Monthly Archives: January 2014

Proposed corollaries to Godwin’s Law

Godwin’s law

Syllabification: God·win’s Law

noun

humorous the theory that as an online discussion progresses, it becomes inevitable that someone or something will eventually be compared to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis, regardless of the original topic:

(from the Oxford English Dictionary)

As per the Wikipedia article:

“There are many corollaries to Godwin’s law, some considered more canonical (by being adopted by Godwin himself)than others.For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress”

I’d like to propose a couple more corollaries that I think fit the spirit of the originals.

1. Invoking “9/11” as a justification for any action has the same effect as invoking “Hitler” or “Nazis:” The thread is over and the person who invoked “9/11” has automatically lost the debate. See, of example, President Obama’s speech on the NSA. The President cites 9/11 as a justification for secret, indiscriminate, probably illegal programs that gather data on all Americans. Because he cited 9/11, his argument fails and the discussion is over.

2. Stating that your opponents hate “X” where “X” is a thing or concept that no one could possibly hate renders your argument invalid. This is a special case of the classic straw-man argument, but I think it deserves a slot as a corollary to Godwin’s Law because it’s a last-gasp-I’m-completely-out-of-ideas attempt to rescue a failed assertion. Here’s a great example from Rush Limbaugh:

“The Democrat Party here doesn’t do that. They don’t shoot people on sight and there are not political prisons, but the same attitude — the same fear of freedom — exists.

Liberty is something they’ve gotta tamp down.

They can’t co-exist with free people. It can’t happen.

There can’t be liberalism in that way.”

There are days I swear I wonder how he summons the brain power to continue breathing, but I guess there’s something in that skull that loves the sound of it’s own voice so much that it operates at a sub-conscious level. If you want to read the whole piece, it’s really special. Obama’s speech was full of untruths, but Limbaugh? He’s not just dishonest; he’s literally nonsensical.

Maybe there ought to be a corollary that declares any description of Limbaugh as “dishonest” or “nonsensical” utterly redundant, eh?

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A Quick One (While He’s Away)

I apologize for neglecting this space of late. I’ve been inhabiting another persona for some paying work that’s left less time than I need to really occupy this headspace. I have some interesting things queued up, but that doesn’t mean I’ll execute ’em well, so…watch this space.

I’ve found that the smartphone is an invaluable eavesdropping tool for the morning commute. By staring at the screen,I give the impression that I’m not listening intently to the conversations going on nearby. Once I’ve cleared my RSS feed, other people’s conversations are almost always more interesting than what Google thinks I want to read about.

Based on this morning’s ride, I feel like I can safely say that nothing makes a person sound “old” like complaining about the lack of meaning in current popular music. Yes, there are lot of stupid songs out there. But, ya know, there have been stupid songs on the pop charts since the inception of the pop charts. In 1955, two different versions of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” were among the top 25 song.

What sticks with me about this particular complaint is that I know parents in 1955 were saying the same thing about “Rock Around The Clock” that this guy was saying about about his daughter’s music. I really don’t understand how you forget that.

 

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MLK Day + 1

I can’t really explain why, but it would have felt disrespectful to post this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so I held off a day.

This account of Dr. King’s impact on the black community has been widely reposted, but it’s well worth reading (or re-reading). The TL/DR is that Dr. King didn’t fight against separate water fountains and sitting on the back of the bus, he fought against murder, terrorism, and the institutional corruption of justice. But seriously, read the whole thing, and then think on the importance of Martin Luther King R. Day.

Dr. King’s dream, of course, hasn’t been “achieved.” I don’t think it’s the sort of dream that has an end point where you can say it’s come true. It’s the kind of dream that will always have to be defended, and more so in some times than others.

I think  it’s safe to say that this is one of those time. I’ll come back to this study, entitled “Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing” in greater detail at a later date, but the point I want to call your attention to is that whites now believe that the game is stacked against them. It’s a way of looking at life that is so alien to me that my mind convulses at trying to understand it. The take-away is that the people in this study believe that, if non-whites get more rights, then by definition, whites have fewer. I would be tempted to dismiss this out of hand if not for the fact that this way of thought seems to actually be gaining ground in the paler parts of the U.S.A. (also, I’ve spent a lot of time on Free Republic, so I get to see this mindset in action too often to believe it doesn’t exist).

By and large, I don’t believe that politicians are stupid. I do think they pander to the Lowest Common Denominator and say incredibly stupid things, but in most cases, it’s a ploy. I’ll make an exception in the case of Sarah Palin, who not only doesn’t seem to understand what Dr. King was up against, but she believes that she has the authority to lecture President Obama on the meaning of the doctor’s legacy. It’s an incredibly stupid thing to say, and, while I hate to engage in mind reading, I think there’s a very real chance she actually believes the stuff she says.

I don’t think Palin speaks for all whites or all conservatives, but she’s very popular with a measurable subset of both groups for reasons that escape me. I linked her comment to illustrate that there are people, influential people, who believe that as a society we’ve gone far enough in trying to bring about equality. In fact, there are those who believe we’ve gone too far.

So, on this day after the day commemorating the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, I think we should take an honest look at where we are and how much work there is to do if we truly want to honor Dr. King.

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The American Baseball Hall of Fame (part 3 of 3)

Part 3:

In today’s third and final installment, I’d like to take a look at the players who should be in the Hall of Fame, but aren’t. Job one is figure out a way to determine who meets the standards of the hall, which is harder than it sounds. The guidelines for voting are extremely vague to the point of being useless as a guide. The de facto definition of a Hall of Fame player is “whoever the voters believe should be in the Hall of Fame.”

Fortunately, there are reasonably objective ways to measure which player is qualified by looking at who has and has not been elected. Several baseball statisticians have built tools to measure this, which is a good thing, because I’ve no interest in recreating this particular wheel. For our discussion today, we’re going to use Jay Jaffe’s JAWS method. It’s a method that averages the total value of a player’s career with their best seven year. In both cases, the number is expressed as “wins above replacement”, meaning the number of wins the player in question was worth above the sort of player who could be freely acquired at essentially no cost. This takes into account both the quality and quantity sides of the equation. Click the link if you’d like to see the particulars.

For each position on the baseball diamond, there’s an average JAWS score for the players who are in the Hall of Fame. The players that we’re going to look at are the guys who have JAWS scores above the average Hall of Fame player at their position, is eligible, and who have not been elected. Every one of these players is more than qualified based on the standards of Hall of Fame voters. Electing them to the hall would actually raise the standards of the institution.

Ok, with all of that out of the way, let’s take a look.

Catchers (JAWS avg.: 43.1)

Mike Piazza (51.1): Piazza may be the best-hitting catcher of all time and his defensive reputation was probably too influenced by his mediocre throwing ability. He clearly should be in, but as a steroid-era guy, you don’t know how the voters will react.

First Base (JAWS avg.: 54.0)

Jeff Bagwell (63.8): Bagwell’s probably a little underrated due to spending half of his career playing in the Astrodome. His bat alone should be enough to get him elected, but he was also a brilliant defender and baserunner. He’ll probably suffer more from steroid suspicions than most players because he was relatively short for a power hitter.

Rafael Palmeiro (55.3): Raffy has immaculate credentials but his steroid testimony will probably prevent his election.

Second Base (JAWS avg.: 57.0)

Bobby Grich  (58.6): How you view Grich as a candidate depends on how much you appreciate his ability to get on base and hit for power, as well as his outstanding defense. He and Mark Belanger anchored one of the greatest defensive teams of all time. Unlike Belanger, Grich was also the best hitter in the league at his position.

Third Base (JAWS avg. 55.0)

Graig Nettles (55.1): Nettles played superior defense and was underrated with the stick. He’s not an overwhelming candidate, but he does seem to have done enough to earn the honor.

Shortstop (JAWS avg.: 51.9)

Bill Dahlen (57.7): A deadball era star from the early days of the National League, Dahlen’s  the validity of Dahlen’s case rests primarily on how reliable our evaluation of 19th century defensive statistic is. He was unquestionably a fine player, but I have no opinion as to his worthiness of the Hall of Fame.

Alan Trammell (57.5): Trammell, on the other hand, seems like he should have a solid case. He was never the best defender in the league, but he was very good and he was clearly the best hitting shortstop of his time.

Left Field (JAWS avg: 53.2)

Barry Bonds (117.6): A Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds is silly.

Tim Raines (55.6): Raines was the Clyde Drexler of baseball. He was one of the greatest leadoff hitters the game had ever seen, but he had the misfortune of playing at the same time as the greatest (Rickey Henderson). Raines played for a team that no longer exists, which can’t be helping his case, but he should be in the Hall.

Center Field (JAWS avg. 57.2)

Strangely enough, center field has the highest JAWS average of any hitting position. There are no eligible center fielders with JAWS score above the HoF average who have not been elected.

Right Field (JAWS avg.: 58.1)

Larry Walker (58.6): How much do you adjust for the fact that he was hitting in the best hitter’s park in baseball? Walker was a very good hitter for a long time, and he was top notch in the field as well.

Pitchers (JAWS avg. 61.4)

Roger Clemens (103.3): See “Barry Bonds” above.

Jim McCormick (72.0): A big Scot who won 265 games in only ten years, primarily in the 1880’s. I have no clue if he belongs in the hall.

Curt Schilling (64.4): He got a late start as a starter, but made up for lost time in a hurry. Even though Yankee pitchers get all the press, Schilling is probably the greatest post-season starting pitcher we’ve ever seen.

Mike Mussina (63.8): Moose was a consummate professional, as smart as he was talented. If not for the ill-fated Glenn Davis trade, he and Schilling could have been teammates for a long time.

Charlie Buffinton (61.9) and Tommy Bond (61.8): Two more guys from the 1870’s and 1880’s about who I do not feel qualified to speak.

I’ve left out relief pitchers and designated hitters because there just aren’t enough Hall of Famers at these positions to merit inclusion. Edgar Martinez should probably be in, though.

Interestingly, there are no players on this list between the 19th century guys and Bobby Grich. Every player who would qualify as an above-average Hall of Fame player from 1900-1975 is in the Hall. That makes sense, of course, but it’s still a really stark pattern when you look at it. The vast majority of the players on this list only qualified recently and will likely eventually go in or else will fail due to the taint of steroids.

This list is about to get longer. There are bags of candidates who are going to be above HoF average who are about to be eligible for election: Pudge Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez are all excellent candidates who’ll be hitting the ballots in the next few years.

Let’s revisit this in, say, five years and see how things stand. If the voting follows history, almost everyone currently on the list will be in the Hall and the new list will be dominated by the new candidates. Or, maybe the voters will continue to act as though the steroid users were morally worse than, say, the amphetamine users and continue to keep them out of the hall.  I hope not, but early returns are not promising.

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The American Baseball Hall of Fame (part 2 of 3)

Part 2:

Even though there was more controversy of the Hall of Fame voting this year than any in recent memory, the voters did elect three very good candidates. Greg Maddux, of course, is a no-brainer. He’s the kind of player people think of when they think about a hall of fame: He was very, very good for a very, very long time, and at his peak, he was unbeatable. He’s a good guy, he’s well-respected, and, of course, no one has accused him of cheating.

Tom Glavine was a very good pitching for a very long time. He’s nowhere near Maddux’s class, but that’s if we held everyone to that standard, the hall would be nigh-empty. Tom Glavine belongs in the Hall of Fame, but he’s more of a “run of the mill Hall of Famer,” which is a phrase that may make no sense but is nonetheless accurate.

Frank Thomas is the most interesting of the candidates in that he’s the first player elected to the hall who spent most of his career as a designated hitter. He’s exactly the kind of player who knocks down barriers. He was so overwhelmingly qualified as a hitter that he was able to overcome whatever bias sportswriters had against a player who offers nothing on defense. Thomas’ career was a curve-breaker in another way. Most players’ careers follow something sort of like a bell curve: They reach the majors in their early 20’s, they improve until about age 27, they stay at that peak for a few years, and then they slowly decline until they aren’t good enough to play anymore. Thomas arrived in the majors at age 22 and was immediately the best hitter in the game. It’s hard to project what a player like that will do. How much growth is left in a guy who’s already the best? The answer was: not much, but who cares? From ages 23-29, he was the 3rd best hitter in the league once, the 2nd best twice, and the best hitter in the league 4 times.

Injuries cost him the majority of three seasons in his 30’s and, while he remained a very good hitter, he was not the dominant force he’d been in his 20’s. Nonetheless, when he retired, he’d clearly been on of the greatest hitters ever to play the game and so obviously worthy of the Hall of Fame that anything but electing him on the first ballot would have been silly.

Not that there wasn’t a great deal of silliness in the balloting. The 2014 will be remembered more for who wasn’t elected than who was. None of the players whose names were associated with steroids in any way, let alone testing positive or admitting usage, came anywhere close to election. Barry Bonds, the only player who can stake a claim alongside Williams and Ruth as the game’s greatest hitter, was not elected. Roger Clemens, an even greater pitcher than Greg Maddux, was not elected. Rafael Palmeiro, one of only two players to amass 3000 hits and not win election on the first ballot, got less than 5% of the votes (a player needs 75% to be elected). Jeff Bagwell, essentially the same type of player as Frank Thomas, was not elected.

And man, what about Craig Biggio? He had one of the more unique careers out there. He came up as a catcher, he moved to center field, and wound up at second base. He could lead off, in which case he’d get on base and steal bases. He could bat in the middle of the lineup, in which case he hit home runs. He could do anything he was asked to do, and he did it well. Oh, and he’s the other guy who got 3000 hits who wasn’t elected on the first ballot. And, he was, as far as we know, clean.

He missed election by 2 votes. Two idiots who cast “protest” ballots that were either blank or listed only a very marginal candidate like Jack Morris kept Biggio out of the hall. Biggio’s not the slam-dunk candidate that guys like Bonds and Clemens are, but he’s comfortably above the line. Keeping him out of the hall just looks petty and ridiculous.

I’ve almost lost hope for guys like Tim Raines and Alan Trammell, both of whom should be in the Hall of Fame, but don’t look like they’re going to make it. Let me clarify here: When I say “should,” I mean that these men, over the course of their career, accomplished things that have invariably resulted in election to the Hall of Fame. I happen to believe both players belong, but that’s not a terribly convincing position. On the other hand, by the de facto standards established by the voters, there’s no precedent for keeping them out. By objective-ish standards, they should be elected. More on that next post…

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The American Baseball Hall of Fame (part 1 of 3)

Hi again.

I’ve been kind of avoiding this space because I have this enormous backlog of subjects about which I’d like to write, but they’re all…well, they’re all horrible. There’s nothing remotely positive in the whole stack. I don’t feel like being cynical, nasty or just plain negative right now, so I’m keeping these items for a rainy day, but I’ve been struggling to find something that I actually want to write about.

This being January, I’ve determined that “baseball” is the perfect subject. You may or may not be aware that the voting for the 2014 Hall of Fame inductees took place yesterday. Three players, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine, were elected to the hall. All three are overwhelmingly qualified candidates and their induction actually raises the standards of the hall a little bit (more on this in part 3). There were, however, probably half a dozen players who would normally waltz right into the hall who weren’t elected.

The reason for the omissions is this: steroids. The baseball writers, as a group, have decided that they’re not going to elect in players who are tainted with even a whiff of a hint of possible usage. Many of these writers have been very vocal about leaving off candidates like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and even, for reasons that escape me, Craig Biggio, citing the Hall of Fame’s “integrity clause.”

I’ve yet to hear a single explanation for these votes that makes any damn sense.

Ok, let’s start with the obvious: Using steroids was cheating. It was against the law and against the rules of baseball. No one disputes this. So why am I struggling to understand leaving the steroid-tainted players off of Hall of Fame ballots? First of all, there’s no precedent for it. Baseball has always celebrated players who cheat to try to win. King Kelly, back in the 1800’s, was famous for his cheating. He’s in the hall. Gaylord Perry is known for cheating more than anything else he did, and he’s in the hall. There are literally zero examples of players who deserve to be in the hall based on their records who weren’t elected because they broke the rules trying to win (trying to lose is a very different animal).

Those are small, individual examples. In the 60’s and 70’s, baseball was awash in the systemic use of performance enhancing drugs. Players semi-openly took as many amphetamines as they could get their hands on. The clubs and the league were fully aware of this. In most respects, this was exactly the same as we saw with steroids in the 90’s and 00’s. Using speed was both against the law and against the rules of baseball. No players were denied entry into the Hall of Fame for amphetamine use.

Now, one could say that speed isn’t anywhere near as effective as steroids. That statement might be true, even though there’s not a great deal of compelling evidence to that effect. But, let’s pretend that it’s an ironclad fact. If that’s the case, so what? If the issue is “integrity,” I’m not convinced that cheating effectively has any more or less integrity than “cheating ineffectively.” Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

I think the fact that the teams, the league, and the union were in on it counts, too. The entire game, for better for worse, was involved. Punishing the individuals who cheated, and who were good enough to warrant consideration for the Hall of Fame, and no one else seems unduly selective to me. The teams and the leagues were still allowed to benefit. No games were forfeited, no tickets refunded. The players who used steroids but didn’t have great careers, go unpunished. Punishing Barry Bonds for all of that doesn’t strike me as “right.”

Of course, precedent doesn’t have to be binding. A sportswriter is perfectly within his rights to say “Well, I’m drawing a line right here. I can’t do anything about the cheaters who are already in the hall, but no more. Anyone accused of cheating in any way is not going to get my vote.” Surprisingly, I haven’t heard this argument. Or maybe it’s not so surprising, because this argument essentially says that all of the players from the 60’s and 70’s who are in the hall shouldn’t be there. I haven’t heard anyone say this

Look, I do not like the cheating. I don’t think it does the game any good at all. But, I’m also not going to pretend that it hasn’t always happened, that cheaters have always been found worthy of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, and that the entire league hasn’t been encouraging this problem. Given all of that, I can’t think of a good, rational reason why players from the steroid era should be held to different standards than literally every other player in baseball history.

Ok, with that out of the way, we’ll talk about the players on the this year’s ballot in part two, and then we’ll look at all of the “overqualified” players who aren’t yet in the hall in part three.

 

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Quiet weirdness

(or “Another Thrilling Entry That Dates Me!”)

Do any of you remember the very, very late night TV talk show “Tomorrow With Tom Snyder“? I don’t think of it very often, but when I do, it’s with fondness mixed with a little “why do I remember this fondly?”  It had a very distinctive feel to it. It was funny, yes, but more in a strange way than a “joke –> punchline” sense. I was kind of slow, it was kind of quiet, and it had a sense of smallness to it that I associate with very late night television.

I bring this up because, while it’s taken me a while to realize this, I get that same set of feeling watching IFC’s “Comedy Bang Bang.” I like the skits just fine, but what really tickles me are the very quiet, very off-beat, and frequently bizarre interview segments. Scott Aukerman has the bright eyes and gentle manner of the serial-killer-next-door and Reggie Watts is a perfect foil for him with his deadpan sidekick delivery. The guests have been uniformly well-chosen to be able to fit the pace and voice of the show. I’ll admit to not “getting” it at first, but hearing the opening music to Comedy Bang Bang makes me grin every time now.

I’ve written at length about the wonderful “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast, which is another pea in the quietly weird pod. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s best described as “NPR-meets-Lovecraft.” There’s nothing frenetic about it; it’s the cadence of a Kai Ryssdal-esque host describing the goings-on in sleepy little Night Vale…and I’ll leave it at that.

As I write this, I’m imagining a common thread here. The Tomorrow Show had a very AM radio feel to it. Comedy Bang Bang started as a podcast, and Night Vale is one. You could close your eyes during all three of them and not miss a thing.* Come to think of it, I think I “watched” the Tomorrow show that way most of the time. 

Good radio talk shows have to have clever hosts and guests, people who can think on the fly and be interesting and flexible enough to follow where the other person is going. There’s no safety net, no visual gags, no frenetic mannerisms to fall back on. Good radio talk shows have no where to hide, even when they’re on television. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy ’em.

 

 

 

 

*Unless you’re driving. That would be bad.

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Only one new post on my RSS feed

Everyone must still be on holiday time, which is something that cheers me a little. I say this in spite of the fact that I’m back in the office trying to jar my brain back into work mode.

Three pots of coffee and a missed deadline and thinks should be back to normal in no time.

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Happy New Year

I know, I know, it’s just another day on the calendar but it’s an excuse to trot out my favorite new year song (and no, it’s nothing to do with U2*):

* apologies to the Analog Kid, who reminded me that it was time to post a new year song.

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The Most-Admired People in 2013 (by Americans)

Instead of ending the year with a list, I thought it’d be fun to start with one. It’s either that or I was too lazy to comment on this when it came out and I’ve spent way too much time thinking about it. Anyway, Gallup does an annual poll of The Most Admired Man and Woman by Americans. If you don’t feel like clicking the link, the winners were Barack Obama(16%) and Hillary Clinton (15%). People receiving more than 1% of the vote were:

Men:

  1. Barack Obama (16%)
  2. George W. Bush (4%)
  3. Pope Francis (4%)
  4. Bill Clinton (2%)
  5. Rev. Billy Graham (2%)

Women:

  1. Hillary Clinton (15%)
  2. Oprah Winfrey (6%)
  3. Michelle Obama (5%)
  4. Sarah Palin (5%)
  5. Malala Yousafzai (2%)
  6. Condoleezza Rice (2%)

Hrmph. I am, it appears, wildly out of step with the American public. I figure, if I don’t like their choices, I should probably offer some alternatives. So, I’ve been thinking about it and trying to come up with my own list. It’s a work in progress, but here’s what I’ve got so far (in no particular order):

Men:

  • Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Edward Snowden
  • The Dalai Lama
  • Stephen Colbert
  • Bill Gates

Women:

  • Amanda Palmer
  • Dilma Rousseff
  • Sarah Vowell
  • Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Elizabeth Warren

Essentially, I’m looking for people who are trying to move the world forward, make it better, smarter, more humane….stuff like that. It’s not a perfect list by any means, but it’s a personal list. They’re all people I admire, whether or not they’re, by any objective means, the most admirable people

There are a stack of folks on the periphery of my list: P.Z. Myers? Laurie Penny? Johns Linnell and Flansburgh? Neil Gaiman? Stephen Wolfram? Ted Leo? Jon Stewart? Any other suggestions?

Happy new year, everyone!

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