questions, if they should be pondered at all, ought to be considered by those with a vested interest in the game's wellbeing, such as its owners, players, sponsors, and fans.

Conspicuously absent from that list are members of Congress. Baseball's owners, unlike members of Congress, have invested hundreds of millions in their franchises. This includes money spent on player scouting, drafting, development, long-term contracts, etc. They have every incentive to keep players healthy and productive, since success is so dependent on fielding a winning, profitable team that pleases fans. Only baseball and its monied interests -- not Congress -- will suffer if customers perceive a problem with the game's fairness or integrity.

If fans grow disenchanted with "juiced" players or tainted competition, they'll express their dissatisfaction by refusing to watch the game either in person or on TV. They will no longer patronize the game's sponsors or support its endeavors, and the whole enterprise will get hit in the wallet, where it hurts. That's the only reliable gauge as to whether baseball has a steroid problem or not, and if it does, Congress has no responsibility either to uphold the game's integrity or to ensure that it remains profitable (national pastime or not).

And so we return to the first of our two key questions: is steroid use rampant in baseball? Ironically, the true answer is unimportant; it is the perception, and baseball's response to it, that matter. For better or for worse, baseball's officials were long indifferent to the issue, and that's when they ran afoul of the state. The decree had come down from on high: "Steroids are illegal. You will treat this issue with the seriousness and respect due the law." But baseball's "crime" was refusing to bend to Congressional will by acting as a proxy for its war on steroids. So it was not steroids that landed baseball in hot water but its collective shoulder shrug toward federal authority. Like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction," the state will not be ignored -- or otherwise disrespected. As Butler Shaffer so eloquently puts it: "Anything that diminshes respect for the state apparatus or its purposes weakens the popular sanction upon which all political power ultimately rests." So Congress clearly felt the need to assert itself in this area without bothering to allow baseball to find out for itself how prevalent and harmful steroid use was within the game.

As for our second question -- if steroid use is rampant in baseball, is enough being done to curb and punish this behavior? -- it answers itself. If baseball's steroid policy should prove unsatisfactory, then the issue will need to be revisited by those facing the profit and loss test -- again, this includes baseball's owners and sponsors, not Congress. Whether for PR purposes or to get Congress temporarily off its back, baseball in 2005 had already implemented a new testing program for steroids; indeed, Matt Lawton today became the 12th player busted under the new policy. As a private entity, baseball should have every right to set these rules and mete out punishment at its own discretion.

But the state rejects a subordinate role in these processes (especially when there are cheap political points to be scored), and thus we have the spectacle of Congress acting tough while at the same time abdicating its real responsibilities: if federal law is violated, then the offenders must be prosecuted; that's why laws prohibiting the sale and possession of steroids were enacted in the first place. But this is not about the law, it's about PR: it's easy to look like a hero by grandstanding for the cameras and hammering on a politically unpopular constituency -- but prosecuting ballplayers for steroid violations is much riskier. So they instead bully baseball into adopting a politically acceptable version of justice. The yentas in Congress have once more overstepped their purview and substituted their judgment for the wisdom of the market. What a cowardly way to assert your authority!

But this is how the state racket operates, and a more perfect example of government-imposed externalities would be hard to find: the state shifts all of the costs of its policy onto baseball while assuming none of the risks. So the questions about steroids take a back seat to the lessons imparted by the Congressional response to the issue. Quite ironic that a group utterly wanting for ethics and intergrity should go forcing these virtues on others.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Film Review: "The Triplets of Belleville"

Film originally viewed 10/29/05; DVD courtesy of Netflix

I've never seen a film quite like "The Triplets of Belleville," and I mean that as a compliment. The plot is simple yet the details are so strange, so fantastical, that simple exposition utterly fails to convey its whimsy. And it is the details that give the film its rich complexion. I'd rather not reveal too much of the plot, because the film's surprises, dark humor, and gift for exaggeration are best absorbed as they unfold.

But the thumbnail sketch is this: Madame Souza adopts her grandson, Champion, and the boy is at first lonely and unhappy. She dotes on him, buying him a dog and a tricycle, and he shows a particular aptitude for cycling. Jump ahead a few years, and Madame Souza is training Champion for the Tour de France, where he is kidnapped by the wine Mafia and taken to Belleville. Madame Souza and Bruno, the family dog, take off in pursuit. Lacking money and huddled together beneath a bridge, the duo are discovered and befriended by a formerly famous trio of vaudeville performers -- The Triplets of Belleville. The Triplets take them in and help in the attempt to rescue Champion.

The narrative is advanced almost entirely without dialogue. This device works well, because the visual portion is stunning; the animation is well rendered but it is the artwork that really shines. Belleville's winding streets, towering skyscrapers, and grotesquely obese populace bring life to the filmmakers' vision of a bustling metropolis with a seedy, thinly concealed underworld.

Perhaps I have given away too much already. But particular delights for me included the square-shouldered mafiosi, the dutiful but annoying boy scout, the musical "instruments" used by the Triplets in their act (including refrigerator shelves, a newspaper, and a vacuum cleaner), Madame Souza's unique training regimen for Champion (including calf-vacuuming!), the Triplets' unorthodox hunting and culinary preferences, and just about every scene with Bruno the dog.

At its heart, "The Triplets of Belleville" is a sweet story rendered in a highly unusual idiom. The protagonists exude virtue; the film treasures love, loyalty, devotion, friendship, and perseverance against soulless villains. The film manages to be funny, touching, and perplexing all at the same time. Highly entertaining and utterly original, "The Triplets of Belleville" is a visual and whimsical tour de force. Check it out if you get the chance.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Saturday Afternoon Linkage

Random tidbits from a quiet Saturday afternoon spent listening to some old Ben Folds Five:

• Craptacular. Embiggen. Smarch. Just three of the many words from Wikipedia's groin-grabbingly transcendent "list of neologisms on 'The Simpsons'" page. Fully annotated with etymologies, episodes of origin, and pop culture cross-references! Minutes of fun for any Simpsons fan! Best viewed at work for extra time-wasting goodness.

• It's no secret lefties hold a special frothing hatred for Wal-Mart, but by playing footsie with the feds on the minimum wage issue, the world's largest retailer has managed also to piss off its free market champions. Lew Rockwell, in his typically eloquent style, penetrates to the heart of the issues for free market proponents:

The left's claims of unfair practices would be valid if Wal-Mart did indeed work to impose legal disabilities on its competitors – in effect making it illegal to outcompete the company. And yet that is precisely what raising the minimum wage would do: impose a legal disability on those companies engaged in lower-wage competition with Wal-Mart. So the economically ignorant left advocates raising the minimum wage.

Lew's insightful article is well worth your time. And speaking of the minimum wage and stunning displays of economic ignorance, check out this forum from today (if you can stomach it).

• In a shocking act of Steinbrennery, the Dodgers fired GM Paul DePodesta today. I realize 71-91 is a lousy finish but shouldn't he have had more than two seasons to prove his worth? DePodesta was hired as much for his "Moneyball" bona fides as for his other qualifications, but even as the scapegoat for the philosophy's perceived failings, two years is hardly time enough on which to judge, is it? Anyway, DePodesta's firing is bad news for Dodger fans but even worse for the AL West -- Billy Beane will probably rehire his former protege and the reunion should prove to be a happy one for the A's.

Monday, October 24, 2005

2005 World Series: Fate 1, Analytical Forecasting 0

Not to pick on the amazing Baseball Prospectus or to disparage analytical forecasting (of which I am a fervent devotee), but this White Sox-Astros series is exactly the kind of matchup that confounds reasoned projections. Houston and Chicago meeting in the World Series was an absurd fantasy 6 (or even 3) months ago; even the smart guys got fooled. I cherry picked some choice quotes from BP2k5's capsule forecasts of the teams for effect:

Houston Astros:

There is almost no chance that the Astros can repeat their '04 success in 2005...This isn't a contending team. The question is whether new GM Tim Purpura can get his hands around that fact early enough to salvage positives from the season. The turning point for the 2005 Astros is as likely to be a 6-1 loss on Opening Day as anything else, what with all their flaws. [For the record: Houston lost 7-3 to St. Louis on Opening Day -- Ed.]

Chicago White Sox:

The investment in pitching is defensible, but for all that, the rotation is still really two and a half pitchers deep: Garcia, Mark Buerhle, and El Duque whenever he's healthy. That won't be enough to make up for an offense ill-suited for its home park and likely to struggle to score anywhere else. The new master plan might be a bold stroke, but it's the sort of gamble that will more likely have the Sox keeping the Royals company in the basement than finally getting them back to the top of the standings.

Not to belabor the point from my previous post, but isn't this why we watch? Sometimes that optimism in spring is not so hopelessly misplaced after all. In March and April, few in the baseball forecasting community predicted this matchup or picked the ChiSox to win it all, and those that did were dismissed as drunks or charlatans.

And not to go too nuts about fate like I also did in my last post, but the White Sox have that look of inevitability about them.'s Bill Simmons wrote about this in regards to last year's Red Sox team; that all the bad calls, weird bounces, and crazy plays that traditionally went against them started to go their way, and they rode the good fortune and timely play all the way to the title. The White Sox seem to be following the same script.

It started in Game 2 of the ALCS when A.J. Pierzynski stole an extra out and the game from the Angels. But tonight furnished the best examples yet: an inside pitch glances low off Jermaine Dye's bat and the foul ball is ruled a HBP; the very next batter (Paul Konerko) wallops a grand slam. And then Scott Podsednik, who hadn't homered all season until Game 1 of the ALDS (507 regular season ABs, 0 HRs), turns around a Brad Lidge heater for the game winning blast!

Sorry 'Stros fans, but that's fate: the White Sox are going to win the World Series.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Fearful symmetry: the Frank Thomas-Jeff Bagwell nexus

One of the best parts about sports is the story within the story. The little connections, coincidences, symmetries, etc., that make the games more interesting. While the big news for Saturday is Game 1 of the World Series between the White Sox and Astros, it's worth noting the individual odysseys of (apologies to Craig Biggio) two faces that represent the souls of these tortured franchises.

The career parallels between Chicago's Frank Thomas and Houston's Jeff Bagwell are positively eerie. Both players are slugging right-handed first basemen. Each won his league's MVP award in 1994. According to the indispensable, Frank Thomas's most similar career comparison is Jeff Bagwell; Bagwell's most similar comparison is Gary Sheffield, but Thomas is a close second (their similarity score is 884). Each missed much of 2005 with assorted injuries and, in a ruefully ironic twist, failed to contribute in any meaningful way to their teams' most magical seasons in recent memory. But here's my favorite bit of symmetry: these two men were born on the exact same day (May 27, 1968).

Imagine that! Coming into the 2005 season, most serious baseball fans would be aware of the parallels and connections that Thomas and Bagwell shared. But if it isn't fate that their long suffering teams should meet in the World Series, doesn't it at least feel oddly scripted? It seems like their parallel trajectories have been planned down to the minutest details, and as if in a giant funnel, they've been shunted in every moment toward this inevitable showdown. Ironically, neither is expected to do much this series (Thomas is done for the year and Bagwell will be limited to DH and pinch-hitting duties), but it's a shame that one of these men must go home empty-handed.

These are the details that color and enrich the experience of sports! Yes, we're talking about athletic competition, and the sports-as-life metaphor has been beaten senseless, but the parallel stories of Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell hint that something bigger is clearly afoot. Coincidence, fate, irony, triumph, and yes, ultimately tragedy -- since one of them has to lose -- are all at work here. You don't have to be a sports fan to appreciate the literary themes.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Song Remains The Same

Roughly 18 hours after another ignominious conclusion to an Atlanta Braves postseason, and I've had time to reflect. My immediate emotional response to Chris Burke's 18th inning "blast" has melted into a calm, measured, rational response, and here it is:

FUCK! fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!!!

How could the Braves do this to us again? Every postseason becomes more crushing than the last. How does Kyle Farnsworth, the one reliable arm the bullpen had to offer, suffer a meltdown of epic proportions at precisely the wrong time? And against Brad fecking Ausmus? How do these things happen? The names on the backs of the unis keep changing but, sadly, the one on the front doesn't. Only the Braves could find a way to pull the baseball equivalent of a John Starks in a must-win game: 1 for 19 with men in scoring position! Are you kidding me?!?

And I don't want to hear the spin from quintessential politician John Schuerholz. Bright future with all these rookies, blah blah blah. 14 straight division titles, blah blah blah. At some point he must concede that what he's doing isn't working. Logically, I understand that bad luck has played an inordinate role in the Braves' annual demises. I know this. I know the bleeders and dunkers that Chris Reitsma allows are mostly dumb luck (though a power arm would miss a few more bats). I realize that if Ausmus's ball heads inches to the left, it's in play and probably a double. I know, and yet, I don't care.

Here's what I do care about: for all of the ballyhoo about 14 division titles, Atlanta is 1-7 in its last 8 playoff series since the 1999 World Series. They're 0-4 since 2002. At what point does the organization acknowledge that some part of its team building philosophy is flawed? That what works against the Mets in June doesn't necessarily translate against Houston (or St. Louis, or San Francisco, etc.) in October?

I know this sounds completely spoiled, especially to fans of teams like the Reds, Rockies, Royals, Brewers, Nationals, Pirates, etc. But rooting for this team feels like the old "Peanuts" gag with Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown. Every year you think it might be different but, when the smoke clears, you're flat on your ass wondering what the hell happened. I don't want to be the Detroit Tigers or Chicago Cubs but I'm sick of being the butt of October jokes.

The awful truth is, I don't want this team to make the postseason next year. There, I said it. Spare me the anguish of another pathetic postseason flameout. I know you can't win it if you don't get there, and that anything can happen in a short series, but "anything" always seems to happen to us. Perhaps I'm advocating the "nothing ventured, nothing lost" mindset, but geez, can you blame me? It doesn't take a fatalist to grow weary of watching his team invent new and gutwrenching ways of losing 13 of 14 postseason tries.

Next year, just stay home and spare me the heartache.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

MLB Award Picks for 2005

First off, Shanah Tova everybody! I had the pleasure of attending Rosh Hashanah services today for the first time, let's not admit how long. Evidently synagogue membership and tickets for High Holy Day services cost slightly less than season tickets for your average mid-market NHL club. Anyway, we went to services at Congregation Or VeShalom in Atlanta -- it's a Sephardic congregation, something I'd never before experienced. The service and sanctuary were beautiful and the people warm and welcoming. We're going back for Yom Kippur. So Shanah Tova -- party like it's 5999!

The end of baseball season always makes me a little wistful. It's a strange mixture of sadness and relief, actually; I miss my daily box score addiction but not the constant burden of combing injury and minor league minutia for my fantasy teams. By October I'm looking forward to the playoffs and the beginnings of hockey and college hoop seasons. So with the playoffs starting today (and the pucks dropping on the NHL tomorrow), it seems the perfect time to offer my picks for MLB's major awards:

AL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen will be the sexy pick, but call me crazy, I think he'll be fired sometime around 2008. His confrontational style and small ball antics worked this year but how far can he go with a team built in his mediocre image? Despite 99 wins, the ChiSox ranked 9th in runs scored and 10th in OBP in the AL. Feh. I'm going with Cleveland's Eric Wedge. He weathered the storm of a slow start and damn near piloted a young team to an historic comeback.

NL Manager of the Year: Tough call. I'm hopelessly biased here but I choo-choo-choose Bobby Cox. Who better juggles his pieces and puts his players in position to succeed? All those injuries, all those rookies, moving Smoltz back to the rotation, struggling to find a closer, etc. It was a tumultuous year for the Atlanta nine but Bobby did his usual masterful job blending the disparate bits into a division winner. There's no one better.

AL Rookie of the Year: I didn't hear many people talking about this, but it surprised me to learn that Minnesota's Joe Mauer retained his rookie status for 2005. Last year's knee injury cut short his season after only 107 at bats, 23 short of the maximum for rookie eligibility. A catcher who puts up .294/.372/.411 and steals 13 out of 14 is a future MVP candidate and the easy choice for ROY. Honorable mentions go to TB's Jonny Gomes (.908 OPS in 344 ABs) and Oakland's Huston Street, who went 5-1 with 23 SV and a 1.72 ERA.

NL Rookie of the Year: Philadelphia's Ryan Howard (22 HR, .921 OPS in 308 ABs) gets the nod over Atlanta hero Jeff Francoeur (14 HR, .884 OPS in 257 ABs). Francoeur's future is brighter longterm but that has no bearing on ROY voting. So despite missing the playoffs again, the Phillies should have a ROY going for them. Which is nice.

AL Cy Young Award: Bartolo Colon had a good year but take away the wins and losses (which are hugely influenced by factors outside a pitcher's control like run support, defense, and the bullpen) and nobody in the AL outpitched Minnesota's Johan Santana. Santana led the majors in strikeouts and finished a whisker behind Kevin Millwood for the AL ERA title (2.86 - 2.87). Santana had more win shares (23 - 18) than Colon and a better VORP (73.0 - 51.1). A case for Mark Buerhle and Kevin Millwood could also be made (just not by me). Santana won't win but he deserves the award.

NL Cy Young Award: This call is perhaps the toughest of any of the major awards. Roger Clemens has the best pitcher VORP (80.6) in MLB but ranks just behind Dontrelle Willis in win shares (26 - 25). Chris Carpenter might have the best overall surface stats but lags ever so slightly in the sabermetric numbers (just 18 win shares but a slight edge over Willis in VORP: 68.4 - 68.1). Andy Pettitte also has a case but will likely finish 4th. At the end of the day, give me the guy with the 1.87 ERA (especially in that ballpark). Roger Clemens is my Cy Young pick but my sensibilities would not be offended should Carpenter or Willis win instead. It's that close.

AL MVP: I hate to do this. I really, really do. But fairness and objectivity demand it! I love, LOVE Boston's Big Papi, David Ortiz -- how can you not? He's the most clutch player in baseball and looks like he's having a blast just being at the park. His infectious smile and steady leadership drive that team -- he's the Red Sox' spiritual and emotional leader. And he had a MONSTER season. But much as it pains me to admit, A-Rod is the MVP. His traditional stats were mind boggling (.322/.423/.613 with an AL-leading 48 HR) but they are fully supported by the sabermetric measurements -- he led the AL in VORP (101.8) and win shares (37). Yeah, he's a big metrosexual wuss and always looks like he's wearing purple lipstick, but give the man his due. He's a helluva ballplayer.

NL MVP: I've already covered this in a previous post, and 2+ weeks of baseball since have done little to change my mind. Albert Pujols is a worthy choice for MVP but I would not be upset to see Derrek Lee win. Granted, the Cubs stunk and the Cards were great, but Lee had a spectacular season.

There you have it. As they used to say at the end of those editorials on the local newscasts: opposing viewpoints are welcome...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

they hate us for our freedom

Please remember the following stories the next time some supercilious hairdo (cough *Hannity* cough) bloviates about "freedom" or "the nobility of the cause" or some other such nonsense in relation to this administration. It's all bullshit.

The next two links come courtesy of fark -- and I would strongly advise NOT clicking on either one at work:

Suicide Girls Removing Pictures, You Can Thank Bush (NSFW): Wacky censorship hijinx from those crazy folks who brought you the Iraq War and the Patriot Act! If you haven't seen Wayne's post about censorship and porn on these pages, just go on ahead and read it right now, because he got it exactly right. Remember: they hate us for our freedom, and we're battling the terrorists to preserve our freedoms and our way of life. Um, except those freedoms no longer include looking at kinky pictures. Consent be damned! How do you like your First Amendment now???

US soldiers allegedly trading pictures of dead Iraqis & Afghanis for porn (NSFW): This is very sick, and I refuse to look at the unblocked photos. I post this here because a) if this is legit, it's going to be a huge story soon, b) people need to understand the exact nature of what it is they defend when backing war, and c) you need to remember these chilling photos when some asshole exhorts you to "support our troops!" If this doesn't upset you, nothing will.

This is OK to click at work: anti-war celebrity Cindy Sheehan was arrested today, and she blogs about it at LRC. Just so we're clear -- she's presumably sitting on public property, she owns the constitutional right to peaceably assemble, and she was arrested for "demonstrating without a permit." Since when must American citizens petition the government for permission to protest? If the government denies the request, does that just nullify the Constitution? Universal 'I am not a lawyer' disclaimer applies here, but seriously, WTF? Cindy herself best illustrates the absurdity: "George is so hypocritically concerned about Iraq developing a Constitution while he ignores and shreds our own Constitution."

The moral of these stories is: strip away all the fucking rhetoric and sing-songy turd pearls about "freedom" and "liberty" that Bush's army of speechwriters spoonfeed him. He knows not the meanings of the words. Bush grinds away true freedom here while exporting some weird statist hybrid to the Middle East. What good are dumb abstractions like "democracy" and "freedom" if you don't practice what you preach at home? Bush himself is too dunderheaded and imperious to be able to reconcile his words with his deeds, and his advisers couldn't pick True Freedom out of a lineup that included Corporatism, Militarism, Statism, and Fascism. Fuck the whole lot of 'em.

There, I feel better now...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Super-Terrific Happy Hour: LinkStyle

OK, hip kids, who got that title reference??? On to the japery...

• For anyone who gives a Cheney, the mighty Rolling Bones demolished the Bull Moose Party at Union Hill Park last evening, 9-0. That's not a typo. In a bold moment of weakness, I had predicted to Rob that I would get a goal and perhaps an assist or two tonight. I did pick up a couple helpers, but that first goal of the season? Remains elusive. But those ice bags on my bruises don't feel quite as frigid after so glorious a victory...

• Evidently the War on Terror is over and we won. It must be, though nobody told me, because the administration is diverting resources toward making sure you don't look at kinky stuff. You know, because the scourge of pornography is just tearing this country to pieces. In all seriousness, catch this quote from the FBI spokesmonkey:

At the FBI's field office, spokeswoman Debra Weierman expressed disappointment that some of her colleagues find grist for humor in the new campaign. "The adult obscenity squad . . . stems from an attorney general mandate, funded by Congress," she said. "The personnel assigned to this initiative take the responsibility of this assignment very seriously and are dedicated to the success of this program."
As our little friend Yoda would say, "That is why you fail." Seriously, there is no such thing as "success" here. The government never succeeds at eradicating consensual "crimes" (such as prostitution, drugs, gambling, etc.) because, for one thing, it's impossible to regulate people's appetites. More importantly, do they understand the logistics involved? Um, not that I'm an expert or anything, but I'd hazard a guess that the vast majority of pr0n is consumed over the internets these days -- you know, where it's free. How can the feds possibly prevent Americans from accessing offshore pr0n servers? Oh right -- they can't.

• I'm no NASCAR fan but this is kinda cool. It's for a good cause, and really, what else are you going to do with a spare $8 million or so (as of this writing)?

Tickets to the new Georgia Aquarium for a family of four: $79.50. Funding Bernie Marcus's giant F-you to the city of Chattanooga: Priceless.

Is there any way this can work? 80 bucks for a family of four is outrageous enough but it doesn't include things like gas, parking, food & souvenirs for the kiddies, etc. Much of the money in greater ATL resides in the northern 'burbs -- does the aquarium brain trust honestly think those folks are going to cheerfully load up the SUV and shlep downtown, just for the privilege of spending that kind of money on some fish? Anyone see any problems with this scenario?

Have a sublime Wednesday. Update coming late tonight...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Modest Monday Night Linkery

A few interesting tidbits from a Monday...
  • "Oh, groovy! Smashing! Yay capitalism!"

  • This is rich. DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones (a politician) has the audacity to -- get this -- call out the Red Cross for being disorganized and inadequate. Um, Mr. Jones, that's a mighty fine black pot you've got there in that glass house of yours...

  • Tonight marked the season premiere of the cleverest show on TV -- did you watch?

  • Good grief. I waited four freaking years for Jamiroquai's new album and they're not even coming to Atlanta on their North American tour. Hello? We have a huge urban and acid jazz loving population here. Throw us a frickin' bone, will ya?
Have a grand Tuesday y'all. More later...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Site Redesign

It took all of 2.5 months for me to tire of my blog's appearance so I changed the template and plan to tinker some with the HTML. That I know very little HTML presents only minor difficulties. But things will probably change often and with scant notice -- I'm pulling a mad scientist routine so if something looks even more craptacular than before, that's why. Just bear with me during the experimental/developmental stages.

Comments/feedback/WTFs? welcome.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The 2005 NL MVP Race (Or, Mr. Bonds, Thanks for Not Playing)

It's mid-September and you baseball fans know what that means: talking heads and worthless opinions galore about who is most worthy of the game's major awards! Today's Iron Chef ingredient: NL MVP!

If you listen to baseball's anointed punditry, the NL MVP race is now a two-man proposition: St. Louis Cardinals strongman Albert Pujols and Atlanta Braves superman Andruw Jones. Looking at the key raw data, Pujols has the edge in batting avg/on base/slugging (.338/.434./.630 vs. .275/.358/.608), runs (117 vs. 89), BB (85 vs. 61), and SB (15 vs. 3). Andruw prevails in HR (49 vs. 39), RBI (124 vs. 108), and defense/position (CF vs. 1B).

Seems like a compelling case could be made for either one, huh? Maybe not. The raw numbers are nice but don't tell the whole story, which explains the evolution of new statistics that seek a better understanding of performance. Over the last 20 years or so, the sabermetrics community has devised many sophisticated metrics to objectively measure and analyze ballplayer performance. These metrics consider everything a player contributes: they take the raw data, whirl it around in a blender of complex formulas that normalize for contextual factors such as ballparks, playing time, defense, etc., and distill it all into neat, bite-sized numbers for ease of comparison.

Here are a few of the best:

Runs Created (stats courtesy of The Hardball Times):

• Pujols: 131 (2nd in NL)
• Jones: 91 (14th in NL)

Advantage: Pujols

Baseball Prospectus's VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

• Pujols: 96.5 (1st in MLB)
• Jones: 65.1 (9th in MLB)

Advantage: Pujols

Bill James's Win Shares (thanks again to The Harball Times):

• Pujols: 34 Win Shares (1st in MLB)
• Jones: 22 Win Shares (30th in MLB)

Advantage: Pujols

As a Braves fan, I hate to say this, but the facts are undeniable: Albert Pujols is your 2005 NL MVP. I'm thrilled that Andruw has finally fulfilled expectations and lived up to his tremendous potential. The Braves would not be once again peering down at their NL East foes without his monster season (he hit his 50th HR as I wrote this but the Braves still got the broom in Philly).

But Andruw's MVP candidacy is unsupported by objective data. It's bad enough his 22 Win Shares place him just 30th in MLB -- what's worse, he ranks 3rd in Win Shares...on his own team (behind Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal). If Andruw isn't MVP of his own team, how can he be the league MVP?

Andruw's had a magical season -- but not an MVP one. His performance has been great but firmly behind such players as Jeff Kent, Jason Bay, and David Wright -- and nobody is touting their MVP credentials (though in fairness, their teams' performances have doomed their chances).

Andruw will finish 2nd in the MVP voting and that's still a hell of an achievement -- just ask Pujols, who has twice (2002-2003) fallen short against Mr. Bonds. We Braves fans must hope that Andruw's 2nd place finish motivates him to even greater heights in 2006.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Opening Day!

Of what, you ask? After 4 months off, my sedentary ass gets back to roller hockey tonight. The Alpharetta Recreation & Parks Adult Roller Hockey league drops the puck on the fall season at 7:30 tonight with Bull Moose Party taking on MD 20/20. My team, the Rolling Bones, squares off against the Large Farvas at 8:30.

Kudos to league commish Kevin McDonald for setting up a cool website with seasonal and career stat spreadsheets. Your humble host, in case you were wondering, has produced the following stat line over the past year: 22 games, 5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points, 8 penalty minutes, and fittingly, 0 game winning goals. Not great but respectable for a defenseman who skates like a monkey on quaaludes.

Attendance typically hovers between 2 - 6 (depending on the temperature -- it's an outdoor rink). Feel free to come on out and boo yours truly; clandestine drinking in the stands is encouraged and unintentional comedy is often present. Fun for the whole family!

No Criminal Charges in Death of Fan After World Series

Wonderful. More examples of the state exonerating itself for murder. Some of you may remember the tragic tale of Victoria Snelgrove: she was the 21-year old Emerson College student "shot in the eye socket by a pepper-spray pellet outside Fenway Park on October 21."

From the ESPN article:

"There is no evidence that any officer on Lansdowne Street acted with any intent to commit a crime," Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said at a news conference attended by Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole.

Um, I'm not a lawyer, but when you don't intend to commit a crime but still kill someone by accident, isn't that called...manslaughter? That's still a crime, right?

What would happen to you or I if we randomly fired pepper-spray pellets into a crowd during a rowdy celebration, and someone died?

And why are representatives of the state above the law?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Government in a Nutshell

Since its inception in early July, this blog has been about "Libertarianism, sports, pop culture and random bits of virtual insanity," but the truth is that the content has evolved somewhat differently. If one theme has consistently dominated the discourse here, it's the desire to debunk bad ideas, and replace them with a new way of thinking about issues. I know that sounds really pompous and presumptuous but our most important weapon - critical thinking - in the battle against bad ideas is in short supply these days. Whatever small role I can play, even if it's just blogging in the wilderness, is better than doing nothing.

The general assumption that government is a necessary evil, that it's inefficient but on balance more positive than negative, is the one idea I'm working hardest to dispel. Most of you disagree with me and I'm not trying to change any minds -- but I am trying to shake faith in the institution, one depressing story at a time.

Does this story make anyone feel better about the power wielded by local police officers? How about their judgment in using it?

And this is government in a nutshell -- it doesn't matter how old you are or the reasons why: do what we say or we'll harm you. Submit or be destroyed. That's government.