April 17, 2014

#Obamacare good news: Will it carry over?

Compared to target numbers, the White House announcement that 8 million have enrolled for Obamacare is good news, straight-up; the word that 28 percent of these are 18-34 is an alloyed decent bit of news. It's definitely lower than hoped-for percentages, but in terms of absolute raw numbers, it's the same as one-third of 7 million.

Now, let's see what this means in the future, since, as I have blogged repeatedly in the past (click the Obamacare tag below rather than me posting a bunch of links) what these people signed up for is half-Obamacare, due to how much of what was in the actual Affordable Care Act still delayed, some of it for a full year or more, yet.

As for claims that Obamacare, or even half-Obamacare, is responsible for slower growth in health care costs?

Tosh, in a word.

The lingering effects of the Great Recession are, in all likelihood, the single biggest driver of that.

And, as I've also repeatedly blogged before, Obamacare, even the full Monty, has little in the way of built-in cost controls, starting with the fact that it didn't establish a federal department of insurance regulation. We actually won't have that good of an idea of what Obamacare is doing to control health care costs, IMO, until the end of this decade. And, given the current national political climate, there will be no chance of doing any real fixes until that time.

So, this is nice. Or maybe it's just "nice."

Per the half-Obamacare comment, it probably deserves only half a victory lap.

And, please, don't you Obots tell me about "all the Republican opposition." Dear Leader had at least as long to "adapt" on that as Kathleen Sibelius, now absurdly being touted by some Obot types as a Kansas candidate for the U.S. Senate, had to mic-check the Obamacare software.

April 16, 2014

Will the #SJW petard crank up for #PZMyers?

P.Z. Myers/Wikipedia photo
SJW, for those who don't follow Gnu Atheism and its offshoot, Atheism Plus, or non-secularized versions of politically correct "liberalism," is Social Justice Warriors, like Brittany Cooper and others who recently wanted Stephen Colbert's head on a platter.

P.Z. Myers is P.Z. Myers, a curmudgeonly Gnu who, though of an older age, nonetheless has an emotional foot in the camp of the Plusers, too.

And, why would P.Z. get hoisted by the SJW petard?

Calling hyperconsertives at his faculty home, University of Minnesota-Morris, "assholes" and advocating the disposal of their student newspaper, as reported by Faux News.

It's probably not criminal, though depending on the exact wording of various statements of his, and any meetings he had with any students who engaged in the theft after his initial statements, a prosecutor could at least threaten an "engaging in organized criminal activity" charge or whatever the similar is up in Minnesota.

But that's not where the petard is.

Instead, he may well have violated the faculty code of conduct. Beyond that, he may have officially "intimidated" students in some way. That would be doubly so if any of the writers/editors for this student paper are in any of his classes. You know what would be HI-LAR-I-OUS? If these conservatives do some SJW intelectual judo on him and make him undergo sensitivity training.

As I now read his blog post that appeared to start it all, that SJW petard would be well deserved. He doesn't know what the First Amendment means. The paper is offensive, offensive indeed. However, the First Amendment protects the right to engage in offensive speech.

As for his claim he was only advocating the university not allow the paper on campus? Beyond missing both freedom of speech AND freedom of assembly issues at a public university, here's what he actually blogged:
I would advocate the disposal of their flyers if the Ku Klux Klan started papering our campus, and likewise, the North Star has worn out its welcome and must go. Treat their scattered papers as hate-filled trash and dispose of it appropriately.
Now, one can't prove that he was encouraging students to do this "disposal," so criminal charges would be very hard. On the other hand, beyond sensitivity training for violating any faculty code of conduct? Assuming that Minnesota does not require jury unanimity in civil suits, and has a lower burden of proof than in criminal law, Pee Zee could be facing more than just "sensitivity training" and a slap on the hand from the dean of administration or whomever.

And, he's doubled down on not understanding either one of those First Amendment freedoms in his post-Faux post.

As for whether any of this "should" happen? Given that P.Z. has admitted to facing an (allegedly) unfounded accusation of sexual harassment, yet continues to say we should unreservedly believe people making such claims, the "should" of sensitivity training should happen indeed, in my book.

That said, would he actually learn from this?

Of course, not, other than to play the martyr card, like SJWs in general.


That said, were I the John Rawls of Minnesota-Morris, here is how I would pass out both distributive and retributive justice.

First, I would make P.Z. undergo sensitivity training at the hands of fellow atheist, Jesus mythicist, hardcore conservative and apparent racialist Robert M. Price, until P.Z. signed a sworn statement admitting that not all, or nearly all, atheists are liberals.

I would then make some of the worst wingnut students undergo sensitivity training by community organizers in Minneapolis -- in the ghetto there.

Next, I would require their paper to give P.Z. the entire front page for one issue.

And, I'd require P.Z. to give them a blog post of at least 1,000 words, and "pinned" to the top of his blog for a week straight.

A four-letter word for lawyers like #WendyDavis has her in trouble

Wayne Slater's latest love letter to Wendy Davis is a problem for her.

As Slater notes, she's not the first to use her business connections and her business as a state senator to make 2+2 add up to Ben Franklins.

However, she is the first to do so while running for governor, or other executive office.

Had she remained a state senator, things would have been different.

It's not just a Republican like John Carona, also lovingly mentioned by Slater.

Look at black state Senate powerhouses like Rodney Ellis of Houston and Royce West of Dallas, both like Davis, but unlike Carona, lawyers.

But, they're content to remain state senators.

The old Romans had a name for it, the person. In the legalistic Latin of the law profession, you can probably find the word "imberfex" somewhere.

I'll save you the Google search and translate directly what lawyers try to hide from you.

It's called "rainmaker."

While Texas' ethics laws are weaker than other states, and a legislature officially employed only every other year has lots of free time on its hands, surely other states have state legislators, whether actually lawyers or not, who are rainmakers.

But, they too didn't run for executive positions. Or if they did, they waiting many, many years, until they detached from their rain-receiving clients, or they had enough money to move on.

That's why Ellis and West will never run for statewide office. With West, about whom I know more, beyond the cash, it's the power. He, or careful friends of his outside of his office, will have connections to places like UNT-Dallas for decades to come.

(Also in Dallas, this is part of what tripped up famous, or infamous, County Commissioner John Wiley Price, setting aside that he's not an attorney. You put your hands too directly on the rainmaking levers and you wind up in trouble. You double that trouble, again, if you hold an executive position, which, arguably as just one of five in a county, counting the county judge, a commissioner is.)

At her "political boutique" law firm of Newby Davis, Davis, the elected official from the minority party, is more the rainmaker. Law firm partner Bryan Newby, formerly a general counsel for Gov. Rick Perry, brought connections with the majority party, as well as the cachet of being a black Republican.

Meanwhile, the Snooze has doubled down on Slater's story with an editorial. I presume Davis has grown enough that she won't sue over it, unlike with the StartleGram a decade or so ago. And,  yes, that happened.

Again, as my original blog post on this issue showed, it's in part about the state of Texas' officially toothlessness on ethics, a toothlessness that's been pretty much de rigeur since the first gusher at Spindletop if not before. This is also another reason why the Green Party shouldn't be negotiating with Dems about not fighting in the gubernatorial campaign this year.

My final take? I've hinted at this before, but I'll say it more directly now.

Wendy Davis reminds me of Barack Obama. She reminds me a LOT of him in this way — the promises of new politics that we already know, before the election, just aren't true.

Just.Another.Politician.™ (With the added burden of having to sled uphill here in Texas.)

And, just another reason to be honest about what terms like "progressive" and "liberal" mean. Also, as for Charles Kuffner's worries, I'm not jumping off a cliff because I never was on one in the first place.

April 15, 2014

We don't need an Académie Française; we have the #AP

For the unfamiliar, the Académie Française is the god, guru and guardian of French language usage.

American English users like to laugh at it as just another example of snooty French pretentiousness or something.

But, the reality is that we already have such an organization — it's called the Associated Press. Since its origins, the AP has somehow evolved from a newspaper collective into thinking it

I've been reading multiple newspaper industry blogs, like Ken Doctor, where, in the last week or two, there's been discussion of the Associated Press finally catching up with 600-plus years of common English usage on the use of "over," rather than "more than," in numeric as well as spatial relationships. A mix of vapid worship of the AP, combined with fears that this means "the barbarians are at the gate" with such relaxing of standards, made me realize that the AP is indeed America's Académie Française, or so it and its fanboys like to pretend. Said comments also, per the fact that "over" has been used in such ways since the 1300s, made it clear that the AP and its knee-jerk defenders don't necessarily know the English language as well as they claim.

Maybe the AP can see its way free next to adopting the Oxford comma. Until that happens, the Chicago Manual of Style need not fear any challenge from the AP on proper English usage, especially since Chicago is the style for most serious nonfiction writing, as compared to newspapers and magazines represented by the AP.

Maybe it can also see free to restoring "illegal immigrant," for that matter. I'm not a political conservative, but I do deplore political correctness. When AP banned that phrase from its Stylebook last year, it really lost me.

Beyond that, AP, maybe you can teach your own reporters about the "it's" vs. "its" issue — I've seen that mistake creeping into more and more AP stories.

Besides, as the Wiki link above shows, the AP is ultimately about the style of Ben Franklins more than anybody else. If we are to have an Académie Française, let's use the Chicago Manual, in part because it was started by a nonprofit university press.

And the loser of the 2014 #Masters is? #538 might shoot a #FiveThirtyEight (updated)

Neil Paine duffs a chip shot from off the green with his piece on possible winners of this year's Masters.

First, he states the obvious, that length is key at Augusta National. However, he also says greens in regulation is important. While it's true that a golfer can be both short and inaccurate, or long and accurate, in general, there's some correlation between length and inaccuracy.

And, while being closer to a green means the use of shorter irons, with more likelihood of staying on a green, the flip side is that hitting irons out of even lighter rough affects control a bit.

(Update, April 15: Paine now stands somewhat refudiated by Golf Digest. Greens in regulation may not be sabermetric, but it was the top commonality for this year's subpar finishers? Driving distance? Not so much.)

He then follows:
And for all of the breathless reverence given to Augusta’s trademark slippery greens, putting skill isn’t a significant predictor of those who will stray from expectations, either.

I suspect this is because putts per round is one of the least consistent performance indicators from season to season, ranking only above sand save percentage.
Which is true, but only in a trivial sense.

The PGA actually has a sabermetric-type stat for putting called "Strokes Gained-Putting," described here. Paine does note elsewhere (on Twitter, but not in an updated story) that putts per round has a 75 percent correlation with strokes-gained putting.

He then says he wanted long-term data. Well, now you're trying to slice your bread and make it both white and whole wheat, because he goes on to dismiss SG-P as only being around a couple of years. But, if that's the case, how "firm," then, is that 75 percent correlation? Maybe 2-3 more years of study lower it to 70 percent?

By the same token, I'll admit that, because of dramatic images, we may overrate the value of putting at Augusta. But, the 75 percent leaves enough room to wonder whether Paine shouldn't recrunch his story in a few years.

Because, as Zach Johnson showed in 2007, a short hitter with strategery in mind can still win at Augusta. (And Haney said the Tiger-proofing had worked with T. Woods more for how the course now shaped up rather than distance per se.) Beyond Johnson, shorter but not minuscule drivers but good putters with a chance to win would include Ian Poulter, Ryan Moore and Jason Dufner. At the same time, Paine rules out Henrik Stenson based on past performance, but maybe that was due to his putting as much as anything else. (ESPN doesn't have full stats for the European tour, so I don't know; he is fifth on driving distance, though, so it's not a length issue.)

I appreciate Paine's attempt to be a contrarian about "received logic" at Augusta. At least, that's how I'm diagnosing it. However, if not wrong, I think he's a bit early. (That said, I do agree with Paine that both scrambling and sand saves aren't important at Augusta.)

And, there's something else.

Greens in regulation itself is perhaps outdated. I could go across the pond and hit every green in regulation at an Open course with the classic double-hole greens yet face all 50-foot putts. This isn't a fault of Paine's. To riff on Don Rumsfeld, you go to Big Data with the data you have.

To address my issue, we need a standard distance, not just "greens." I think that as an occasional duffer in the past, 20 feet away, even for the pros, involves too much luck. Ten feet, though, might not be far enough away to separate the men from the boys in putting. So, maybe "greens inside 15 feet in regulation" is what we need?

Paine does expect there to be more "sabermetric" stats for golf coming in the future, per a Twitter exchange. However, they're not here yet. And, per Don Rumsfeld again, we're at "known unknowns" right now. We know that our current golf stats are lacking in rigor and revelation, but we're still not sure how much they're lacking and how.

This then leads to a larger-yet issue, part of what several people, far beyond those named Paul Krugman, have said about the FiveThirtyEight brand so far. And that's that it doesn't actually do that much analysis for all the Big Data it crunches. Go here for my previous critique of the FiveThirtyEight "brand."

If a statistic is inadequate, and there's none better to replace it, then let's propose a new one, like I just did. To go back to Don Rumsfeld, other people, unlike him, didn't stay in the fog of war. When Bradleys got hit by IEDs, we improvised, then replaced most of them with MRAPs. And, in a note to Neil's boss, you lose some of the hubris that kept you in the fog of war in the first place.

And, Big Data still can't tell us everything. It couldn't tell us in advance that Billy Beane was afraid of failure, assuming that was part of his problem as a baseball player. (I think it was, and also wonder if that's why he turned down the offer to run the Red Sox.) Back in the golf world, it can't explain why, per an old witticism, "Scott Hoch rhymes with 'choke'."

And, you can overcrunch data, too. Some baseball sabermetric stats, like how much value to give steals and how much to detract for being thrown out stealing, are subjective to a degree themselves.

In case anybody is wondering, here's my look at possibilities to win this year.

Shock me: Phillies' Amaro channels Al Davis again with Burnett (updated)

Even if Cole Hamels reportedly might not be ready at the start of the season, flushing out $16M to former Pirate A.J. Burnett? That's just nuts.

I stand corrected. It could be up to $33.5 mil for 2 years, with a mutual option that Ruben Amaro, should he be lucky enough not to be fired, will surely be dumb enough to pick up. Jayson Stark adds that the contract also has a 20-team no-trade clause.

Stark also comments on that option year:
But even if both sides don't exercise that option, Burnett also has a player option for 2015 that would be worth between $7.5 million and $12.75 million, depending on his performance this season. And there are $1.75 million worth of what one source described as "reachable" performance bonuses in each of the two seasons. 
Holy crap, this is a hugely bad contract.

But wait, it's worse. Yes, worse!

This may, depending on mid-season call-ups and such, push the Phillies over the salary cap/lux tax limit

(Update, April 15: It's worse yet. Burnett has been, if not teh suck, kind of "indifferent." And know we know why: He has an inguinal hernia.)

Even with a healthy Hamels AND a Burnett signing (for less money), the Phils still have a good shot at finishing fourth in that division again. And, an outside shot at dragging the bottom.

Might be time for Jonah Keri to update this year's bad contracts list.

And, he says "no," saying on Twitter:
Burnett had a great 2013 & signed 1-year deal, so no.
I would NOT call that last year "great."

1.7 WAR? 107 ERA+? Even at a bit of a high price of $7M/WAR, it's still a 33 percent overpay. 

I was speaking somewhat tongue in cheek, knowing it's just a one-year deal. It's still an overpay, and probably more than 33 percent. Keri said he wasn't interested in 1-year numbers off B-R, so, longer term?

He's only had above a 110 ERA+ once in the past six seasons and above 2.4 WAR just once in the last eight. Both 2010 and 2011 were negative WAA. Maybe $12.5M for one year, but not $16. And, $12.5M, albeit per year for four years, is what Matt Garza got.

Jonah's still trying to make a case that even longer term, ERA isn't a good measure. But, ERA+, not ERA, does track reasonably close to fielding-independent pitching over longer term. And, I like Baseball-Reference better than Fangraphs for other reasons, including free RSS feed links to players for we bloggers.

Sorry, Jonah, but Amaro panicked for a team that ain't making the playoffs anyway. Hell, the Pirates didn't even given him a tender offer, and he had still been sitting on the shelf drawing almost no interest until Hamels came up with a bum wing.

Sadly, he's not alone in calling Burnett's recent work "great" or similar. Here's a fan blog:
Burnett was outstanding in his two years in a Pirates uniform, winning 26 games, pitching to a 3.41 ERA while being an innings eater, hurling 393.1 frames over his two years in Pittsburgh.
That's "outstanding"? Not. Not even close. And, let's add in that Burnett will be 37. Due for a bit of further age-related decline. It's also a sad day when 200 innings is an "innings eater." Speaking of innings eaters, I'd say this is worse than what the Snakes gave Bronson Arroyo, even if that was 2 years for $23.5 with the option buyout on a third year. (Speaking of, please note the poll at top right.)

Also, and not "sadly," but ... Jonah, you're wrong!

If you want me to go to Fangraphs, I can do that, Jonah? And, you know what? There, Burnett's 2013 FIP looks like a fluke. Fluke. His 2.80 is a career low and the only time he's been below 3.1. Thank you very much, and it's an overpay on your own stats terms, Jonah.

I got more reasons he's a fluke, looking at B-R. His 0.5 HR/9 ties a career low. His WHIP (and pitchers control walks, too) the lowest in six years. Sure, it's possible he can be in the same ballpark on all of these stats next year, but likely? I think not.

He seems to have "regression candidate" written across his forehead.

My predictions for a 2014 Burnett? 185 innings. ERA+ of 102. A WAR of 1.3 and WAA of -0.2. And, that might be generous. Have fun with your $16M, A.J. Have fun blowing money for a possible last-place team, Ruben. And, have fun as  defending this as not an overpay, all and sundry.

Plus, as David Schoenfield notes at ESPN's Sweet Spot, Burnett benefited from the Pirates doing a lot of strategic defensive shifts.
As noted often during their run to the playoffs, Pittsburgh was among the most aggressive teams in regards to infield shifts. Burnett is on record as being opposed to the shift; however, since 2012 the Pirates' staff batting average allowed on groundballs is .216 -- second lowest in the majors. Burnett's personal average since joining the club is .214. The league average for the same time frame is .231. Over the last two years, Burnett was the pitcher of record for 1,135 outs. Of those, 41 percent have come on the ground. 
The Phillies aren't much into that, plus their infield isn't a lot better than the Yankees. Thus, FIP wasn't so "independent," if you will.

Based on those estimates, the Pirates' offer of $12M, still a bit of an overpay, makes more sense. Per a friend, I don't know why he wasn't slapped with the tender label. Would $2M more too much for the Pirate payroll? That said, he's not a $16M man.

I hear petards hoisting, for both Amaro and Keri, I think.

Your thoughts? Feel free to vote in the poll at top right.

And, Jamie Moyer? Don't go in that broadcast booth just yet. I'll bet you've got Amaro on speed dial. If not, you should.

I'm sure that Amaro will once again refuse to trade anybody at the midseason trade deadline, either.

Have fun not rebuilding, Ruben. Have fun not getting value out of Cliff Lee. Speaking of Uncle Cliffy, and Ruben Amaro, and Jonah Keri, if the Phils do need to be in rebuilding mode, and I think two of the three of us agree on that one, paying a league-average 37-year-old $16 million on a 1-year contract isn't how you rebuild. Trading your top trade asset, an All-Star level lefty who can still bring value to an aged team with a thin farm system, is how you rebuild.

I mean, Amaro talked about midseason trades of Lee, Hamels or both last year but then never followed through. True, potential trade partners may have been lowballing him, but he may have been highballing them. And, if the Rangers and Tigers could make their big blockbuster trade this offseason, surely Lee could have been moved, too.

But I'm just a blogger, not a always-brilliant part of the ESPN/Grantland baseball writers studio, you know? I guess I don't know, even if I can quote Fangraphs as well as Baseball-Reference. But, if you really think buying Burnett instead of trading Cliff Lee is how Amaro should rebuild, well, OK, then. Maybe, after Amaro gets fired, you can be the next Phillies GM.

Add to this that, per the updates, Keri's doubling down on this not being a bad contract.

And, sarcastic? Me? Never.

Also, one-year contracts may not be so bad, but, if a team gets a regular history of overpays on 1-year contracts, cumulatively, they are bad.