Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Speak Up Against Morons

It's not nice to pick on stupid people. Protecting and respecting the weak is one thing that separates us from the rest of the brutes in the animal kingdom.

But it's also ethical to point out dangerous situations that could hurt a great number of people, like calling the police and electric company about a downed power line. In today's case, the latter imperative outweighs the former consideration.

Sunday there was a change of power, when GOP darling Sarah Palin quit her job before finishing her first term as governor. In her parting speech, one that surely had George Washington gritting his wooden teeth, she threw a dart at the media:

“One other thing for the media, our new governor has a very nice family, too, so leave his kids alone,” said the not-quite one-term head of state.

Former Mayor Palin got several things wrong here. First of all, being governor of a small population state does not attract media attention. When she was head of state, her kids were left alone. No one had heard of her, much less her brood. However, running for vice president of the United States, with a light political resume and a 72-year old (on Election Day 2008) running mate, does draw media attention.

Before you (you, Sarah, not the media) made the decision to run for such a public position, one that draws intense scrutiny under the best circumstances, did you discuss the repercussions with your family? I mean, this guy did.

And the media would have been fine to leave your kids alone, except for the fact that one of your kids (not the media, Sarah, but your own unusually-named child) made the adult decision to draw attention to herself. The concept of irony may be lost on someone who reads "all" the newspapers, but the pregnant teenager of a politician who preaches no sex ed in schools and abstinence as the only option ...

"My Mommy is a moron!"

The danger I mentioned comes in the reaction of the audience she directed that comment to (most clearly not the media, who have* no desire to dissect Gov. Parnell's family life). It is the "red" audience: red meat issue-voracious, redneck culturally, red state geographically. They tune out or don't understand the complexities of the Palin situation, noticing only that she ripped off a snappy line at a convenient target. That promotes fear, and distrust, and a breakdown in communication (either this or this), and ultimately weakens our nation.

Sam encourages you to stay vigilant against demagoguery or anything else that harms intelligent discourse in our country.

* -- Occasional proper grammar use is at the sole discretion of the blog proprietor.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

2000 Words: Presidential First Pitch Form

Who do you want as a confident, athletic, "bring the heat" leader of the free world when throwing out the first pitch: this guy ...

or this guy?

Friday, July 24, 2009


Buried in the back of Phil Steele's yearbook (it does seem unfair to call it merely a magazine) are several articles for the curious and statistically-minded fan. These can be an opportunity to soak up Phil's inimitable writing style, or they can be fascinating fodder for blog articles.

Jay from BGS has discovered this too, and his Steele-inspired piece proved my folly of sitting on a good idea just because I was trying to space out my football-oriented entries. Well forget that, here's my article on recruiting.

* * *

While Phil says he doesn't follow recruiting per se, he does subscribe to multiple services, and uses their input in calculating his PS numbers. Teams can bounce up in a particularly good year, based on a strong class in-state, for example, or UTTER FAIL by nearby programs, like 2005 when Iowa vaulted to #6 based on Illinois and Notre Dame firing Turner and Willingham. (For context, this year they were #42.) Teams can fall off the map for a year, too, but overall you'd think it would be hard to remain consistently in the Top 10.

In reality, seven schools have been in the Top 10 four years straight, and two more made it in three of four years. Since recruiting is the lifeblood of a program, does good recruiting correlate with wins?

First let's look at who consistently dominates the rankings:






Southern Cal






























Ohio State















Since I used four years of recruiting rankings, I wanted to look at four years of games, even though I realize the recruits of 2006 weren't on campus in 2005.

2008: 13-1
2007: 9-4
2006: 13-1
2005: 9-2*
* Was really 9-3, Alabama had to vacate a win due to a textbook scandal

2008: 3-9
2007: 9-4
2006: 11-2
2005: 7-5

2008: 10-3
2007: 11-2
2006: 9-4
2005: 10-3

2008: 7-6
2007: 3-9
2006: 10-3
2005: 9-3

2008: 12-1
2007: 10-3
2006: 10-3
2005: 13-0

2008: 10-3
2007: 11-2
2006: 12-1
2005: 10-2

2008: 12-2
2007: 11-3
2006: 11-3
2005: 8-4

2008: 8-5
2007: 12-2
2006: 11-2
2005: 11-2

2008: 12-1
2007: 11-2
2006: 11-2
2005: 12-1

What conclusions can we draw? I see a few common threads on this list of schools. One is consistency in the coaching regime. Look at the tenures: Mack Brown entering his 12th year; Stoops his 11th; Carroll, Tressel and Richt their 9th. Miles and Meyer are entering their 5th, but the SEC guys have been much more stable than the Prozac-popping ride Irish fans have been on. Michigan just made a change, but before him they had three guys in almost 40 years. That's more stability in the top job than Pope (ironic that they are historically anti-Catholic).

And the two schools that just missed my cutoff are Penn State and Florida State, D-I's two longest-tenured coaches (Joe Pa entering his 44th, Bowden his 34th in Tallahassee). Notre Dame is on the low end, with Charlie entering his fifth year.

Another is the ability to overcome the occasional bad year. There is almost no way LSU loses five games again this year, based on all that talent they've compiled. Likewise with Michigan ... expect them to get better quickly. Look at Georgia: nine wins is a "down" year for Richt. And ND? Erratic, with a bad year causing a hangover the next year.

Combining those two points, you get consistency in the record.

The other main takeaway: what the hell has Notre Dame been doing wrong? Look at those four-year winning percentages:


Everyone with consistent Top 10 recruiting has a .750 or better winning percentage, except, ironically, the two winningest programs in college football history.

ND has many problems, and one blog article, no matter how persuasively written or how suave the author, cannot address those off-the-field factors*. But this analysis shows that from a Jimmys and Joes perspective, there is no reason why the Irish can't produce results like their recruiting peers, year in and year out.

* I'm not oblivious to issues of Midwestern weather, academics, 85-scholarship limit, expansion of television access to smaller programs, parietals, etc. They just are not the focus here. Let's prove we belong on the same field, and discuss those topics another time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

As Close As I'll Ever Get to Twitter

I got off the Clark bus tonight, heading home after having dinner with a friend in LP.

And Elton John was playing "Tiny Dancer" at Wrigley Field.

So that was pretty cool. But not as freaking awesome as THIS: (click for larger)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Attack of the Bedbugs!

(Two titular punctuation marks in one day!)

Anyway, it's confirmed: we have bugs.

For several days now, my one-time co-author suspected something more serious than mosquitoes was biting her: large red welts surrounded her itchier-than-normal marks. She zeroed in on bedbugs as a theory, but I was suspicious: if so, why wasn't I getting bit?*

She finally found what she believed to be an actual bug sighting late Saturday, and called the landlady on Sunday. On Monday the landlady called the exterminators and relayed our situation.

The exterminator came today and sprayed everything in the apartment. They did find bedbugs, so we know definitively. But: now there is a thin layer of the chemical spray residue (allegedly safe for humans and pets) over everything. Floors. Tables, couches and chairs. My laptop, nightguard, and Steele. Even inside the closed drawers of our dressers. If I wasn't so lazy and technically incompetent, I'd take and transfer photos of the mess so you could see what we're living with.

Them bastards.

The worst part is that to kill off any remaining bugs or eggs or larvae, we have to leave this layer of chemical residue on all the surfaces in the apartment for FIVE DAYS. I can tolerate the odor all right (it kinda smells like a furniture factory, a pungent chemical scent), but I also don't stay here all day. So TM and the cat are going to Ohio for a few days to get away from it, leaving me home alone with a frozen pizza and the caking of dust everywhere.

It'll be a bit nutty around here for a few days. Bear with us, and please feel free to invite me over to your house for dinner or drinks or something ... I'll entertain all options that don't involve the stench of insecticide.

* -- The answer: I was getting bit, I just didn't have as many bites, and didn't react as violently as she did.

Who Will Go Undefeated This Year?

Going undefeated in college football, even in a season of only 12 games, is extremely difficult. Rare is the season like 2004 when three teams finished undefeated (Auburn, Southern Cal, Oklahoma). More plausible is a scenario like 2007, when LSU got to the championship game with two losses (although to be fair, that was the first time that had happened).

To illustrate the improbability, let's take a quick look at a Top 10 team (according to Steele) expected to be favored in up to 11 of 12 games. Just because Notre Dame could or should win all its games doesn't mean it will. Remember that a team with a 90% probability of winning each of 12 games has a 28% chance of going undefeated, not 90%. That's because all 12 independent outcomes have to occur a certain way, meaning the math is .90 x .90 x.90 etc. (Statistics again on this blog. Who knew?)

I assigned an estimated probability of victory to each of ND's games. You can quibble over the margins but the point remains: despite being the likely favorite against everyone except Southern Cal, ND has only a 2% chance of an undefeated season, not 73%.

Likelihood of Going Undefeated
Game NumberChance We'll WinOpponent
20.65at Michigan
30.80 Michigan State
40.75at Purdue
70.55Boston College
80.90 Washington State
90.85 Navy
100.60at Pittsburgh
120.85 at Stanford
Average: 0.7333Season Total: 1.98%

But that's just an example to ask the question: who will go undefeated in 2009? Probably no one, if history is a guide, but who has a chance? Phil Steele has an idea: he ran the numbers through his Power Ratings system. (No, I don't know how he calculates the ratings--it's part of the proprietary magic that makes Steele Steele.)

For context, look at Phil's list of potential undefeated in 2008: Florida, Ohio State, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Georgia, Missouri, West Virginia, South Florida, Clemson, Utah, BYU, Virginia Tech, Tulsa, Ball State. You might say that any schmuck could look at the Gators, Sooners and Trojans and say there's a chance they could run the table. (The fact they did not says more about the truth of my first paragraph than failings of the predictions.) What about a 10-4 Tulsa team (in 2007) that lost 3 of those 4 by 19+ points? What about a 7-6 Ball State team that did in fact go 12-0 before falling in their conference championship? How about Utah improving from 9-4 to 12-0?

In the 2009 magazine, Phil lists 17 schools that he thinks has a chance (i.e., one of more of his Power Ratings says so) to go undefeated: Florida, Texas, Southern Cal, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Alabama, California, Illinois, Rutgers, Texas Christian, Boise State, Southern Mississippi.

We can winnow that 17 down to a max of 10 possible undefeateds:
  • Ole Miss and Alabama play each other; a perfect SEC West champ would face an undefeated Florida in the conference title game. (minus 2)
  • Texas and Oklahoma face off. (minus 1)
  • One will be eliminated from the Southern Cal/ND/Cal mix, because USC plays both. (minus 1)
  • The three Big Ten teams play round robin. (minus 2)
  • Pitt and Rutgers play each other. (minus 1)
And Virginia Tech plays 'Bama to start the season, so that could get it down to nine. And it's hard to see Cal AND the Irish both beating Southern Cal, so you're down to eight, and so on.

Of course, the vagaries of injuries, turnovers and last second field goals make going undefeated nearly impossible. Phil doesn't say they will, only that they could. But keep an eye on these teams to see if they can pull it off.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Real American Heroes 2009

While I try to figure out where the last three weeks went, it's time to take a moment to celebrate America. Today is our 233rd birthday, and I'd like to acknowledge the Real American Heroes that make this country great.

Thomas Jefferson (from Virginia). For writing the Declaration of Independence. Go read it right now.

John Locke (from Tustin, California). For originally espousing all the ideas that Jefferson stole in writing the Declaration of Independence.

Windell Middlebrooks (from California I believe). For living, and encouraging, the High Life.

"Step aside mon ami."

David Hoffman and Ben Joravsky. Apparently the only two men in town willing to stand up to Mayor Richard M. Daley, the most autocratic mayor since this guy. More vigilance and attention to the dysfunctional, corrupt, wasteful form of government here will open more eyes to the fact that we cannot afford, and simply do not deserve, the Olympics.

This is Hoffman. I assume Joravsky remains unphotographed for his personal safety.

Buddy Guy. Born in Louisiana, rocking his adopted hometown of Chicago today, on Independence Day.

And rocking this pink shirt, too.

Barack Obama (Chicago, via Hawaii). For many things: repairing the damage done to our nation's image after eight years of destruction by the Bush administration, for starters. But to make this list: he wrote an excuse note for a Green Bay child named Kennedy, who skipped school to hear the president speak.

Obama: Making it cool again for kids to want to grow up to be president since 2009.

The Mouse executive who made the decision to pull this blowhard off college football broadcasts. Next, can we get rid of the guy with the biggest Cool Name-to-Awful Talent gap on the planet?

Craig Finn (Minneapolis). For writing the songs that rock my world. For giving voice to Midwesterners in New York City. It's great to see you back in a bar band, baby.

(photo taken by TM, 6/19/09 ... more on this concert soon.)

It's our birthday, Americans ... if it's hot enough where you are, enjoy a popsicle.

You'll notice I didn't mention this guy or this guy ... definitely heroes, but too obvious.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Absence, Partially Explained

Don't ya hate it when a great, funny, engaging blog goes on hiatus unannounced? Yeah, me too. However, I think I have a pretty damn good excuse. Lookit all this stuff that's been going on:
  • Crushing gloomy cold and rain!
  • Ribfest!
  • Ravinia!
  • Sarah Borges!
  • Starting work!
  • New kitty! (not ours...)
  • Mosh pit!
  • Sibling visit!
  • Housewarming party!
  • A rock your face off performance by The Hold Steady!
  • Resume writing!
  • 10-Player League baseball!
  • Roller coasters!
  • Canadians!
  • Blood donation!
  • Wilco (the album) featuring Wilco (the song) by Wilco (the band)!
As you can see, that doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging. And this list doesn't even mention reading (and digesting) many of the 328 pages that are JAMPACKED WITH INFORMATION in Steele. I'll try to get caught up as much as I can in the next few days, starting with the first few (oldest) items.