Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Friday, May 28, 2004

Actually, the correct Wil Wheaton link is here. However, the site seems to be down. But don't give up. You need to read Wil's blog daily. On an unintentional comedy scale from Mother Teresa to John Ashcroft, it rates at least a Samuel L. Jackson.

A great big Raul Groom welcome to all 11 people that visited the blog today. If, indeed, it was 11 separate people and not one person refreshing the site 11 times. I wonder how many of you are just my friends who I browbeat into reading my columns. Probably a lot of you, huh? All of you? Crap.

Anyway, if there's anyone here who doesn't know me personally, go ahead and drop me some hate mail at raulgroom@yahoo.com. I just need to know that someone, somewhere is reading this blog. Please.

Wow, I've sunk to Wil Wheaton levels. Seriously, check out the part where he's begging the B-list celebrity hockey team to let him play with them again. You could make this shit up, but thanks to Wil, you don't have to.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The press gaggle yesterday was extremely interesting on a number of levels. One, it's amazing to see the degree to which the press is completely paralyzed by terror alerts. With all the credence given to the essentially illogical idea that exposing the war crimes of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib (war crimes which, in large part, the rest of the world already knew about) endangers U.S. troops, here's an "unintended consequences" indictment that I think is a little more serious.

By simply dropping every single other story whenever the White House puts out a major terror alert, isn't the press corps encouraging the White House to use the terror alert system and DHS as a tool to deflect public attention from the Bush administration. Isn't that behavior basically telling the White House "we're going to hammer you on every issue, unless there's a terrorist alert in which case we'll go back to being docile?"

I'm not saying these are the types of things that should primarily inform the behavior of the press corps. But if we expect them to factor in the reactions of people thousands of miles away whom they do not know, perhaps it's not too much to ask them to consider the effect on members of the White House communications department, whose natural tendencies we know all too well.

But the other thing that's striking is how the White House (and specifically McClellan) is really squandering the opportunity to make up some lost PR ground here because it can't break out of this constant mode of obfuscation and evasion, even though on this specific issue (the 7 alleged terrorists allegedly in the country allegedly planning an alleged terrorist attack) there's nothing really to evade, as the White House hasn't bollocksed anything up.

Still, McClellan makes it through an entire PB of softball "terror" questions (plus one question about NATO in Iraq, which McClellan dodges) without really saying anything. Isn't this prime PR time, to be generating lots of reassuring sound bytes about how our tireless leaders are protecting us from horrible bad guys? The supposed "straight shooters" in the White House can't get out of spin mode, even to help themselves politically. Truly an administration of pathological liars.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Testing something...

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

I don't usually write about sports here, but today I noticed a very strange column in the New York Times by Michael Coffee. Coffee, an expert on perfect games, says that pitchers are more likely to pitch perfect games now than they once were because they can make millions and millions of dollars for being awesome.

This strikes me as lunacy on several levels. Far be it from me to dispute Coffee's knowledge of the game, but there is an element of Thomas Frank's "Free Market Faith" here. It's a good example of what easy propaganda does - it allows us to arrive at an emotionally satisfying (for someone who believes in the power of greed to produce greatness - a common faith in the U.S.) conclusion when we should probably keep looking deeper.

Coffee's argument, to me, makes one obvious mistake - it looks at a perfect game as a pure feat of pitching. Perfect games are incredibly rare precisely because this is not the case. For a perfect game to happen, several factors must converge. Obviously, the pitcher must have his very best stuff and near-perfect control. But that's true, really, for almost any complete-game shutout. The other factors are either completely or mostly beyond the pitchers control. First, the fielders must all be perfect as well. A runner reaching on an error spoils a perfect game, and there is absolutely nothing the pitcher can do about it. Second, almost no pitcher has such perfect control that he can get through an entire game without running the count to three balls at least a couple of times. Once the count gets to three balls, any pitch - even one right down the middle - has some chance of being called ball four. Umpires are human, and ball/strike calls are among the most difficult calls to make in sports (the reason that it is illegal to argue a ball/strike call is because if you could do it, games would last five hours, and the umpire would routinely be in a position to defend a call that was quite obviously wrong.)

The last factor is the "bloop factor" - many no-hitters are spoiled by hits that occur not because a batter finally made good contact, but because he happened to pop the ball up to a spot on the field where no one happened to be close enough to make a play.

Coffee's answer, no doubt, would be that better pitching merely creates more opportunities for the other factors to converge and create a perfect game. However, to determine whether this is the case, we need some more information. Are there more no-hitters now than before (a no-hitter being dependent only on the first and last factors and not the fielding or the ball/strike calls)? Coffee doesn't say. In fact, there are - about 50% more. Not as striking a discrepancy, but still, they do occur at a slightly higher rate now. But why? Here's a thought - maybe we should look at how many GAMES were played betweeen 1901 and 1960, and compare it to 1961-2004 on THAT basis. That would be something called CONTEXT, the enemy of propaganda.

In fact, the period that Coffee picks to analyze makes it downright humorous that he didn't think to include this piece of analysis - baseball first expanded in 1961. Before that year, there were and always had been (in the 20th century) only 16 teams. Also, in 1961 the season was extended to 162 games (from 154.) So between 1901 and 1960, there were about 140,000 major league games played. Between 1961 and 2004, over 176,000 were played. So one would expect there to be about 25% more ho-hitters thrown since 1961; in fact, there have been about 50% more. That's an interesting difference, and one that maybe merits some exploration, but the difference between the number of no-hitters you would have expected based on the rate at which they were occurring in the beginning of the 21st century and the number that actually happened is really quite small.

Also, picking pre-1961 and post-1961 as the cutoff time really doesn't make sense from a money perspective. Player salaries didn't really take off until the 1980's. Remember Jim Rice's big contract? So if Coffee's hypotehsis is correct, we should see a lot more no-hitters since 1980, as players are so much more motivated by the promise of enormous contracts. Whoops - between 1961 and 1980, there were 37 NL no-no's, and between 1981 and 2001 there were only 19 (I ignore the AL because I feel like it, but it doesn't change the overall picture much.) In fact, the 1960's account for by far the most no-hitters in a decade - 22 in the NL, as compared to 15 in the 1970's and a measly 7 in the 80's.

Why does all of this matter so much? It doesn't, really, except to demonstrate that if you sing a song that people like to hear - in this case, money makes the world go round - you don't have to put much time into supporting your argument. Imagine if Coffee had decided that the reason for more perfect games since 1961 was that in the 1960's, pitchers were doing a lot more acid, and that made them better pitchers. I doubt the Times would have rushed to print such a thing on such flimsy evidence as I have provided here, but as you can see, that hypothesis has a lot better empirical traction than Coffee's.

The most obvious (and I would say probably the correct) hypothesis is that pitchers throw more no-hitters (and therefore more percect games) when the overall hitting talent in the league is low. The more teams that lack truly "tough outs," the more no-hitters you're going to have. That's supported by the fact that in the 1960's and 1970's, batting averages were way down, and now they are back up again. Unfortunately for me, that analysis doesn't support any popular delusions, so it's unlikely to make it into a major U.S. paper.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

TalkingPointsMemo has a bit on Safire today a little bit like the treatment I gave David Brooks. He's right, of course, although I don't think Safire is anywhere near as bad as Brooks. We can agree to disagree on that one.

BTW, the whole Nicholas Berg thing still strikes me as weird. I don't have a pet conspiracy theory, but the whole thing stinks somehow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

If the Democrats had ever shown any signs of cleverness, I'd be tempted to think David Brooks was a clever Democrat satirizing the right wing and trying to make their positions look ridiculous.

In today's column, Brooks alleges that Iraq is going to turn out fine because Americans always do stupid shit and then wind up making the best of it. His example? The European colonization of what is now the United States.

Now, I'm not someone who makes a hell of a lot of noise about the destruction of the Indians. It doesn't seem that relevant to modern problems, except as an example of the fact that for an atrocity to go down as such in history, the people who commit the atrocity have to eventually be stopped. If they win, it goes down as a great triumph of the human spirit and all of that. Read The Man in the High Castle for a treatment of that idea.

But Brooks brought it up, so let's get straight exactly what happened when America was settled. The white settlers came and perpetrated a brutal genocide against the indigenous population. It was a lot like the Holocaust, only it went on for a lot longer and actually succeeded in wiping out a large number of ethnic groups. That's America's history, in the context that Brooks is talking about.

Also, the whole "gentlemen to farmers" ratio problem was primarily addressed by importing black slave labor to build the agrarian system that would support the country for the next 200 years. These are the innovative solutions that built our nation.

I don't bring that up just to bash America. The fact that America was founded on genocide and built largely with slave labor does not make America an evil place now. But it is interesting that Brooks, in trying to find an encouraging model for "success" in Iraq, finds it necessary to harken back to a time when the preferred solutions to America's problems generally involved killing and enslaving vast numbers of nonwhite people.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Wow, big day in news. I was in North Carolina for the weekend and didn't follow the goings-on, so I was overwhelmed this morning by everything that's happening. First, the Indian stock market seems to be crashing. Apparently the Ghandi government is expected to slow the pace of neoliberal economic changes, which has international investors spooked. We'll know tomorrow whether it's a minor hiccup or if there's going to be a real panic. I'd like to point out, BTW, that if neoliberal reforms really worked, they wouldn't be reliant on constantly favorable government policy to keep the markets from suddenly spiraling into a black hole. But that's a post for a slower news day.

In Iraq, somebody blew up the head of the IGC. This seems a little weird to me, since the IGC doesn't really have any power, but I guess it's a symbolic thing, like the IRA going after the royals. In any event it certainly speaks volumes about the "security situation" in a country when the head of the government gets blown up in the street. I had a new idea about how we can help the Iraq problem though - we could leave immediately. Oh, right, that's not new, I've been saying that for over a year. My mistake.

The big story of the weekend as far as the press is concerned is a weird and hilarious episode of Meet the Press where Colin Powell briefly appears to turn into a palm tree. There are articles galore on the incident, but most fail to mention that the "glitch" happened just as Russert was asking Powell about all the bogus shit he said in the February 2003 "Let's Kick Saddam's Ass" presentation to the U.N. Fortunately Powell overruled his press aide and went on to say he did indeed find it quite troubling that he had lied to the SC and helped to build public support for a war that killed tens of thousands of people and left an entire country without a government and littered with radioactive dust. Maybe he didn't use those exact words. Check the transcript and see for yourself.

You should also look at the interview with stuffed shirt pseudodemocrat Joe Biden squaring off with paranoid schizophrenic pseudorepublican John McCain. They basically agree on everything, including a lot of shit Biden said that wasn't true and/or made no sense.

Biden is one of these guys who's best read in transcript form than watched on TV. He's a lot like Dubya in that way, in that he does a pretty good job of making it seem, through inflection, that what he's saying makes a lot of sense, even when it's ludicrous tripe.

Neither of these guys should ever get anywhere near the White House, BTW. If McCain winds up as Kerry's veep I'm joining the Secret Service. I'd take a bunch of bullets before I'd let McCain be President. The man is a nutcase.

Here's a few of the stranger assertions by Biden:

1) Delaware Joe opens by saying that if only we had recognized that Iraq posed no threat to world security, that would have given us plenty of time to convince the rest of the world that Iraq posed an imminent threat to world security. Russert and McCain apparently have no problem with this reasoning, as both let it pass without comment. When these guys are in a room, you can cut the intellectual tension with a knife, let me tell you.

2) Biden says our next big mistake was not killing everybody in central Iraq during the early months of war. Seriously, here's the quote: "Imagine if we had not treated the French--excuse me, the Turks with such disdain, that 4th ID would have come down from the north through the Sunni Triangle, there may not be a Sunni Triangle." Yeah! If only we had just killed everybody, creating a liberal democracy would have been so much easier. I also like the slip "Imagine if we hadn't treated the French with such disdain." When you think about it, THAT statement would make a hell of a lot of sense. We wouldn't be there! Tens of thousands of people would still be alive! The UN and all the U.S. relationships with its allies wouldn't be in tatters! The entire world wouldn't hate our guts! Now that would be pretty cool.

3) This part is great. Biden again: "We're there now to make sure the Iraqis end up with a government. What kind of government? One that's secure, its own borders, is representative, is not a threat to its neighbors and does not have weapons of mass destruction. How do you get there? You get there by an election." He mentions a lot of irrelevant shit here to make it sound like we've done this huge service for Iraq. But take a look again. Iraq before the war - Government - check. Secure - no, but only because we were bombing them every couple of months. Its own borders - check, I guess, but I'm not sure what this means. Whose borders would Iraq have? France's? Then, you see, it wouldn't be Iraq. It would be France. Who by the way can you imagine if we hadn't treated them with such disdain? Never mind. Not a threat to its neighbors - check. No weapons of mass destruction - check. The only item that really belongs on the list is the elections.

4) Here's the part I still don't get. Biden: "Tim, it is America's mission. Ninety percent of the troops will remain American. We've got to change the face of it, though. No German troops, no French troops, the no German or French veto for NATO-led force. I want a NATO commander, I want--which is an American. I want a NATO label on it. That, in turn, will get additional likelihood of Muslim countries being willing to participate. But the additional U.S. forces must be U.S. forces. But you need legitimacy along with it, Tim. And the legitimacy requires to give the new Iraqi government excuse to say, "It's not the same old deal."

Is Biden channeling Dubya? The preceding statement makes no sense whatsoever. And by the way, Germany doesn't have a veto on the security council. I guess he's talking about NATO, but, hell, I don't know. It's all just gibberish. Of course neither Russert nor McCain asks him what on earth he's talking about. We're all supposed to pretend this is sage wisdom. In fact it's just a bunch of words strung together. You could get better foreign policy analysis from a See 'N' Say. "The Senator says : Blahhhhhhhhhhh."

5) Biden, to Bush: "I said, "Mr. President, you sit in a chair that commands worldwide respect..." Really? Maybe next time a foreign leader wants a meet and greet, we should send Bush's chair.

6) Biden on the Abu Ghraib scandal: "Big nations can't act small. Noble nations can't act meanly. It is not comparable to say that, 'Well, they do it; therefore, we can do it similarly.' It does us incredible damage, but I don't think it's comparable to Saddam's torture chambers by any stretch of the imagination. But it is as damaging to us as Saddam's actions were to his reputation." So our torture is "similar," but not "comparable." Except that it is comparable. Could Biden pass a Turing test?

7) This is one for the hall of fame - Biden makes a slippery-slope argument on the Abu Ghraib abuses, but says that we should stand just a little ways down the slippery slope. He doesn't even understand the thrust of his own fallacies. "We can treat al-Qaeda this way [torturing them] and we can't treat prisoners captured this way, but where do insurgents fit, etc.? This is a dangerous slope."

8) Of course, Biden trots out just how fucking ecstatic he'd be if Kerry picked McCain for a running mate. Here's a good bet - if Cheney winds up retiring, how many republicans do you think are gonna go on TV and recommend he pick a Democrat to be his new running mate? The over-under is 1/2 of one republican. Get your bets in now.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Yesterday's White House briefing had some funny moments. My favorite:

Q But does the President believe that he was informed by Rumsfeld in a timely manner about these photos?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I pointed out to you that after Secretary Rumsfeld became aware of it, he informed the President about it at a later time.

I've read that 8 times, and it's funny every time. Sometimes I feel bad for Scott McClellan. How must it feel to have to get up and say stupid shit like this? It's like if you were told you have to say at least five times a day "I think that what's really sad about all of this is, it's the children that suffer." Could you live with how stupid and banal everyone would think you were? I couldn't.

Imagine if your boss asked you a question like this.

Boss: Did Jenkins inform you about the theft in a timely manner?

You: Well, Jenkins found out about it at some point, and he informed me some time after that.

[a pause]

Boss: What?

You: Well, as I mentioned, I was informed some time after Jenkins found out, because he was the one who informed me, so some time after he found out, I was informed.

Boss: Are you from outer space? Are you a complete idiot? You're fired. Get the fuck out of here, you ridiculous, jabbering waste of flesh!

I'm throwing this out there for all the White House press that read this blog - any White House Press member that calls Scottie Mac a "ridiculous, jabbering waste of flesh" to his face, I will spend the rest of my life worshipping you.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

It's happening. The right wing is cracking up. Pat Buchanan is on TV openly calling Bush a pussy for not nuking Fallujah. Robert Samuelson is engaged in the journalistic equivalent of covering his ears and singing Mary Had a Little Lamb. George F. Will has cut Bush completely loose. Chuck Hagel is all over the TV positioning himself for a run for the Presidency in 2008 by cricizing Bush's failed policies.

Even David Frum can't find a serious answer to the fact that his favorite Iraqi Ahmed Chalabi is apparently stabbing Frum and all the other neocons in the back and has started cozying up with Iran, leaving Cheney and Rumsfeld out in the cold. He stalls in the National Reivew with this fluff piece about how the State Department is secretly a bunch of Iranian sympathizers.

The right wing is collapsing under the weight of all of its contradictions. If the Democrats are really in it to win it, they should start kicking the conservative movement right now, while it's down. I'm waiting.