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Monday, March 31, 2008

Baseball 2008: Sluggers

Sorry for the light blogging. I've been participating in an on-line fantasy baseball draft, watching some college hoops and attending an academic conference in San Francisco.

Here are the 2008A Louisville Sluggers, of the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League. The owners in this 24 team mixed-league draft 28 players, but play head-to-head with a more limited lineup of 9 hitters, 5 starting pitchers and 3 relievers.

Offensively, the OBFLB uses home runs, steals, batting average, "runs produced average" (runs plus RBI minus homers divided by at bats), and plate appearances. For pitchers, we use wins, saves, ERA, "ratio" and innings pitched. The PA and IP categories are new this year.

Here's my regular starting lineup and substitutes. The 14 players in blue were my retained players:

C Miguel Montero (ARI)
1B Billy Butler (KC)
2B Jose Lopez (SEA)
3B Edwin Encarnacion (CIN)
SS Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
OF Carlos Beltran (NYM)
OF Jeremy Hermida (FLA)
OF Carlos Gomez (MIN)
DH Joey Votto (CIN)

SP Josh Beckett (BOS)
SP Fausto Carmona (CLE)
SP Rich Hill (CHC)
SP Rich Harden (OAK)
SP Tim Lincecum (SF)
RP Joaquin Benoit (TEX)
RP Taylor Tankersley (FLA)
RP Manny Delcarmen (BOS)

Bench:
C Mike Rivera (MIL)
1B Daric Barton (OAK)
2B Matt Antonelli (SD) (minors)
IF Wilson Betemit (NYY)
OF Adam Jones (BAL)
OF Gabe Gross (MIL)
OF Adam Lind (TOR) (minors)
UT Alfredo Amezega (FLO)
SP Ricky Nolasco (FLO)
SP Rick Porcello (DET) (minors)
RP Joel Peralta (minors)

I may end up using Barton more than Votto and Jones more than Gomez.

I may regret cutting Jeremy Accardo.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The DISH: Borat, Clinton and $$$

"In Kazakstahn we think America technologely very good, and now I see is a very primitive." -- Borat.

From Broadcasting & Cable, March 17:
A new Ku-band satellite that was to be used by satellite-TV service Dish Network to increase its slate of HD channels failed to reach orbit after being launched from Kazakhstan Friday...

Regardless of the reason for the launch failure, the loss of AMC-14 casts significant doubt on Dish Network’s plan to expand from its existing 50-odd HD channels to 70-100 in order to better compete with DirecTV, Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett said. In a research note to investors, Moffett declared that the competitiveness of Dish’s HD offering has “suffered a major blow.”

“Dish Network had made it clear that HD featured prominently in their own future plans, and that they did not plan to cede ‘video superiority’ to anyone,” Moffett wrote. “Given the long lead times involved in contracting for, building, and launching a satellite, however, it could take years for Dish Network to fully recover.”
As you may know, money related to business deals involving Borat's homeland is tangentially tied to the US presidential race.

Anyone interested in the web of connections might want to consider that the deal behind this failed satellite dates to 1994 and the Clinton administration, which brokered US business and Kazakh ties. The NY Times reported in February 1994: "a Russian rocket will use the Baykonur space center in Kazakhstan to launch an American communications satellite."


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Monday, March 24, 2008

Hilltoppers



December 29, 2007: Kentucky 72 - San Diego 81

March 23, 2008: Western Kentucky 72 - San Diego 63

Local sportswriter Eric Crawford wrote about Western Kentucky basketball yesterday:
WKU's program has an outstanding tradition but tends to operate in the shadow of Louisville and Kentucky. For the record, the most recent time WKU played at Rupp Arena, it beat UK by 12. The most recent time it was at Freedom Hall, it beat U of L by three.
I think he was on to something.


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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hoops

Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been preparing for a conference next week, participating in an on-line fantasy baseball draft (Matt Antonelli is now a Louisville Slugger) and watching a good deal of college basketball.

The first day**, I picked 15 of 16 games! Here's my bracket (click for a larger image):

Rock chalk, Jayhawk!

My final score tiebreaker is 77-73, iirc.


***Who picked all those 12 and 13 seeds winning on day two? And I lost the two games decided at the buzzer -- Drake and U Conn. The latter is fine, however, since a couple of my friends had U Conn in the championship game. Ha!

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five year anniversary

I did not have a blog in March 2003, so I cannot readily link to anything I was writing five years ago when the war on Iraq began.

However, in late February 2003, I participated in an on-line project called "13 Myths on War in Iraq" (here's a link to a pdf version). It appeared on March 7, 2003, on ZNet, earlier on some other websites.

We did a pretty good job, I think:
Myth 1: Removing Saddam Will Punish 9/11 Perpetrators
Myth 2: Powell Presented Strong Evidence at UN
Myth 3: Saddam May Soon Threaten US
Myth 4: Experts 'Discover' Prohibited Missile
Myth 5: Bin Laden Tape Proves Iraq Connection
Myth 6: Iraq Still Has Large Nuclear Program
Myth 7: If US Pulls Out Now, It Looks Bad
Myth 8: A Cheap, Easy War
Myth 9: Wartime Press is Free and Unbiased
Myth 10: Goal is to Free Iraqis, Not to Grab Oil
Myth 11: War Solves the Energy Crisis
Myth 12: UN Commitments Don't Really Matter
Myth 13: Protesting a War is Unpatriotic
There is text accompanying each of those myth statements, along with citations. I recall working on the military points -- 1, 2, 3, 6 and perhaps 8 -- and 12 on the UN. This blog has continued to focus on these points throughout the years.

The 13 Myths project, incidentally, was led by Rich Cowan, who I met on the internet during the 2000 election fiasco. We both belonged to a Florida recount discussion group. Based partly on that group's input, Rich eventually published "13 Myths About The Results Of The 2000 Election" on November 13 that year.

If you have a few spare dollars, you might contribute to Rich's Organizers' Collaborative Database project. It is a 501(c)(3) organization and the money would support organizing software used by nonprofit organizations.


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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Delegate math

When I should have been finishing a paper, I played around this morning with the Democratic delegate numbers for a few minutes..

Using CNN's delegate counter, it is VERY difficult to engineer a Hillary Clinton victory from the remaining contests.

I gave her huge 60-40 victories in PA, WV, IN, and KY, a 2 to 1 win in Puerto Rico and a 3 to 1 rout in Guam.

I limited Barack Obama to a very narrow margin of victory in NC (+3 delegates, a 51/49 vote split) and declared MT, SD and OR virtual ties (tilting 1 odd delegate to Clinton).

In my scenario, which seems incredibly optimistic for Clinton, she has to win the remaining superdelegates 221-130 to get to the current magic number, 2025.

Conversely, if Obama earns the delegates he expects to win in the coming states, then he only needs to garner support from 131 of the 351 remaining unpledged superdelegates.

The Obama projections look very reasonable to me, though I suppose Clinton could earn bandwagoning momentum in the race if she pulls off a huge victory in PA. His team projects a win in Indiana, which means they think Gary is far more important than the Ohio/KY part of the state.

What about Florida and Michigan? The Slate delegate calculator has the ability to add FL and MI. Give Clinton all the optimistic scenario results from above, make MI and FL 60-40 for her, and she still needs 216 of the 351 remaining unpledged delegates to win.

Her magic number of superdelegates needed to win does not drop much at all even with FL and MI because she is currently quite a distance behind in pledged delegate support (53.6% to 46.3%) and the overwhelming majority of pledged delegates have already been committed.

Everyone knows that, right?

I'm trying to figure out if the people giving Clinton money realize it?


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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Iraq narrative

Influential right-leaning blogger Engram repeatedly provides his readers with a coherent narrative that supports continued war in Iraq. He writes that the violence in Iraq is triggered by AQI's suicide bombers. They attack civilians in an attempt to spark civil war -- convincing the US to leave and thus creating an opportunity for AQI to create a caliphate. In his view, Iraq is not suffering a civil war and the surge was purely about fighting AQI, not about making time for political progress. If the US exits Iraq, Engram is convinced that AQI will escalate its suicide bomber campaign.

It's a powerful narrative and potentially useful for John McCain in the fall. In fact, he often writes as if this is McCain's view of the war.

Allow me to quote from one of Engram's most recent posts. First, he claims that the surge was not designed to allow political progress in Iraq -- and that political progress in Iraq is virtually irrelevant. Rather, he says that the
standard mental maneuver on the left...is to adopt the assumption that all of these gains are temporary unless the Iraqis show some fast political progress...Political progress would "presumably address the tensions underlying the violence"? I don't think so...even if every last political benchmark were achieved, we'd still have a big fight on our hands, and our simple choice is to win that fight (the John McCain option) or to immediately surrender (the Barack Obama option). There is no other choice, unfortunately, and all the political progress in the world is not going to change that fact.
Engram repeatedly denies that Iraq is suffering a civil war.

Indeed, Engram's other much-repeated point is that Al Qaeda of Iraq is responsible for the violence in Iraq:
[AQI is] the terrorist organization that is most responsible for violence in Iraq....the first step towards achieving a better understanding of what is happening in Iraq is to realize that your much-cherished "civil war" scenario is all wrong and always has been. You can appreciate how wrong it is by considering the simple fact that, now, Americans, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are all working against some un-namable foe in Iraq. Once you finally name that foe, you will then be in a position to rethink the widely accepted notion that its all about political progress in Iraq.
Obviously, this is a remarkably coherent and seemingly persuasive narrative.

What do the American military leaders say about Engram's thesis? Though he frequently quotes them, I'm not so sure they would agree with him.

Commander Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno just returned from Iraq, where he was day-to-day commander of military operations in Iraq. The following material is from his March 4 press briefing at the Pentagon:
I returned about two weeks ago. As you know, we were focused for 15 months in Iraq on improving the security situation, which allowed a window of opportunity for economic development, improved governance and enhancement of the Iraqi security forces...

The situation in Iraq is now largely a communal struggle for power and resources. Both intra-Shi'a, intra-Sunni competition as well as external influences are at the center of issues facing the government of Iraq...

We can likely make some more progress in security, but the focus must shift to jobs and economic opportunity, making strides in governance both nationally and, just as important, locally, and a continued bettering of the Iraqi security forces, bolstering both their capacity and their ability to conduct independent operations.
Hmmm. Odierno's "communal struggle for power and resources" sounds a lot like a civil war, doesn't it? And progress now depends upon economic and political (governance) progress?

What about AQI's role and the source of violence in Iraq?

Here are some additional remarks Odierno made to a reporter in an interview the same week:
"In order to have another significant decline [in violence], it is going to take economic progress, governance progress, and I think that's the next step," the former commander, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, said in an interview Wednesday at his Fort Hood headquarters...

Odierno said that about half of the attacks currently being carried out against American and Iraqi forces and civilians were conducted by Shiite militant groups.
Odierno does attribute the remaining violence to AQI, but Engram's claim is wildly off the mark.

I'm guessing Engram would counter that the "communal" violence merely reflects the success of AQI's strategy. The ethnic groups wouldn't be killing each other if it weren't for AQI's suicide bombers. Actually, however, Odierno blames Iran for the Shiite mischief and says that AQI is fairly weak right now. The Shiite state of Iran is certainly NOT sympathetic to Sunni al Qaeda.

Oh, Odierno also says that it will be impossible to root out AQI completely.
they will always be there at some level. But what you want them to be, you want them to get to a point where they become almost a nonentity
Odierno notes that AQI is already so desperate recruiting suicide bombers in Iraq that they had to use two women with Down's syndrome -- and the bombs were remotely detonated. They weren't even suicide bombers!

I've previously noted research demonstrating that suicide terrorism is motivated by foreign occupation and the evidence from past campaigns suggests that it stops when the occupation ends.


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Free campaign advice

The political calendar, packed with weekly events since the start of the new year, is now about to take a spring break. The next scheduled primary is in Pennsylvania, April 22. By then, my classes will be over for this term!

Can the main Democratic rivals continue for nearly six weeks without destroying each other? Events of the last week suggest that this might be a big problem. Surrogates from both campaigns have made unfortunate word choices to describe the opponent camp's candidate.

One significant reason the battle between Obama and Clinton has become so personally destructive is that the candidates agree on a heck of a lot of issues. Highlighting their images, personal narratives and approaches to politics is about the only way for the candidates to distinguish themselves from each other.

Sure, they disagree about some policy details.

And yes, to policy wonks, many of those details are important.

However, to the average voter the campaigns probably sound very much alike. They both want to create health insurance plans that would offer universal coverage, to move forward on global warming, to renegotiate NAFTA (to take into account labor and environmental interests), and to withdraw from Iraq.

It's a popular Democratic agenda and the loser's supporters should naturally navigate to the other candidate in the fall.

To avoid the potential self-destruction of identity politics, the Obama campaign should turn its focus toward presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in the next month or so. Because he has more delegates, constituting a virtually insurmountable lead after 40 state elections, Obama can afford to campaign differently.

By focusing on McCain, Obama can illustrate that one of Clinton's central attacks is wrong. She says he's not ready to be President, especially on matters of national security. Obama could spend the next month disproving that very point -- by debating McCain through speeches and ads.

Based on the exchange they had about al Qaeda of Iraq a couple of weeks ago, McCain seems more than willing to engage this debate.

By demonstrating his security acumen and debating an opponent with major differences on these issues, Obama can highlight more clearly that he is the change that his supporters want him to be.

Such a campaign strategy would indicate that Obama is "ready on day one" to take on the heavy hitters he is going to face from the Republicans in Congress and embedded in think tanks. On substance, Obama will make a lot of points that Democrats want to hear -- about the war's failings, about energy policy, etc.


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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Obama's problem

In recent days, Hillary Clinton's campaign has seemingly backed Barack Obama into a corner. They've been pounding him with various attacks about his foreign policy leadership -- even comparing him unfavorably to John McCain.
"Sen. McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign; I will bring a lifetime of experience; and Sen. Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002," Clinton said today after her event with the military leaders.
If Obama strikes back, in a conventional negative counterattack, that action would arguably undermine the central argument he's been making throughout this campaign about bringing a new kind of politics to Washington.

If Obama ignores the attacks, he runs the risk of the losing the nomination.

What should the campaign do?

I think Obama has to go negative in a way that is completely consistent with the arguments he's been making about the need for a new kind of politics.

Here's a line from one of his fall stump speeches:
Hillary Clinton is a colleague and a friend. She's also a skilled politician, and she's run what Washington would call a "textbook" campaign. But the problem is the textbook itself.

It's a textbook that's all about winning elections, but says nothing about how to bring the country together to solve problems.
At the time, Obama was criticizing Clinton for offering calculated campaign promises, designed to win narrow majorities.

Now, he could use that line to highlight the Clinton team's divisive and negative campaigning. Sure, there's some danger that he would reinforce the negative ads, but some scholars of political communication describe an "inoculating effect" of this tactic. Tell voters what they are going to hear from the opponent, and explain it away, even before the opponent makes the case. There's still time to do this in Pennsylvania and other remaining states (including perhaps Florida and Michigan)

The first part is actually fairly easy. Obama could readily list a few of the points Clinton has been making in regard to his alleged foreign policy inexperience.

Then, however, Obama must inoculate himself and that is going to be somewhat harder. Obama needs to make an argument about his own foreign policy experience that resonates. Ideally, he wants to make some comparisons that won't get either one of them in trouble against McCain in the fall.

What are his options?

1. Obama could highlight his form of smart leadership -- acting on issues that matter most, in an innovative way that brings together a broad political coalition. Recall, in 2002, he was opposed to a dumb war, rashly and cynically pushed by ideologues to distract from other issues.

In the Senate, Obama has linked himself to Republican Dick Lugar on the question of Russian nuclear weapons -- making site visits, cosponsoring key nonproliferation legislation, etc. There must be tape of Obama shaking hands with Russian military leaders. Perhaps a campaign commercial or youtube video could highlight this policy endorsement from Lugar:
I'm enthused and encouraged by Senator Obama's commitment to adding his strong voice and creativity to the nonproliferation challenge.
I want to see more photos like this in circulation with those words.

2. Obama could (though this might be risky to the Democratic base) point out some failed policies of the Clinton administration -- and even more explicitly use a variant of the "dumb wars" leadership argument he made in 2002 against the Iraq war.

It would be most tempting to attack from the left -- Clinton's failings on human rights (ICC and land mine ban) and global warming, perhaps. Bill Clinton's administration outsourced some of these policies to the Pentagon. Perhaps this is why Hillary Clinton is now surrounding herself with generals and admirals!

However, the "tough/dumb" point would probably work better. The Clinton administration in many ways let Afghanistan fester for years even as it signed the Iraq Liberation Act, presaging the current war. That ties HRC's 2002 vote to a longer history of failure and misunderstood priorities.

Somewhat more problematically, some Obama surrogate might want to laugh off his opponent's responsibility for these Clinton administration failures. After all, "Mrs. Clinton" served admirably as her husband's first lady for 20 years (12 in Arkansas). Can we really blame her for his mistakes?


Note: I forgot to reference an even more egregious statement by Hillary Clinton. Hilzoy is on it.


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Friday, March 07, 2008

Racing news

This post updates one I wrote back on Valentine's Day. Essentially, by listing the states that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have won, I provide a snapshot of the Democratic nominating race to-date and suggest some potential implications for November.

For example, post-Ohio, Obama's electability in key swing states is being challenged. However, from the list below, it is easy to see that he's won a number of potentially important states to the Democratic Party's fate in November. Indeed, Obama has won more Purple states than has Clinton. Do doubters ask whether Clinton can win Wisconsin, Iowa, or Missouri in the same way that many are asking if Obama can win Ohio -- or Pennsylvania?

It may well be true that only Obama can put Colorado and perhaps Virginia in play. Missouri may be tough regardless of the Democratic nominee.

Purple states (11, Obama 6-5, nearly 6-3-2)
Arkansas: Clinton
Colorado: Obama
Iowa: Obama
Maine: Obama
Missouri: Obama
Nevada: Clinton (Obama won delegate count)
New Hampshire: Clinton
New Mexico: Clinton (nearly tied)
Ohio: Clinton
Virginia: Obama
Wisconsin: Obama

This next set of blue states should go to either candidate in November. Incidentally, these states are worth 189 Electoral Votes in 2008. If Obama could hold the six swing states he's already won (not a given), then he's at 243 EVs. Add Oregon (which has yet to vote) and Nevada (where Obama won the delegate count) and he'd be at 255.

Conceivably, Obama could win the election by winning any one of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, or Pennsylvania. Gore and Kerry won both Michigan and Pennsylvania and nonetheless lost their races.

New Hampshire and New Mexico could substitute for Missouri. With Michigan, the total would be 270 on the nose.

Blue states (14, Obama 9-5)
California: Clinton
Connecticut: Obama
Delaware: Obama
District of Columbia: Obama
Hawaii: Obama
Illinois: Obama
Maryland: Obama
Massachusetts: Clinton
Minnesota: Obama
New Jersey: Clinton
New York: Clinton
Rhode Island: Clinton
Vermont: Obama
Washington: Obama

This last set of states is likely to go to John McCain regardless of the identity of the Democratic nominee:

Red states (14, Obama 11-3)
Alabama: Obama
Alaska: Obama
Arizona: Obama
Georgia: Obama
Idaho: Obama
Kansas: Obama
Louisiana: Obama
Nebraska: Obama
North Dakota: Obama
Oklahoma: Clinton
South Carolina: Obama
Tennessee: Clinton
Texas: Clinton (caucus votes still unavailable)
Utah: Obama

By next Wednesday, this last list will probably also include Wyoming and Mississippi for Obama.

I continue to think that the Dems are going to have to find a way to vote again in Michigan and probably in Florida.

It is widely assumed that Clinton would win Florida, but Michigan may be more like Wisconsin than Ohio. Whatever the outcome, I hope voters in those states will get a chance to influence the contest.


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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Iraq body counts

Kevin Drum has posted a chart of the latest civilian casualties in Iraq. Actually, his chart is taken directly from right-leaning blogger Engram. They reveal the purported "success" of the surge -- massively reduced death totals compared to a year ago.

However, as I've noted previously, his numbers also reveal that the current level of death is about the level of 2005. To his credit, Engram does not try to hide this, his chart includes data from the second half of 2005.

Keep in mind this key point, however, Engram uses ICCC data -- the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

Yet, as Engram acknowledges in comments, ICCC data are not the best. The Iraq Body Count provides superior data:
The ICCC numbers are mainly for tracking trends. They are the ones I usually use because they are immediately available at the end of every month. The IBC numbers, which take longer to process, give a more accurate indication of the absolute number of casualties.
IBC data aren't as favorable as the ICCC data. They show the same trend, but reveal a significantly higher civilian death toll in Iraq.

In fact, comparing the data, it looks like IBC reports about one-third more deaths each month than does ICCC.

Moreover, for the latest data, IBC numbers are likely underestimates. Indeed, when Engram last used IBC numbers for a chart (in October), the September body count estimate was around 700 to 750. Just a couple of months later, in its year-end summary, the IBC changed this number to 1220. IBC itself says that the initial estimates can increase substantially as the complete data emerges. Consider January and February 2008 data to be quite tentative.

Here's the same sort of chart, using IBC's latest data. Compare it to Engram's and the main difference is that the montly death totals are much higher. That's worth noting, even if the current totals are only estimates.

Graphing from this source.

The per day death rate from January (24.7) to February (33.6) increased more than a third. December's rate was about 29 per day. IBC data reveal that Iraq's death rate was 20 per day in year one, 31 per day in year 2, 36 per day in year 3 and a staggering 74 per day in year 4.


The latest February number is only a one month swing, but I'm certainly not ready to pop any champagne corks.


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