Archive for October, 2014

Now There’s Proof

imagesCollege football fans have long complained that media coverage of the sport is biased toward the SEC (Southeastern Conference).  Pundits have dismissed such claims as poppycock at best and sour grapes at worst.

But now a Harvard dude named Austin Tymins has used some fancy math to prove that press coverage is indeed weighted toward the SEC.  You can check it out at his site:  http://harvardsportsanalysis.org/2014/10/conference-bias-in-college-football.

What he found, in short, is that “being in any conference besides the SEC will lead to a worse ranking in the AP Poll.”  AP stands for “Associated Press,” whose poll, along with the coaches’ poll, was the last word in weekly rankings of college football teams until this year, when a new system was put in place.  In Tymins’ chart the SEC scores -.349, which means that its poll rankings have a less than expected probability given the quality of its teams’ performances.  That is, SEC poll rankings were consistently too high over the period for which Tymins had reliable data.

The next nearest conference is the PAC-12, whose ranking is a whopping 1.150.  That is to say, PAC-12 teams, such as Arizona State, performed better on most statistical measures of football excellence than the AP poll suggested they do.

But Tymins didn’t stop there.  He also calculated the individual teams whose performance is most consistently underrated by pundits.  Even though he undertook this project because he suspected that his favorite team–Arizona State–was generally less valued that it should be, he was nonetheless surprised to find that ASU’s performance is underrated more than that of any other team.

And guess which team, after ASU, received the most discriminatory coverage?


So now when I bitch about ESPN’s non-coverage of Nebraska, I’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that my grapes are not only not sour, they are borne out by the math.


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gop-halloween-came-early-morinI could have entitled this post “Same as it ever was.”  Once more the Rethugs are resorting to fear in order to win an election.  The only thing that’s different this time, I guess, is that they are making little effort to hide the tactic.

Fear tends to make people conservative.  Which, if you think about it, is a stupid reaction to danger.  The smart reaction to danger is to run like hell, right?  Americans were smart enough to run away from Sharron Angle;  let’s hope that they are smart enough to run away from Mitch McConnell, Joni Ernst, and the rest of the right-wing crazies who hope in the next couple of years to complete the sale of our country to the very rich.

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Who Knew?

Nf8.qrWWByMOVvnTuagCogWell, just about everybody I hung with in 1970 knew that Nixon was a traitor.  Only now, though, has this knowledge become official.  You can find accounts of this startling discovery all over the web this week–try The Guardian for a trustworthy reading, if you like.

Current pundits seem surprised by the news.  Hunh.  Seems that the publication of of Nixon’s complete papers has removed all ground for doubt.  He did indeed conspire with the South Vietnamese to end the ongoing peace talks in 1968, just as they were about to succeed.  The talks had begun, of course, because LBJ knew that his candidate for president–Hubert Humphrey–could only win that election if peace were secured in Vietnam.  And Nixon knew that if the war did not end, he would win the presidency, ironically, because people were hoping that he could accomplish what LBJ apparently could not. And so the war continued for another six years, killing hundreds of thousands of people and further decimating the economy and ecology of Vietnam.

That Nixon could live with this burden never ceases to amaze me.  Lyndon Johnson lived for only four years after leaving the presidency, and by all accounts he was a ruined man (see, for example, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/lbjs-last-interview/).  Surely LBJ knew that Nixon had screwed him by cutting a deal with the south Vietnamese.  I can’t decide whether it redounds to Johnson’s credit, or not, that he never said as much publicly.  Had he divulged this information, sure, he would have sounded like a sore loser spitting sour grapes.  On the other hand, provision of this information to the American people might have shortened the war;  it would also have hastened what looks in hindsight to have been inevitable–Nixon’s impeachment for one of what we now know were his many crimes.

The people with whom I hung out in those days suspected Nixon’s treachery because the timing was just too damn suspicious.  Nowadays the people I knew then would be called dirty fucking hippies, I suppose, although we were not hippies, not even close.  We were just young lefties who smoked dope and who tried to get the Democrats to nominate Gene McCarthy.  We got that nonsense thoroughly beaten out of us in Chicago by LBJ’s hired thug, Richard M. Daley and his cops.

I sometimes wonder how it can take so long for official versions of history, especially in the case of dirty history, to emerge.  No one I knew in 1976 doubted that Reagan had cut a deal with the Iranians to release American hostages on the eve of his own election against Jimmy Carter;  nor did anyone I knew later on doubt that Reagan’s people were running guns to conservative thugs in Nicaragua.  And yet it is still quite difficult to get these claims heard publicly–see, for example, the angry reception of Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge, which convincingly tracks the unsavory connections between Nixon and Reagan.

No one I knew in 2002 doubted that Dick Cheney trumped up the story about fictitious WMDs in Iraq.  This lie was unmasked sooner than the others I’ve mentioned, but not soon enough to stop the killing.  And its effects continue today–without Saddam Hussein or some other strong man, Iraq is a sitting duck for the likes of ISIS.

I’m regarded as a conspiracy theorist because I do not accept that John Kennedy was killed by a lone gunman, and I don’t believe that Cheney is innocent of complicity in the attacks on the World Trade Center.  These beliefs are still regarded as “conspiratorial,” unlike those I review above, because they have not yet been established as officially true.  So, ironically, if history is any guide, all I have to do is wait.

What was it Mulder used to say?  Oh yeah:  “The truth is out there.”

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The Walking Dead

Walking_Dead_Season_5_CastThe cast of season 5 of The Walking Dead

Desert got me hooked on this show.  I listened to her rave about it for a couple of seasons but remained skeptical.  Zombies?  You have to be kidding.  In my curmudgeonly opinion, nobody had made a decent zombie film since 1968, when George Romero laid Night of the Living Dead on an unsuspecting public.  Now there’s a scary film.  With no special effects.

Last summer AMC ran a retrospective of Walking Dead episodes aired so far.  At Desert’s urging, I tuned in–and out–and in again.  I wasn’t impressed at first, thinking that the show’s popular appeal must lay mostly in the admittedly fantastic makeup along with the gore that accompanied encounters between the living and the dead.

But as I watched a bit longer I began to see the feature that attracts folks who see past blood and gore.  TWD is about humanity’s response to moral conundrums.  What choices do people make when their lives sometimes depend on taking the lives of others?  What do people do when their friends are endangering each other or the group?  What does a leader do about people who just don’t get that the world has changed, perhaps forever?  And more broadly, is there any way to preserve virtues like generosity and love in a climate where more than half the population wants to eat you?

Such heavy questions are rendered suitable for teevee only because they are delivered by a set of attractive people whose relationships to their situation, and to each other, develop in interesting ways over time.  The talented cast ensures that the lead characters don’t fall into caricature.  This can’t be said of some of the minor characters, though.  Eugene the mulleted scientist, for example, is most obviously used for laughs–or what passes for humor in this show’s bleak milieu.  OTOH, he serves a plot point introduced in the first season–that the disease affecting the dead was developed on purpose.

Now there’s a truly scary thought.


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Luck of the Draw

51--AptS6GLRoll, Jordan, Roll is Eugene Genovese’s masterwork.  It was published in 1972 but was written during the midcentury (had to get that in for you, Trep).  When it appeared, Genovese’s emphasis on the lives led by actual slaves in the antebellum south had an electrifying effect on scholarship about slavery, and it has influenced historians ever since.  In addition, it is a fascinating read because of the level of detail made possible by Genovese’s willingness to pore through tons of crumbling old records and slaves’ accounts of their lives.

I’ve wanted to own a copy this book for a long time.  It’s big–nearly 800 pages–and for a read that long I like a book that I can set aside from time to time without having to check with a library to see when they want it back.  I can also write in my own books, and check references at my leisure, and so on.  Nor did I want to buy a paperback copy with Amazon’s lurid cover–above–at almost three times the price asked by the original publisher.  So I’ve looked for a used copy every time I visit Bookman’s or Half-price Books.

Yesterday, though, the Invisible Pink Unicorn must have been watching out for me because, as I walked by my local library’s shelf of donated books for sale, there sat a hardcover copy of Roll, complete with its paper slipcover.   I picked the book up, trying not to fondle it, and looked through the pages to insure the text was complete.  Also smelling it in case it had mildew.  Next I looked for the price on the little sticker the library puts in the front of their books for sale.

75 cents.  Seventy-five cents!  Wow!  I hastily deposited three quarters into the honesty box, tucked the book under my arm and walked furtively out the door, in case a librarian suddenly realized that I had just committed highway robbery.  I started reading when I got home and stopped only when my eyes got tired.

Hoo hah!



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gandalfI’m replaying Baldur’s Gate.  While I was looking for portraits to use for my main character, I discovered that fantasy fans love them some memes, especially crossover referents to other fiction.  Here are a few.

bgcatHere is Minsc from Baldur’s Gate, whose best friend is a hamster named Boo:

minsc-meme-generator-still-a-better-love-story-than-twilight-4ffc4fThat’s true too, Bill.

Youknownothingishalltroll_ce050b53d92061a5d236106227b75f7d_zpsc092e072This is Yoshimo, a popular hero from BG2 with Rose from Game of Thrones.

Of course Sean Bean belongs in any post about fantasy memes:


5236ffc77d7ea9eb2be374ed494baaaae0cd4fb4be9e7869cebf131dbd044615Here Boromir is tied to a popular joke about Skyrim.

Skyrim-Meme-SpockSpock as well.

i-use-khajiit-in-skyrim-seems-legitAnd finally, also from Skyrim, a couple of cat memes.

8I love me some internets.


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Saved By Politics

25-1s054-jetsside1-300x300For the last couple of months I’ve found it nearly impossible to watch television news.  Even on the so-called “liberal” channel.  Broadcasters lurched from crisis to crisis–screeching about the loss of the Malaysian plane, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, kids crossing the border, floods and fires, ISIS, lapses in the secret service, ebola. Woven throughout were stories about Obama’s ineptitude in foreign policy, which, as we all know, are actually about his continuing failure to be a white guy.

Be afraid!  Be very afraid!  The world is falling apart and there is no one at the helm!

I’m too old to waste my time with such shit.  So in September I stopped watching the news and turned my teevee-watching to something less stressful–football coverage.  Stories about UCLA’s quarterback issues or Boise State’s new uniforms may be boring, but at least they don’t raise the blood pressure.

On Monday, though, I tuned into Chris Matthews’ show, intending to turn it off at the first mention of ebola or Vladimir Putin.  Lo and behold, Chris was back in traditional territory, covering the US Senate race–one thing he is good at.  I switched to other news channels and discovered that they, too, have returned to politics.  The reason?  It seems there is now a decent chance that the Democrats may hold on to the Senate.

At last!  Some good news!  Unless, of course, you are a Rethuglican.

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