Monday, October 25, 2010

My Economic Stimulus

I've long been a critic of the campaign process, both in terms of time and dollars spent. Posturing for position on the ballot begins years in advance for Senate and Presidential seats, and I equate campaign ads with fastfood marketing - billions spent on 30 second sound bytes with zero substance. Obama's refusal of public financing in 2008 embodies this distaste.

In a system I once characterized as out of control, the spending really has become out of control. According to the Washington Post, for the week ending October 17, outside groups alone have spent $68.2 million. Three GOP candidates (Meg Whitman in California, Rick Scott in Florida and Linda McMahon in Connecticut) have spent $243 million so far - just of their own money!

So with literally billions spent on rent-seeking activities that don't generate capital or jobs, here's my proposition: 1:1 matches for all political activities until we achieve true campaign finance reform. If you want to give $3 million to the National Association of Realtors, that's fine. But then you spend another $3 million in providing market liquidity and generating product demand. Or providing states money to hire more police officers and teachers. Or something else that actually benefits society. Because I've seen what the major mortgage companies have accomplished recently, and it makes me suspicious that the $2 million the National Association of Realtors is spending every week on influence peddling could find a better way to assist America.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tonight's Game of the Week

The Wishbone, the Wildcat, and other offensive innovations all have their moment in the sun before defensive coordinators adapt and a new system must be melded (or simply reintroduced). My hero Gregg Easterbrook has written a bit on how today's prolific spread offenses will meet the same fate, and Oregon's attack will look mortal five years from now. With about four minutes left in the OU/MU game, I got a glimpse of what could help unravel its effectiveness.

On an obvious pass play, Blaine Gabbert drops back and Oklahoma fails to generate much penetration into the backfield. Their D-Line was tired, defeated, and stuck in 2nd gear. But when Gabbert brought his arm forward to throw, the defensive end jumped up and knocked down the football. In a system designed to wear down defenses while relying on dink and dunk passes, there may be a lesson to be taken from this play - particularly as offenses are employing smaller, quicker quarterbacks.

With OU down by nine points and approximately 2:30 to go in the game, Bob Stoops punted on 4th and 10. Oklahoma had no timeouts, and was obviously conceding defeat. WTF? Then I realized - Oklahoma was so backed up, a turnover on downs would've given Missouri the ball in the red zone. Rather than give his team a chance to win, Big Game Stoops's only concern was minimizing the damage in the eyes of the polls - in a bowl game, he would've gone for it. I encourage all voters to drop the Sooners an additional three spots from where you believe they should be ranked as karma for having no spine.

It bears mentioning that yesterday I described Mizzou as a 'legit top ten team' when they were in fact not ranked in the top ten. In order for that to be the case, they would have had to win their game against Oklahoma today. Which they did. Which means I'm simply that good.

Today's loss to Baylor killed a small piece of me. Ditto for this sore throat I've had for five straight days now.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Finally, a Worthwhile Statistical Regression

A lot has been written on election theory and the influence of polls on voters. They’re self-reinforcing in two big ways: they discourage voters who support a trailing candidate (‘what’s the point in voting, the Reuters Poll says we’re going to lose by six points’), and sway undecided voters by identifying a frontrunner (appeal to popularity fallacy). I’d bet that the BCS polls have a similarly negative effect on the USA Today football rankings.

The first BCS standings came out Sunday. Boise State was supposed to reign over all, with TCU notching a lofty ranking as well. Yet the entire nation gasped in collective horror as Oklahoma was designated the greatest team in all the land, followed by the Ducks of Oregon. Now I know there are better teams than OU, and the fleshy polls do too. That’s why they’ve been ranked #5 or so all year. However, every ESPN article written over the past week regarding the Sooners identifies them as ‘#1 Oklahoma.’ This is wrong.

Assuming OU wins this weekend, they’re going to climb in the human polls. This will be defensible, as it will entail a victory over a legit top ten team in Missouri. Yet what if OU beats Colorado by nine points, and no other top ten teams lose? Or if OU has a bye? Would they still rise in the rankings – an effect of the #1 status bestowed via data processor?

It would be interesting to hold weekend performance constant and use BCS rankings as the dependent variable. Maybe somebody already has. With 12 years of usage, we don’t yet have a large pool to use. However, I have an inkling your beta level will indicate voters’ preference (or at least tendency) for making the team leading the BCS the recipient of more #1 votes.

Voters take their cues from other voters, who take cues from preseason rankings, which take their cues from the previous year’s success. Historical reputation creates an undue bias throughout. Polls are highly fallible due to voter reliance on cues and an inability to function in a vacuum. What’s worrisome is that the BCS rankings unduly enhance this foible.

Get On the Bus!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

50 and Still Sexy

Being the skinflint I am, I try to keep my concert ticket purchases ≤$20, willing to explore $25 in special circumstance. Yet when the opportunity to experience Bad Religion came around, money was no option (in truth, it was a $30 option). Greg Graffin has few equals, heading one of the most impactful punk bands in American rock history. Consider the following:
• This tour celebrated Bad Religion's 30th anniversary, with Graffin at the helm every one of those years.
• 15 studio albums, 2 EPs
• Guitarist Brett Gurewitz founded Epitaph Records (they've brought you music by The Offspring, Rancid, NOFX, Green Day, Alkaline Trio, and Weezer, among others. Maybe you've heard of some of these?)
• It's Bad Religion!

I ended up hitting an unexpected homerun when I discovered the night of the show that the Bouncing Souls would also be playing. I was literally experiencing a slice of American punk history - with American Jesus blaring through the speakers, I may as well have been moshing as Congress was passing DADT and the Brady Bill.

Wait Dave - you moshed?


What was that like?

What do you mean?

Well, weren't you scared?

I've gone to battle against my high school's football team and almost met my death once on a Chinese freeway. Comparatively, this was child's play.

But aren't you a little small to be moshing?

Actually, I was the tallest guy there.

Fine smartass - bet your BMI was the lowest there. Most of those cats are hardcore.

That's fair, but you have to look at the flip side.

Which is?

When you're this skinny, your elbows are weapons. I was cutting jokers in the pit.

So how'd you make out?

I made out with no one.

Seriously, did you remain pretty unscathed?

My body was covered in bruises when I got home. It felt like after the first day of football practice with pads.

Anything positive come out of it?

It's good to see there's still only one rule - if someone falls down, pick them up.

And the best part?

Owning the center for about 10 seconds. It's absolutely invigorating. All eyes on you, you're the king of the mountain. It entails the respect, adrenaline, and machismo that accompany such a position.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

This was one of the coolest opportunities to observe water's various properties. The drummer had a constant cloud of steam rising from his shoulders. Also, the condensation brought me back to my wrestling day.

How's that?

There was so much moisture in the air from all the sweating, there was a constant leak onto the stage from the ceiling. That's how you know the place was rocking.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tree-Hugging for Dummies

According to a couple weeks ago, Senators are agreeing with President Obama's call to break up the climate bill. Could this be the better approach? As we saw with healthcare (’93 and ’09), market reform, and other attempts at sweeping pieces of legislation, giving this many people a say in a complex issue may not be a good thing – 100 Senators are obviously incapable of developing an efficient mechanism for delivering sensible policy, and throwing a bunch more Representatives in the mix simply makes it more interesting. Add the Executive Branch, and kiss a reasonable policy outcome goodbye.

An effective climate bill is best designed by 5 people (2 energy experts, a climate scientist, a political scientist, and me) in a room absent the undue influence of lobbyists, self-preservation, and idiocy. I’ve long defended China’s unofficial climate policy of 'invest in smart renewable and energy efficiency,' and I think it works better here too (e.g., Obama’s stimulus package). Make energy efficiency incentives our primary GHG reduction vehicle, not carbon derivatives; I’d rather our main focus be on saving money, not manipulating it. By doing it piecemeal and only passing the stuff that makes sense, you can avoid situations like “coal plants will have to have permits to pollute, but then we’re just going to give them away because they can’t afford it in the short-term, but fertilizer producers will always get free permits through 2025 because it’s so energy-intensive, but…” (FYI: that was just a snippet of Kerry-Boxer.) I think cap-and-trade can theoretically work, though it’s not my preferred method. I don’t think cap-and-trade can be passed in America without creating some seriously inefficient market distortions.

Another idea: Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has come out for legislation limiting the 3Ps (the pollutants sulfur dioxide, nitrogen and mercury), rather than greenhouse gases. This is an interesting idea, because it provides a method for limiting GHGs without this being the stated purpose. Even the most vehemently anti-science conservatives must acknowledge the harm of mercury pollution. Coal combustion just happens to be large creator of mercury pollution. Alexander could simply work in a bipartisan manner to reduce the things that cause deleterious health impacts in children. As luck would have it, actions taken to reduce asthma and cancer locally also happen to have rockin’ global externalities. Unstated intentions, intended consequences.

Another Marathon in the Works?

I spent 20% of my paycheck last weekend on shoes and shows.

I purchased my first pair of running shoes since 2008 on Saturday, hopefully turning the page on a couple bad years of injury and apathy. I requested a running evaluation as well, curious as to what two breaks, three dislocations, and a sprain over the past 22 months have done to my running form. Apparently, I’m as inefficient as ever (this may be difficult to believe for anyone who witnessed the uncoordinated mess I was in high school cross country). The post-eval conversation went something like this:
Helpful, yet older employee: You need inserts.
Me: No! That’s for old people! I’m not old – you’re old!
HYOE: While this may be true, when your feet strike the ground you’re about as gracious as a three-legged camel on ice.
Me: Lalalalallalalalalala…

I ended up buying the inserts, but it was with an extremely begrudging attitude. Tomorrow I’ll describe my weekend’s brush with American rock history.

Friday, October 15, 2010

$ Can't Buy Poll Love

Fingers remain pointed surrounding the breakdown of the Big 12(-2) over the summer, with many still keyed on Texas. The big bad bullies down south were too greedy, wanted too much money. CU and Nebraska had no desire to live in a conference of such disparity (for good reason - who will compete with the already dominant program). With that in mind, let's examine the Longhorns' current standings in the polls: ....

That's right, sitting at a sad 3-2, UT finds itself as one of those 'other team receiving votes.' Additionally, preseason BB rankings came out today. And how high does the proud program find itself? Wait - nowhere.

There's a second wrinkle of succulent irony in the preseason rankings. As much of a brouhaha that has been made about the Big 12(-2) North not being able to compete with the South, ESPN suggests otherwise. While 3 North teams are in the top 15, only Baylor (#17) from the South managed to wiggle into the rankings. That's right, the privately funded and low-budget Bears are responsible for representing all the big boys with oil money from Oklahoma and Texas. Is competing in basketball the equivalent to competing in football? No. But in Texas's case, they don't seem to be competing much in either (check games 1 and 4).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Basic High School Civics Required

Republicans v. Democrats. Fear v. Hope. These are generic yet oft-used characterizations, and a debate over their merits is for another day. The Dems should've flipped strategies and commandeered fear, making people afraid of a Republican takeover. It's too late now, but this nationwide, concentrated effort starting a couple weeks ago could have paid big dividends. There are a couple caveats to my approach. The first is that it would only work on the base. The second is a basic demonstration of civic knowledge is expected of the base. (This could prove problematic.)

Gerrymandering, errr, redistricting will take place in 2011 and be determined by the legislators elected next month. Dispassion surrounding the status quo is one thing, but the prospect of being cracked and packed into obscurity over the next decade is another. A solid month of telling Dems they'll be permanently stuck in obscurity has to be more effective than the current method: promising to fix an unsavory health care bill you were responsible for.

I guarantee you redistricting is on fewer than 5% of voters' minds. I also don't see how the strategy backfires. You can't flip the strategy, because the Red base is already fired up. Only the Dems are searching for a way to get people excited about voting, and I don't see them coming up with anything better. A battle over who controls the next decade wouldn't even the balance of enthusiasm, but would help smooth the imbalance between the two sides. Then it boils down to who can sway the independents, which would at least give the Democrats a chance.

One more caveat: Democratic leadership has to act competently whilst pursuing this tactic. This proviso likely the most insurmountable of all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Undefeated: Nothing to Show, Nothing to Lose

I find myself aimlessly wandering the streets at night, lost and confused in a brave new world I do not understand. My Wildcats remain undefeated entering the month of October, and are receiving votes in both AP and Coach's polls. Even more rare, my Chiefs are the sole undefeated team remaining in the NFL. (I've honestly forgotten what it's like to root for a team and have them emerge victorious.) Both have huge match-ups coming, each being in the unique situation of having little to lose but much to gain.

Kansas State doesn't have a lot to hang their hat on, with successes to-date being adequate. They beat a much different UCLA team than Texas lost to (literally, due to injuries), should've got beat at home against UCF, and took out Iowa State by a single score. Missouri State.

Kansas City finds itself in an equally questionable esteem. Squeakers against their first opponents, no victories over a winning team, and the undefeated stat is misleading b/c they're really only 3-0; receiving a bye this weekend didn't hurt their road to owning the league's only unblemished record.

This is the discourse surrounding each team, and is almost interchangeable (lame passing game, no real great defense personnel upgrades, wily yet unproven coaching staffs that may have outlived their luck…) Yet this weekend provides extraordinary opportunity for both to establish legitimacy. If Kansas State loses to Nebraska on Thursday, the entire nation will pause for five seconds before declaring 'we knew they were posers,' and flipping the channel. But if they win, a victory over UN would likely vault them into the top 20 (I'd say a ten point win lands them at #17). A loss wouldn't be met with surprise, but a win would be viewed credibly and carry staying power because of the accompanying 5-0 record.

Kansas City needn't worry about poll standings, but I'd still like to see them get a bit more respect on the national level. Problem is, they still haven't earned it. Beat the Colts on Sunday, and they'll get theirs. Not only will the West seem very winnable, but success is indicative of the ability to achieve success. Playoffs.

Both contests remain heady tasks, and the underdogs from Kansas won't be favored for a reason. Win, however, and something special is a possibility for both.