Friday, January 30, 2009


Wherein we find the key to understanding the "stimulus" bill making its way through the Congress:
In normal times, Congress might never enlarge so many programs at once. But...the crisis-induced demand for action may suspend the normal laws of political gravity — and allow Democrats to redirect federal priorities as boldly as Reagan did. "This is a once-in-a-25-year opportunity to [implement] a lot of our agenda," a top House Democratic aide says.

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Quote of the day (so far)

A well put comment from Yuval Levin on the "stimulus" package:
The more you look at the stimulus bill the clearer it becomes that it is the Congressional Democrats, not the opponents of this bill, who have failed to see that we are in a genuine and exceptional crisis. They’re working to use the moment as an opportunity to advance the same agenda they haven’t been able to move (with good reason) for a decade and more, and in the process are showing that agenda to be what we always knew it was: a massively wasteful, reckless, profligate, slovenly, higgledy-piggledy mess of interest group troughs and technocratic fantasies devoid of any economic thinking or sense of proportion.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Varitek and catcher defense

As the clock ticks down to the Jason Varitek deadline, I have a few comments, and a little bit of analysis.

  • Jason Varitek has been a good player for the Red Sox. He has not been a great player. I was convinced four and a half years ago that he'd be significantly overpaid in his next contract, and I believe that he was. I thought at the time that the 4 year/$40 million deal that the team gave him was too long, and for too much money, and there's no doubt in my mind that Scott Boras got him that deal by flat-out lying about additional offers. C'est la vie - it wasn't a disaster (until 2008), and they won another World Series which covers a multitude of sins. But it wasn't a great deal, either. Over the last three years of the contract, Varitek hit .238/.336/.393/.729, which was mediocre for a catcher. Over the same three year period, one (1) Major League catcher (Ivan Rodriguez) was paid more money than Jason Varitek.
    [UPDATE - Actually, two catchers were paid more. Posada didn't show up in my query because he didn't catch 50 games last year. I don't think that changes anything, but Varitek was the 3rd-highest paid catcher over the last three years, not the second-highest paid.]

  • Varitek screwed up - big-time - by refusing arbitration. I'm sure that he did so at the behest of his agent Scott Boras, but the final decision and responsibility is his. His agent badly misread the market, and he accepted that misread. Instead of looking at a guaranteed $10+ million dollars in arbitration, he's looking at taking only $5 million, and facing the prospect that a good year will result in being offered arbitration again next year, with a lower base salary. The decision to forgo arbitration cost Jason Varitek millions of dollars that he has no way of every recouping.

  • The comment was made on the radio the other day (I think by Lou Merloni) that it was unreasonable for the Red Sox to set a deadline because this was the "first offer." No, Lou, it wasn't. The first offer (that we know of) was the offer to let an arbitrator choose between two numbers that would have been at least twice what the current offer is for a one-year guaranteed contract. He wouldn't (in my opinion) have been worth it, but he felt that he could make more. He was wrong. That's life. If he had other offers and set a deadline for the Sox to match or exceed, would we get sob stories about unfairness? I rather think not. Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug. He's the bug right now. His fault, his problem, not the team's. As to the deadline, pitchers and catchers report in two weeks. They need to make decisions, and Varitek's presence or absence is a piece of information that they need to have.

  • There was some radio speculation this morning that Varitek would sit out rather than accept Boston's offer, and then either sign with someone after the June draft (when draft pick compensation would no longer be required) or sit out the entire year. This is a 37-year old catcher. He clearly gave up $5 million when he refused arbitration. Is he really prepared to give up another $5 million to salve his wounded pride? I don't know what his financial situation is, but again, this is money that isn't coming back. He's not getting $5 million for a year anywhere else, and he's not getting it ANYWHERE next year.

  • There have been occasional calls that the Red Sox should up their offer, because he's the captain, and he's been such a team leader and so important to the pitching staff, and out of loyalty, yada, yada, yada. It's all hogwash. They've overpayed him for the last three years (at least) because he had leverage during the 2004-2005 offseason. They have the leverage now, and it would be foolish of them to overpay him just because he screwed up.

All that said, the big claim of the Varitek defenders is that his defensive contributions vastly outweigh his offensive deficiencies. He "calls a great game." He's a "master of handling the pitching staff." He "makes the pitchers on the staff better." We've heard it for years.

But is it true? I've long been skeptical, but I don't know how you'd measure it. I know that the pitchers tend to rave about him, but they raved about Alex Gonzalez, too. I know that somehow, other teams have good pitchers and good pitching staffs without Jason Varitek. I know that the Red Sox have tremendous resources involved in advance scouting and game planning. And I know that, in the end, the pitch doesn't get thrown if it isn't what the pitcher wants to throw. So, as I say, I've long been a skeptic on the extent of Varitek's influence behind the plate.

In order to try to get some kind of feel for it, I tried to pull some data. It's a difficult thing to do, but I came up with a approach that seems to make sense, and can be done without too much difficulty. Using the marvelous day-by-day database at David Pinto's Baseball Musings, I downloaded Jason Varitek's game-by-game stats as a member of the Red Sox, and the Red Sox starting pitcher numbers for the same period. I then broke the pitching stats into two sets of numbers - those for when Varitek started at catcher and those for when someone else started at catcher. If Varitek really is an "elite game caller," AND if the catcher has a significant impact on the pitching performance, then we should be able to see it in the numbers.

At the first breakdown, there does seem to be a difference. Over the last 11 years, Red Sox starting pitchers have put up a 4.19 ERA in 1182 Varitek starts, compared with a 4.38 ERA in 624 starts by other Red Sox catchers. That's a difference of about 30 runs over the course of a season, or about 3 wins. Which is pretty significant.

It doesn't take much consideration, though, to recognize that this isn't an acceptable answer. The catchers haven't caught all of the same pitchers. Varitek caught 57 of Bronson Arroyo's 61 Red Sox starts, but only 2 of David Cone's 25. He caught all 16 of Wade Miller's starts, but only one of David Pauley's five.

So the next thing I did was winnow the data a little bit, and look at just those pitchers who made at least five starts with Varitek and at least five starts with other Red Sox catchers. That gives us a data set of 23 pitchers. 11 compiled lower ERAs with Varitek behind the plate. 12 compiled lower ERAs with other catchers behind the plate. Despite that, looking at the cumulative numbers Varitek looks even better, putting up a 4.02 catcher's ERA vs. 4.31 for his backups.

(If you're emotionally committed to the theory of Varitek as indispensible behind the plate, this is probably a good time to clap your hands together and leave...)

We still don't have a good data set, though. As we all know, Varitek has caught Tim Wakefield very little over the years, with most of Wakefield's starts going to the backup catchers. The Red Sox have also had some of the best pitchers in baseball, and the starts of Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett have been predominantly caught by Jason Varitek. So there's a little more to be done. Let's face it - any catcher who caught a lot of Pedro Martinez starts in 1999 and 2000, as Varitek did, is going to look fantastic in a catcher's ERA comparison. Catching Tim Wakefield doesn't have the same advantage.

So what I did next was normalize everyone's statistics, multiplying or dividing to produce a stat line for 50 innings pitched. That is, both Varitek and the backups are credited with 50 innings of Wakefield, 50 innings of Pedro, etc.

And now the numbers look a little bit different.

Red Sox "Catcher ERA" - 1998-2008


Other Catchers4.661.41

Let's make one more tweak to the data. Including Tim Wakefield would tend to mitigate against Varitek's presumed game-calling skill. So I pulled him out of the data.

Red Sox "Catcher ERA" - 1998-2008 (Starters w/out Tim Wakefield)


Other Catchers4.631.4

All of a sudden that "makes the pitchers better" doesn't look like a very compelling argument.

I don't want to pretend that this "proves" that Varitek's game-calling is worse than anyone else's. I don't know. There's a ton of noise in this data set, no matter how you parse it. I will say this - I've long felt that Varitek's importance behind the plate was over-stated and over-rated, and this data seems to support that position.

Is there an obvious flaw in this analysis? Beyond the noise, I don't see one. This is what the pitchers who have started at least five games in Red Sox uniforms with Varitek starting behind the plate, and at least five games in Red Sox uniforms with some other catcher starting behind the plate have done during Varitek's Red Sox career, normalized for innings pitched. I'm open to any and all methodology criticisms (though I'm not going to wade through box scores and do relievers and catching replacements without signficant monetary inducement.)

Bottom line? The Red Sox should have a good-to-excellent pitching staff in 2009, and there's no compelling evidence to suggest that Jason Varitek's presence is required for that to be the case.

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Do as I demand, not as I do, because I know better

Barack Obama on the campaign trail:
We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.

Barack Obama in the White House:
The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

Because being a liberal means never having to say that you're sorry. It also means never being called a hypocrite, regardless of the size of the gap between the public pronouncements and the private behavior.

Anyone think that the US media is going to "speak truth to power," now that the most liberal man to ever win the Presidency is the "power"? No, I don't think so either...

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An excellent question

Steyn rules: In the entire history of civilization, has any human society so ordered its affairs that it would seem entirely normal to combine those words in that order in a single sentence?

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"We hold these truths..."

Because there's, you know, nothing more important to be working on:
A new bill introduced in the Congress by New York Republican Rep. Peter King requires mobile phones with digital cameras "to make a sound" when a photograph is taken.

Is this really the kind of "freedom" that our ancestors fought and died for?

Look, maybe it's actually a good idea. I don't see it, but maybe it is. Maybe the world's a better place if all camera's make a "click" when a picture is taken. What possible Constitutional justification is there for the United States Congress to be injecting itself into an issue of such marginal public interest? I'm going to say, "None."

(Which unfortunately, of course, means that it's not atypical of the sorts of things that the United States Congress ordinarily does.)

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The "stimulus" bill working through the Congress now at the behest of the Democratic leadership and President Obama features "only $90 billion out of $825 billion, or about 12 cents of every $1, is for something that can plausibly be considered a growth stimulus." With that observation comes some great political advice from the editors of the Wall Street Journal
The 647-page, $825 billion House legislation is being sold as an economic "stimulus," but ... is a political wonder that manages to spend money on just about every pent-up Democratic proposal of the last 40 years.
This is supposed to be a new era of bipartisanship, but this bill was written based on the wish list of every living -- or dead -- Democratic interest group. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it, "We won the election. We wrote the bill." So they did. Republicans should let them take all of the credit.

The question now is, do the Republicans have the sense to let them?

Update: Good for them - they do.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

At least someone's in charge

When you need leadership in an economic downturn, where do you turn? Why,
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of course.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hundreds of millions of dollars to expand family planning services. How is that stimulus?

PELOSI: Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those - one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no apologies for that?

PELOSI: No apologies. No. we have to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy.

I freely confess that it would never have occurred to me to take millions of taxpayer dollars (excuse me, "hundreds of millions of dollars") and hand them over to the "family planning" (i.e., abortion and contraception) industry right now. That's the kind of "outside the box" thinking that we obviously need. I'm sure that she can spend those tax dollars that she takes from me better than I could.

(H/T, transcript Drudge)

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A REALLY expensive reminder...

The economy is obviously struggling. The Auto-Makers are in desperate straits. Clearly, what they need, more than anything else, is ... more government emissions mandates.
President Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday.
Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule.

Yeah, that'll make EVERYTHING better...

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Expensive reminder

We're all about to get a very expensive reminder that elections have consequences...

From the Wall Street Journal this morning.
The spending portion of the stimulus, in short, isn't really about the economy. It's about promoting long-time Democratic policy goals, such as subsidizing health care for the middle class and promoting alternative energy. The "stimulus" is merely the mother of all political excuses to pack as much of this spending agenda as possible into a single bill when Mr. Obama is at his political zenith.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Quote of the day

Seen at Instapundit: the quote of the day week month year millenium thus far (OK, it wasn't from this millenium):
The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money
- Margaret Thatcher

Hmmm... It seems that Ms. Rand addressed that scenario in a book once...

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rove on W.

Excellent piece from Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal. I don't know that I agree with every word, but I agree with most of it, and I definitely agree with the sentiment.
Few presidents had as many challenges arise during their eight years, had as many tough calls to make in such a partisan-charged environment, or had to act in the face of such hostile media and elite opinion.


But despite facing challenges and crises few others have, the job did not break George W. Bush. Though older and grayer, his brows more furrowed, he is the same man he was, a person of integrity who did what he believed was right. And he exits knowing he summoned all of his energy and talents to defend America and advance its ideals at home and abroad. He didn't get everything right -- no president does -- but he got the most important things right. And that is enough.

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Fair. Balanced. Not.

Yet another data point in the whole "media bias" debate, for those who still cling to the illusion that the press is reporting news as opposed to promoting storylines.

During the confirmation process for the first nominated Attorney General candidate for each of the last two Presidents, senators of the opposition party have requested that confirmation votes be delayed for a week for further review and questions. The Washington Post has reported these stories under the following headlines:
(2001, Democrat Senators delay confirmation of John Ashcroft):

Vote On Ashcroft Is Delayed A Week; Democrats Cite Need for More Review

(2009, Republican Senators delay confirmation of Eric Holder):

Republicans Obstruct Holder's Path to Justice Department

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration 2009

I did not vote for Barack Obama. I did not want him to be elected President. His vision of the role of the federal government is, I fear, radically different from my own.

That said, today was a marvelous day. It is deeply satisfying to watch the orderly transition of power from executive to another, even if you do not personally agree with it. Today's transition carries with it a further benefit. I have never felt, in my adult lifetime, that race was a disqualifying factor in political life, and whether or not it was true earlier, it is no longer debatable. This is good and right.

Odds and ends...

  • I avoided much of the media coverage. What I didn't avoid made me wish that I'd avoided more. It was utterly appalling.

  • While on the treadmill at the 'Y', I watched the closed-caption of ABC's coverage for a while, and witnessed a brilliant discussion about the speech, and how it was all Obama's, because, you know, he's a writer. Oh, he talked about it with his speechwriter in December, and worked with several historians, and then worked on it with his speechwriter again in January, but it's all Obama's.

  • On NBC, I heard a brief discussion about the superior moral character of the Obama family, the wondrous job that Barack and Michelle are doing raising their daughters because they're going to have to make their own beds in the White House.

  • Memo to all members of the mainstream press: He's a man. Period. The sycophancy and hagiographic coverage is nauseating.

  • I watched the inaugural address. I read the text. I saw and heard people raving about the speech, so I went back and watched it again. I don't get it. I honestly don't. I don't see the brilliance, I don't find any splendid rhetoric. When he delivers a speech, I see him using speech-delivery tricks and techniques. I mean obviously using them, like when someone on stage or in a movie is obviously acting rather than embodying a character. That's what I see when I watch Obama. I find absolutely nothing memorable about the speech or the delivery, and that's what I've seen everytime I've seen him. I honestly feel that his reputation as a speechmaker results in part from what George Bush called the "soft bigotry of low expectations," and in part from a subconcious recognition on the part of the assessors that the charge of racism lurks in the wings. I was profoundly unimpressed with that inaugural address.

  • I found this line - "our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed" - to be offensive. Whatever one feels about George W. Bush, there is no argument to be made that he "put off unpleasant decisions." One can disagree with his take on stem cell research, or going to war in Iraq, or attempting to head off the problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or addressing the looming crisis with Social Security, but one cannot argue that he "put off unpleasant decisions" about those things. That line in the speech is ungracious at best.

  • One of the things that struck me as the day wore on was how much affection I feel for George Bush. I thought he was a good and decent man when he took office, and I still think it today. I was surprised to choke up when he mounted the steps of the helicopter, and again when he went up the ramp onto the plane for the flight back to Texas. I don't agree with everything that he did in office, not by any stretch of the imagination. But I think that he is a good man, and I think that we'll have reason to be thankful for John Roberts and Samuel Alito in the future, and I think that the big things (tax cuts, the war) he got right. I'm sorry to see him go.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Don't just stand there, do something!"

"We're from the Government, and we're here to help."
Hailed almost universally on its passage last year--it passed the Senate 89 to three and the House by 424 to one, with Ron Paul the lone dissenter--Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is now shaping up as a calamity for businesses and an epic failure of regulation, threatening to wipe out tens of thousands of small makers of children's items from coast to coast, and taking a particular toll on the handcrafted and creative, the small-production-run and sideline at-home business, not to mention struggling retailers.


With few exceptions, the law covers all products intended primarily for children under 12. That includes clothing, fabric and textile goods of all kinds: hats, shoes, diapers, hair bands, sports pennants, Scouting patches, local school-logo gear...books, flash cards, board games, baseball cards, kits for home schoolers, party supplies and the like. And sporting equipment, outdoor gear, bikes, backpacks and telescopes. And furnishings for kids' rooms. And videogame cartridges and audio books. And specialized assistive and therapeutic gear used by disabled and autistic kids.

...makers of these goods can't rely only on materials known to be unproblematic (natural dyed yarn, local wood) or that come from reputable local suppliers, or even ones that are certified organic. Instead they must put a sample item from each lot of goods through testing after complete assembly, and the testing must be applied to each component...The maker of a kids' telescope (with no suspected problems) was quoted a $24,000 testing estimate, on a product with only $32,000 in annual sales.
Contrary to some reports, thrift and secondhand stores are not exempt from the law. Although (unlike creators of new goods) they aren't obliged to test the items they stock, they are exposed to liability and fines if any goods on their shelves (or a component button, bolt, binding, etc.) are found to test above the (very low) thresholds being phased in. Nor does it get them off the hook to say an older product's noncompliance with the new standards wasn't something they knew or should have known about...Thrift store managers, often volunteers themselves, have no way to guess whether every grommet or zipper on a kids' jacket or ink on an old jigsaw puzzle box or some plastic component of Mom's old roller skates would pass muster.

"The reality is that all this stuff will be dumped in the landfill," predicted Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. Among the biggest losers if that happens: poorer parents who might start having to buy kids' winter coats new at $30 rather than used at $5 or $10.

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NFL Championship weekend

Philadelphia at Arizona (+3.5) - The Eagles would seem to be the easy and obvious choice here. We're used to thinking about the Eagles as a tough, physical defensive team. They played in the NFC East. They've been to NFC Championship games, they've been to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals have been a punch line franchise. If the Eagles were to advance to the Super Bowl again, it would not be a surprise. All that said, the Cardinals have played outstanding defense in the playoffs to go with excellent skill players. They've got the home field advantage. They've got a QB who has been to more Super Bowl's than the Eagles' QB. It feels like a risk, and it's easy to imagine this pick being obviously wrong before the first quarter ends, but I'm going to take the Cardinals to make their first visit to the Super Bowl.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-6) - Is there a way that both of these teams can lose? As a Patriot fan, there's little that displeases me more than Pittsburgh succeeding. But I hate the Ravens, and will for as long as Ray Lewis is there. I'd rather not see either of these teams proceed. Unfortunately, one of them will. I think that Pittsburgh beats the Ravens for the third time this year, and meet the Cardinals in Tampa in two weeks.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Christmas week visit to the island

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Idle thoughts on divisional Saturday...

A couple of things from Saturday's NFL games:

  • Dan Dierdorf can rave all he wants about how "perfectly thrown" Flacco's touchdown pass to Mason was. That doesn't change the fact that it was badly underthrown. He had a wide open receiver who had to almost stop, and still caught it down by his knees, and the throw almost let the safety make the play.

  • I thought that Joe Flacco stepped out of the end zone and the officials missed it. I would love to have seen a good replay from a good angle on that play. Or even a single replay.

  • On the Ravens last drive, they completed a pass for a first down on a play that started longer after the play clock expired than any other play I've ever seen not get flagged.

  • It's rare to see a team outplay another as badly as the Titans outplayed the Ravens yesterday and still lose. Some of it was bad luck and bad timing, and some of it was simply hardcore self-destruction. 12 penalties accepted for 89 yards? Yeah, that's not going to get it done.

  • If the score in the Cardinals-Panthers game had been reversed, there would have been no interest in the second half. With Arizona in front, it felt like the comeback was a real possibility. Had the Panthers been up by 20, it would have felt like it was over.

  • Anyone who wants to see a competitive NFC Championship Game next week has got to be rooting for Philadelphia today. It's easy to imagine Philadelphia at Arizona being an exciting and competitive game. It's tough to imagine Arizona at NY as anything other than a Giants blowout.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

NFL playoffs, Divisional play Weekend

Baltimore at Tennessee (-3) - The temptation to go with the Ravens here is both strong and understandable. When last seen, two weeks ago, the Titans were getting blown out by the Colts. When last seen, last week, the Ravens were dominating the Dolphins. And I've not been a Tennessee "believer" all year. All that said, the things that were concerning about the Ravens a week ago (rookie QB, rookie head coach) are still concerning. And the Titans are a much better defensive team than the Dolphins are. This is likely to be a <toss in whatever your preferred cliche for a physical game is here> game, and Baltimore winning would be the mildest of all possible upsets, but it would be an upset nonetheless. Take the Titans, give the points.

Arizona (+10) at Carolina - Sometimes you end up talking yourself into one that you don't quite believe. Here's one. That 10 points just looks like too many against a team with Arizona's offensive talent, so I feel fairly comfortable picking taking the points.* Can they actually go into Carolina and win? That's less likely. I think that they could, but I think that they won't. Going to take the Panthers to win but not cover.

Philadelphia (+4) at NY Giants - This will obviously be the third meeting this year between these two teams. The Giants won by five in Phildelphia, the Eagles won by six in New York. The Eagles come in having won 2 in a row and 5 of 6, the Giants having lost 3 of 4. If you look at the season as a whole, the Giants had a better record. But that could be just because they got off to a better start. The teams look comparable. New York has scored more and allowed more, but the margin in both categories is very small. If you look at the teams in games played after the first week in October, the Eagles are 8-3-1, the Giants 8-4. The Eagles have scored 26.3 points per game, the Giants 25. The Eagles have allowed 17.2 points per game, the Giants 20.4. In other words, for the last several months, the Eagles have been a better team by any measure. They are not intimidated by the Giants and they won't be intimidated by the situation or the crowd. They are as likely as any team in the NFL to lay an absolute egg, but let's assume they don't. They Giants shouldn't by favored by four in this one, and I think that the Eagles actually win. (For the sake of a competitive game next week, let's all hope so.)

San Diego (+6) at Pittsburgh - I don't know what to do with this one. The Steelers had a far better record than the Chargers, but that probably isn't a fair representation of the difference between the teams. The Steelers have outscored their opposition by 124, the Chargers by 92. Advantage Steelers, but not a huge advantage. The Steelers also have the home field advantage, and you'd think that it would be a big one, but San Diego played well in New England last January, and lost by only one in Pittsburgh in November. (OK, that should have been 8, but it could easily have "should have been" only one. It was a very close and competitive game.) Is Roethlisberger hurt? Is Tomlinson going to play? Again, I just don't know. I think that the six points is too many to give, so I'm picking the Chargers to beat the spread. I don't think, however, that I'm picking them to beat the Steelers..

* - It's also easy to imagine this one being over after the first quarter.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

When you post the list, you get the complaints...

At the NY Times, Stanley Fish has listed the 10 best American movies ever. The purpose of such a list is, of course, to generate hits and discussion from people who disagree with some or all of the names on that list. I'm going to comment on it anyway.

Fish's List:

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Shane (1953)
Red River (1948)
Raging Bull (1980)
Vertigo (1958)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

To start with, I'm not going to comment on the inclusion of The Best Years of Our Lives, Sunset Blvd. or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because I have not seen any of them. I have seen all of the rest, and, to varying degrees, liked most of them. (I say "most" here because I think Raging Bull is one of the most overrated films ever made.)

I won't criticize the inclusion of Groundhog Day because, while I don't necessarily think I'd include it on a list of the 10 best American movies, I'm not sure that I wouldn't - it's a great film and I love it. The other four, however, wouldn't be anywhere near a top 10 list that I was making, and I enjoyed all of them. But Shane and Red River aren't as good as The Outlaw Josey Wales or Unforgiven. You'll never hear a word of complaint from me about Meet Me in St. Louis, a wonderful movie, but if you're going to include one movie with Judy Garland, doesn't it really have to be The Wizard of Oz? If you're only including one American musical, doesn't it have to be Singin' in the Rain? Double Indemnity is classic noir, but it's not as good as The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. And Vertigo, despite its love from the critics, pales next to another film from the same director with the same star, Rear Window.

And I have not yet mentioned Gone With the Wind. Or Casablanca. Or The Godfather. Or Schindler's List. Each of which is superior to everything on Fish's list.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Odds and ends...

I've been almost non-blogging for a couple of months now. There is a reason, and I'll talk about it at some point, but not right yet. For now, I'm going to try to ramp it back up starting this week, but I make no promises as to depth or content or quality.

  • Four for four. I'm not positive, but I believe that's the first time I've ever had a perfect Wild Card (or any other) NFL playoff weekend.

  • It's too bad that the Yankees figured out that Mark Texeira is exactly what they needed. He improves them more than either of the pitchers.

  • The Hall of Fame discussion is in full bloom. Rickey Henderson is obviously a no-brainer. Bert Blyleven should be in, though I'm skeptical that he will be. Henderson hurts Tim Raines, who was essentially a poor man's Henderson, and almost anyone would pale in comparison. I suspect that in his last year on the ballot Jim Rice gets in, which won't bother me much, but he shouldn't.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

NFL playoffs, Wild Card Weekend

Atlanta at Arizona (-2) - This is the no-brainer, right? I mean, the Falcons were clearly the better team, and the Cardinals are hosting only because they managed to win a division where the strongest "competition" was the 49ers. And everyone's going with the Falcons. Not me. I guess this is a contrarian pick, but I think that Arizona, playing at home with something to play for (as they haven't had for three weeks), and facing a rookie head coach and a rookie QB, is likely to actually win this one.

Indianapolis at San Diego (+1.5) - Again, we've got a wild card team with a substantially better regular season record visiting the tallest midget from a bad division. And the conventional wisdom is, again, that the visiting team wins. And I'm playing contrarian again. The Colts have had trouble with the Chargers, and while the Colts have won their last 9, the Chargers have had four straight "lose and you're out" games that they've won. I think that this is the game of the weekend, and the Colts come out on the losing end in Tony Dungy's last game.

Baltimore (-3) at Miami - I didn't like the Falcons with a rookie QB and rookie head coach. I do like the Ravens with a rookie QB and rookie head coach. I'm not certain what the difference is. It may be that there are a lot of Ravens with serious post-season experience, while the Dolphins are, like the Falcons, a year removed from epic disaster and playing a little over their heads. In any event, I don't think that the Dolphins can score enough against the Baltimore defense to win this.

Philadelphia (-3) at Minnesota - This is another excellent opportunity to go contrarian. And certainly, the Eagles have been inconsistent enough that it's easy to see a Vikings win in this one. The question is which Eagles team shows up. I don't think that Minnesota can handle Philly's "A" game, and the Vikings have been every bit as inconsistent. So, while it's very easy to believe that Minnesota could win this game, the likeliest scenario is Philadelphia visiting NY to play the Giants next week.

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