05 April 2014

The culture demands a commentary

1) McCutcheon. I would place myself in the camp that says this is a refinement and potentially an improvement over Citizens United. I was in a camp that was already roughly in favor of CU though, and have not been persuaded that it negatively impacted national elections. It's possible it does violence to local and state elections by promoting more extreme candidates. But to me those were elections that were already in grave trouble from public choice theory problems as local and state politics are cheaper to influence and the solution was not going to be limiting the amounts of money involved or the sources of that money. The problem to me was never about "corporate personhood" or "corporate free speech", but rather the ability of government to limit speech by placing limits upon the sources and amounts of funds for political campaigns. I have a hard time seeing how transferring funds to organisations advocating for positions one agrees with, or ideals one would like to see promoted, is not a manner or method of speech that was being constrained. I don't care that it was a corporation or unions or advocacy non-profit corporations who are the ones paying for that promotion.

The main improvement is that money in the actual political parties is intended to be more transparent. SuperPACs are intended to be somewhat also, but in practice have become ways to obscure sources and intentions of funding for political advocacy. If Sheldon Adelson or George Soros wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a political goal, I would rather that we in the swelling masses of not super rich people would be able to know about it and that it be clearly connected to the fortunes of particular candidates or issues that we may decide whether those are candidates or issues we wish no longer to support, or wish more to support, on these grounds.

What I don't like is the strengthening of political parties. I'm not a fan of the two-party model. I'd rather we just have greater and greater transparency on the money used as speech that is clearer what a political entity wants to achieve by that speech. I'm somewhat less concerned about who that entity is so much as what they are saying, what policies they support, and who they support as elected officials.

2) The Mozilla-internet situation.

Speaking of people spending money on advocacy.

This I view somewhat differently and skeptically than say, Duck Dynasty. Silicon Valley has it's own sometimes conservative, sometimes ultra liberal, culture surrounding the operations of major firms there, but so far as I am aware, it does not as a whole tend to stake out an notable-anti-gay agenda in the treatment of consumers and employees either. So the idea that the CEO of one of those firms gave money to an anti-homosexual agenda some years ago is notable in that it is probably an outlier and does demand some explanation and response by that figure to a consumer and investor public.

Here's where it becomes a strange comparison to the vilification of the words and actions of social conservatives however. What has he said since then? If we consider that various states have since overturned or passed pro-gay marriage and civil union laws, that obstructions by the federal government have ended, and that various major political figures have "evolved", it would be reasonable to give some benefit of the doubt that these may or may not be currently held views, and it would be reasonable to reward any evolution, however slight, toward a more progressive or inclusive and tolerant view. It is also reasonable to presume there has been no evolution, and that these views are not recanted but rather the topic changed to the behavior of the company suggests perhaps there has not been a grand personal revelation amending his views.

It is less reasonable, but still plausible given the actions of the company, to extend a benefit of the doubt that opposition to gay marriage in a legal sense was not also including a general hostility to the treatment of homosexuals. That is to say, that our understanding of the opposition to same-sex marriages is sometimes very narrow itself and that this makes it more difficult than it needs to be to make reforms and improvements to the status quo. Even as it rapidly changes. The likelihood is indeed greater than there will be many people caught in a middle ground of their own personal views or discomforts and misgivings which may be small or slight, and willing to adapt to overcome these failings, but finding it more difficult by an environment which does not permit these misgivings to be voiced and debated that they may be reformed and advanced and overcome. These views are distinct from the great waterfowl debacle late last year, where these are current views, hardened by ancient religious textual interpretations and expressed openly and consistently.

The one we may find can be forgiven, permitted, and accepted over time. The other is not so much in a view moving toward a tolerant and egalitarian society and will ultimately, if not already, become a regressive and vilified view, unacceptable in polite society. This can be itself unfortunate, but the level of misfortune is far less significant if people disassociate themselves from current views and expressions of co-workers, family and friends, employees, corporations, and so on than if we must also disassociate ourselves from every past view and expression, and can accept or allow no progression or apology in the development and acceptance of other human beings in dealing with other human beings who are in some manner distinct from ourselves. I do not know if Mr Eich privately holds views as repugnant as those of the duck people clan, or those of the Phelps clan, if one wants to find ever more repulsive social expressions, or if he ever held such views and has realized the error of his ways. But it does not appear that he has given those views a public airing either, so it seems strange to assess that he does, or does still on the basis of actions taken some years ago, versus actions which were more supportive of same-sex couples and relationships through company policies he supported or permitted as an executive.

It does not however offend me greatly that his donation to a particular cause, and his lack of presenting some form of evolving view in contrast with them, attracted the attention of consumers and they organised in some format to protest or boycott the company on his the matter of his appointment. This seems like a use of speech that is permissible also, even if it not always wise or not always this effective.

3) Captain America 2. I'd say that other than the Avengers movie itself, this was probably the best of the Marvel movies so far. The last round of them did much better than the previous one (IM3>IM2, Thor and Cap 2 > originals). Iron Man 1 still has some competition on it but that one had a unique advantage in that there were not really other characters upon which to build a plot so it revolved entirely around the most interesting character making things up as he went essentially. This has a plot and gives people some interesting things to do instead. Spoilers ahead, some.

Good:
Lots of little touches to the comic book fan, couple of amusing easter eggs for other films (Jackson's most famous role being among them). There are some obvious lines being set up for the future run of the Captain America-Avengers films (even without the obvious X-Men-ish crossover set up in the end credits).

Fight choreography. Considering they use a UFC fighter for one of the fights, that might have something to do with it. But it's generally much crisper and longer than the slapstick insanity of Thor or Hulk running around hitting things. It's essentially a super-hero martial arts movie in parts. Nobody has the speed of a Bruce Lee (or Stratham or Li) for a fight but it also doesn't have to go all-out CGI for once to be entertaining.

Black Widow. They gave her a lot to do and made much of it more spy-like beyond running around in a war zone as in Avengers. Which finally made her more of a character. She still hits and shoots people of course.

Falcon. Mackie was very good in that role. That becomes an actual character in his work. Iron Patriot/War Machine/Rhodes still isn't quite in that role in the Iron Man movies after 3 appearances, other than "Iron Man sidekick". Falcon already is in that role in half of a movie with Captain America with a back story and motivations and abilities.

Plot was basic and predictable, but the film thematically touched on the "why is the government spying on us?" and "how do we know who to blow up" problems of many current government policies. Other than Iron Man (with the sort of war-monger set of the US selling weapons abroad or to domestic sources and in Iron Man with the government trying to seize Stark's invention), and some quips in Avengers here and there, Marvel films have been distressingly, even grossly, apolitical. Considering that many other big budget action films end up with some stupid and completely bizarre political views getting a lot of air time (anything made by Michael Bay for example), it was nice to get at something approaching a perspective in between things going boom.

This basically results in Captain America: civil libertarian. As if he would be anything else.

Funny. Not as funny as Iron Man or Avengers, but it lacked a good comic actor/foil for that without RDJ/Stark around.

There are some touches, as with IM3 on the sort of emotional toll these missions and world-saving accomplishments take. It's connected here to Rogers/Captain and Wilson/Falcon losing their friends in combat, which is undoubtedly a major part of the stress and emotional pain of fighting wars. And also the questions over who and what you are fighting for, whether it was worth it, what did it really do to make the world a better place?

Bad:
Ending felt like it tapered off rather than resolved much (Iron Man 3 felt this way too). There's some touching on Snowden vs NSA style activities, but it feels like they left that unresolved. Presumably if Captain America had leaked what Snowden did, or had what Snowden had, we in the public might think of the motives in a different or clearer way than we do about Snowden, but it's unclear to me that this should be enough to protect even him from the government reprisal.

Redford lends some old style connections to the 70s era paranoia of government activities films (3 Days of the Condor comparisons are overdone, but it is similar in some respects). But he doesn't seem all that engaged or committed to some ideology he is to be portraying. That makes the villain part more reliant on some other bit players to be the sinister or dangerous parties. Winter Soldier himself was not an actual character so much as an occasional source of explosive combat. (yet). Between those two, it lacks the punch of having Loki or Joker or Red Skull from the first film as a chaotic foil against which the hero is pitted and must stop on a philosophical grounding.

25 March 2014

On which I comment on various things

1) Sebellius v Hobby Lobby
Legally speaking this is an interesting case that I'm not sure that Hobby Lobby should win, but I am not entirely unsympathetic to their claims under a 1st amendment protection. Their problem is mainly and chiefly that the specific claims they are making are totally nonsensical or are unsupported by rational empirical claims. Namely that an IUD or the types of pills they want to reduce access to are not abortion related in scientific terms, as their principle objection. They are abortion related in fantasy land terms. We shouldn't get to make decisions about fantasy land terms applied to reality very often, but much less in a way that applies to other human beings who do not share our fantasies or find them unconvincing interpretations of reality. If it's just our own absurdities, we're not typically harming other people by our beliefs in them and we should be free to exercise them as our best judgment, however inane its results.

Economically speaking there are all kinds of problems with this case. One major problem is that we have employers providing health care insurance to employees and provide them a tax incentive to do this instead of paying people more. If we were to get rid of that in the first place, this case wouldn't be an issue. Hobby Lobby's management could just pay for the insurance they want for themselves. Individual people of all kinds could then choose plans that didn't cover certain kinds of contraception if that was indeed their wish and there would likely be plans that did so in the market (they would potentially cost more).

A secondary economic problem is that the types of plans most people have or could have as individuals are designed toward first dollar coverage or pre-paid health care, wherein the provision for birth control makes sound economic sense. It's usually far cheaper for an insurer to pay for some pills or even an IUD than to pay for a pregnancy and a child, so they should do so anyway. I find the idea that insurers should be required to pay for them or could offer no plans that would not somewhat strange simply because they're not all that expensive and should be even cheaper if we were to remove the prescription requirements and make more available OTC. I'm not unsympathetic to the expense being high on women and that they would want insurance to pay for it. A common argument for something like Viagra being paid for for men as a basis for why women should receive free birth control is responded to by me with a "men shouldn't get that paid for either, it should be out of pocket as a regular and anticipated health related expense". Like aspirin only for the penis. A vasectomy versus a hysterectomy is a vastly more interesting trade-off by expense and the medical invasiveness than comparing which pills are covered.

I have no double standard here as I think neither set of pills should be strictly speaking an insurable event versus part of one's yearly private health care spending budget and the insurance or social insurance we use should kick in when that budget is excessive from serious or chronic ailments, emergencies, injuries, or disabilities.

In other words, I don't find this case very interesting other than it is likely a natural continuation of the dysfunctional health care system we already use rather than offering any functional way to reform it.

2) On other strange religious beliefs I don't understand, I still don't understand why the public seems to think it is necessary to compel bakers who think gay people are icky or some such to bake cakes for their weddings or florists to provide flowers or photographers to provide services. Just boycott these business owners out of business or allow others who don't share this dispositional nonsensical belief to compete against them and generate a larger market share and they will go out of business and have to do something else. The level of discrimination against homosexuality is still quite a bit higher than I am comfortable with, but it is not so high that it is legally required (anymore) or protected and enshrined as an act of religious defiance.

If by some strange notion we have erred as a society in recognizing and providing social benefits to these unions, that would become apparent. It would not become apparent by business owners deciding that somehow this is the thing they will take a stand on. That just makes them poor business owners, not morally upstanding citizens worthy of our respect and admiration. Indeed, it makes them less worthy of our respect and admiration as they would be failing at something which otherwise successfully provides desirable (if overpriced) services and even pleasurable occupations to other human beings. But we similarly cannot make the force law compel them to  providing these services to people they would refuse to do so to. The basis for change and legal compulsion in the case of race is very different, facing legal sanctions against people who allowed for toleration and non-discrimination (rather than in these cases, legal sanctions for those who do not), and decades if not centuries of persistent racial hostility as a society even in the absence of those sanctions which have persisted even in their absence. Homosexuality certainly has a similar variety of hostility, and of recent vintage, but it is lifting through social and generational changes at a far more accelerated pace. I think we can let that play out for now rather than anticipating the percentage of people who might try to put up "straight people only" signs.

Point of order: I am not a gay male, so the specific prejudices do not apply. But were I to have a wedding ceremony ever in my life for which I would be distinctly and personally involved, that said ceremony would have nothing to do with a church or other formal religious ceremony might be deemed relevant and of discriminatory interest to some people. I would not want such people to be involved in said ceremonies. Indeed, I would probably want these persons as far away from such a ceremony as possible. I have little trouble understanding why someone might not want to be involved in such a proceeding (religious people are often more uncomfortable with atheists than homosexuals at this point), even as I don't see why they should use that discomfort as a basis to decide not to participate if they're being paid for their services either.

3) Venezuela, Ukraine, etc. I meant to comment on this a couple weeks ago.

What does this mean? I have to back up a beat before making some comparisons to the calls of attention and action that are commonly made now.

Generally speaking people described the "Arab Spring" (and to some extent the Iranian green movement) of a few years ago as a revolt against tyrannical dictators. What I think most people were revolting against was those tyrannical dictators enriching themselves and their benefactors greatly while impoverished conditions for working class and middle class people had expanded. This is why we saw much less demonstration in Saudi Arabia (a clearly tyrannical system), or Qatar (somewhat tyrannical as well), where there was plenty of oil wealth to hand out as favors to keep the public quiet, but open civil war in Syria and Libya, where there was somewhat less or where there were sectarian conflicts over control of that wealth.

The supposition was then made that somehow these activities were caused by US action. Given that other than maybe Morocco and to some extent Tunisia, none of these rebellions produced functional reforms and changes to the status quo, and in the cases of Libya, Syria, and Egypt, collapsed very badly, perhaps people should not have hastened to claim credit for the results. Leaving that aside, unless one includes the US-global financial collapse as a proximate cause, it's very hard to see how these revolts had anything to do with US actions abroad in the form of hostile occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unstable sectarian regimes and accompanying violence that those occupations involved might closely resemble the post-regime status of some of these countries, but that suggests that our actions are even less useful than previously accounted for at spawning successful and peaceful democratic rebellions.

As another foreign entanglement encroaching on the present, the Georgia-Russia war keeps popping up as some evidence of Putin's territorial designs for expansionism. This ignores that Georgia did much to provoke or even start that war, and that it did so under the expectation that somehow NATO forces would back them up even though NATO forces a) don't have to, b) definitely don't have to if a NATO country starts a war and c) don't have much strategic interest in intervening over a Georgian-Russian territorial dispute.

So what does this mean in the present?

First. American actions abroad may very rarely produce outcomes that are claimed by our leaders as desirable ends. This suggests we should be skeptical not only of forceful actions like deploying troops and equipment, but also that the desirable ends are even achievable at all in some cases. Creating a stable modern government out of Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan has not been achieved in some cases for decades, if not centuries, and has at best a very limited history of upholding, promoting, or sharing, Western democratic values that the formation of instability would result in putative alliances that would provide friendly places to travel, work, and do business between our countries as we might find in say, Europe or much of East Asia. Those relationships were formed over decades too, if not centuries. This means that any positive outcome in Ukraine (or Venezuela, or Syria) would likely have to come out of a long and passive investment with unpleasant growing pains for those countries as they adopted new reforms and policies. It would not be solved by an infusion of American cash via foreign aid or bank loans in most cases, and it would not be resolved by parking aircraft carriers anywhere in particular either.

It is extremely unclear what US missile defence plans in Eastern Europe had to do with Russian territorial pressures or how reducing or altering those plans (often at the behest of the Eastern European nations involved) somehow emboldened aggressive action. People bringing this up have no idea what they are talking about. I am still looking at Mitt Romney and still have no idea what he was talking about on IR concerns. Conservatives trying to hold him up as some kind of hero who would have stood up to Putin need to get a grip. I'd be much more confident the man could have blundered us into a war with Russia over something that doesn't matter very much to us than that he could have single handedly prevented Russian operations with his supposed bravado and acumen. This is not to say that Obama has handled Russia and Putin particularly well. But I have less confidence that Romney or a GOP foreign policy team from their more recent vintage (eg, post-Colin Powell) would have done any better.

Second. American actions abroad often have nothing to do with local and regional concerns of the parties involved. We should not confuse our interests with those of local and regional players. We should be clear about what other parties want out of the situation and that it might not align with our own goals and interests. Perhaps that may mean some interventions would be warranted anyway, but many will not. This is very likely an explanation for why many interventions do not produce the outcomes we claim to desire is that in the race to define our interests, we forget both that we have interests, and, perhaps more important, that other human beings on the planet define their national or regional interests differently than we do. Hegemons can get away with that error but only when they take intelligent actions about where to deploy their forces rather than getting bogged down in every war and every front of action as the US has had a tendency to do and as critics of current policies often wish we would do more often (I'm looking at you Mr McCain, or you, John Bolton).

It seems patently clear that US/NATO policies over the last two decades have been quite expansionary and not exactly peaceful, even if the direction of hostility was no longer the former Soviet bloc that alliance was created to oppose. This course of events and engagements does not justify Putin's actions of hostility in Ukraine and in resolving the Georgia matter a few years ago, but it does explain some of the mindset being deployed behind those actions. And Russia is hardly a minor or local power that American foreign policy establishment figures should have been ignorant of their intentions and reactions to our operations and alliances around them. Similarly it seems far from clear what business it is of Americans who they should support in uprisings, demonstrations, or rebellions or insurrections against de facto tyrants in other countries. Who are our friends in Syria supposed to be anyway? How have we identified them? What of Venezuelans? Are they rising up because of the promise of American democratic capitalism? Unlikely. This seems doubly unlikely that we will be able to choose successfully the winners and losers of a civil discord in another country in a way that will advantage us without it being obvious to the losers of such a discord that we were the benefactor and thus continuing the strife we are setting out to abolish in the first place.

Third, that suggests if there is a need for intervention of any kind, it is unclear what variety of intervention would secure a different outcome than those already at play. What precisely could Americans or Europeans be doing to prevent the Russians from occupying portions of Ukraine? More importantly, why would it be desirable to do whatever that would be. The national sovereignty rights of a large nation are certainly an important interest to protect when they are violated and the possibility of ceding territory are involved. But otherwise, there's not much going on there that should concern us. Russia needs Europeans to buy their natural gas perhaps more than Europeans need them to sell it and it needs a Ukrainian government marginally friendly enough to permit and help enable that trade. But anything other than that is either Russian hubris to believe it can exert that kind of control, or would shut or slow down much access to those markets causing a good deal of commotion in the Russian export economy. Similarly, about the only interest the US had in the Syrian crisis last year (though it persists, nobody here cares), was the use or proliferation of chemical weapons. Once that goal was achieved, through somewhat inept messaging but achieved nonetheless, we don't have much to do with it.

22 March 2014

First two days

Well that was fun.

Surprises.
1) Duke loses in round one. This doesn't really qualify as a major surprise. Mercer was pretty good (should have been a 13), and Duke had a bad defence and depended on shooting to win. I had them losing to Tennessee in round two anyway. This should make that Tennessee pick safer.

2) VCU loses. That game they had won and lost on a 4 point play essentially.

3) Number of OT and buzzer beating games. Two games are decided on late second plays (UD and Texas) and 6 games go to OT. This I think suggests the teams were pretty evenly matched. Which was somewhat already known. The disturbing part I guess is that the games that were evenly matched were so obvious.

Non-surprises
1) Pitt crushes Colorado
2) Tennessee crushes UMass
3) A-10 struggles (1-4, St Louis has to come back against a team that forgot how to make FTs)
4) Mountain West struggles (1-1, San Diego St wins in OT and almost gives the game away).
5) Harvard and UD as upsets in the early games.

Best bracket went 29-3. Mostly went 27-5
Missed
Duke - Mercer
VCU - SFA
NC State - St Louis
New Mexico - Stanford
New Mexico St - San Diego St (apparently I marginally overrated the state this time, for once, neither I had going anywhere after).
I also missed a few on Oklahoma and North Dakota St.

I think this is the first time in a while I've gotten all the 8-9 games correct. Those were surprisingly easy (only Memphis was even that close).

18 March 2014

Pot odds testing the bracket field

I tend to wait a day or two to fill out the brackets now, to let the public's biases become apparent and go against them for some leverage. Some obvious trends have emerged already however because of the increasing reliance of the public on major media outlets providing analysis (or "analysis", depending).

1) Michigan St has somehow become the second favorite team to win the thing. While I think they may be the best and favorite team in that region (a case can be made for Villanova, but not Virginia), they're a 4 seed. 4 seeds have a lot of trouble to go to to win (namely, 1,2,3 seeds, and 5 seeds in the second round). Louisville has the same problem with an even more loaded region.

2) Florida is way overvalued as the favorite currently. I do not like how little they score (or rather how slow they play).

3) Villanova is easily the best dark horse to take. Only about 1% have them winning it right now and they're actually the only team that meets all the metrics for championship potential (Louisville played a crap schedule, Arizona's offense tailed off with Ashley out, Kansas's defence tailed off with Embid out, Florida and Virginia won't score enough, Duke and Creighton can't play defence). Even just to advance them to the Final 4 right now is immensely valuable as Michigan St is just such a hot commodity.

General rules of thumb I apply. These are also mythbusters, since everyone will say the opposite is true for the next 3 weeks in commentary.
1) Defence is good. Offense is better. If a team cannot score, or plays too slow, they have no chance to advance deep (I'm looking at you Virginia or Syracuse, and historically Wisconsin). A minimum level of defensive competency is required to make deep runs. But after that, scoring nearly always wins.

2) Good bigs are better than guards. The reason should be obvious: good forwards and centers in all levels of basketball are hard to find, and they often leave college sooner to get paid. So if a team has good size, chances are they have the most talent (see: Kentucky or Kansas).

3) Teams that win their conference tournament, particularly unexpectedly (which would be teams in the 3-6 range seed wise), do not usually fair well. That would be UCLA and Iowa St especially, possibly Michigan State. Lower seeds like Providence or St Joe's sometimes are peaking.

4) Age is not just a number. See #2. If a team has a bunch of seniors in the era of one and done players, they're not as talented. That's why they're still there. These teams can pull upsets, but they are unlikely to do well as favorites by advancing deep.

5) Don't take Kansas. Or Duke. Kansas isn't a general rule against Kansas, their problem is they played the toughest schedule in the country. Those teams are always burned out. Duke's problem also isn't that they're Duke, it's that they're bad defensively.

By region
West
Arizona looks like the favorite to come out of here even with the injuries. This is a pretty weak region other than Wisconsin and Arizona's defense is very, very good.

Wisconsin has a favorable draw. Oregon usually underachieves, BYU has a key player out for the season, Creighton can't play defence. This would be the best darkhorse to go with from the region.

Creighton may have the best offence in the country but their defence is weak, and they have to get by Baylor playing in San Antonio. They've also struggled a bit on the road (all of their losses have come that way).

San Diego State can't score. That will be a problem if they get Oklahoma in the second round. It might even be a problem against New Mexico St in the first round.

I don't understand the public fascination with Oklahoma State over Gonzaga (they should be favored, but not by a huge margin, they have problems on the road too). Both should lose to Arizona so it's probably irrelevant. Both were underseeded, not just Oklahoma State so it's actually very even.

Nebraska as an 11 upset over Baylor (again, playing in San Antonio) doesn't make any sense to me. Nebraska is by far the worst 11 seed to look at as an upset pick, and other than Ohio State, Baylor may be the best 6. The one that looks more dangerous in round 1 is North Dakota St over Oklahoma, followed by NMSU vs SDSU. Baylor looks like a good upset pick in round 2.

South
Florida looks fine as a favorite to advance here. Again, it's a middling region, and again, Florida has a good defence. Their toughest games may be the second and third round matchups (Pitt and VCU).

Kansas would be my favorite to advance if Embid was healthy and likely to play. Their defence will not be very good without him. That may not matter much as nobody has a good offence on their half of the bracket. It might matter against Florida. It would definitely matter after that.

Syracuse was overrated almost the entire year. They may have trouble with Ohio State's defence as they're another team that can't score (both are). Ohio St is not a very high pick to advance past Cuse, so it's a good one to run with. The risk is Dayton could upset them as they have a weak offense.

UCLA is my pick for a major seed upset in the first round here. They have a terrible tournament coach (Steve Alford), they're guard heavy, and they won a conference tournament they weren't supposed to win. Tulsa's okay as an underdog and not many people seem to be taking them. Regardless, I'd take VCU over UCLA in under two seconds in the second round. This also isn't the method most have used, so there's some gain to be had there too.

The public seems to have figured out that Colorado was overseeded with the major injury to Dinwiddie and being a middling road team. Pitt's also pretty good for a 9 seed. Since I agree with them here, I'm fine with taking the 9 anyway. There's some justification for taking Pitt again over Florida if you're really in a mood, but not much.

Midwest
Louisville is the presumptive favorite here as a 4 seed. Michigan might be a little undersold though in favor of Duke (for some reason). I'm tempted to take them as a result.

Wichita has no favors in a stacked region. They have a potential matchup with Kentucky, then Louisville, then Michigan or Duke. Two of those are better teams, one is pretty even, and one is pretty close.

Michigan may have a pretty easy path, but it's not a gimme. Texas is pretty big in round two and they're a little undersized. Louisville beat them last year and didn't lose as much to the NBA (Burke and Hardaway are clearly better than Dieng and Siva were).

Duke's problems will be whatever matchup they get in round 2. Tennessee and Iowa are both very good offensive teams that will score, and Tennessee has a good defence to boot. Neither should have been in the play-in round (except that the committee still uses the RPI). They're potentially better than even the 5th seed in this region, much less UMass.

I'd say between UMass and St Louis, take the play-in winners against both. Both are fairly lowly regarded by the public as potential upsets, but not enough so.

East
Villanova is down here as my dark horse candidate. Michigan St is also down here as the public's dark horse candidate. Both should be better than Virginia. This is actually a surprisingly stacked region as a result. One of the reasons: almost everyone in it is good on the road, with the possible exceptions of UNC and Memphis.

Virginia should be fine until the 3rd or 4th round. Memphis or George Washington are not much competition. Michigan State and maybe Cincinnati would be.

Nova does have UConn down there with them, and potentially Iowa St or North Carolina. They have a much less favorable path would be the only reason to go against them.

Iowa St fits my usual routine of going against teams that unexpectedly won conference tournaments. They've also got a solid 14 in round one. I wouldn't expect them to lose that game (though I would more than the public does), but both Providence and UNC may be trouble, especially UNC.

Cincinnati looks like an upset watch against Harvard. Ditto Carolina and Providence.

Take George Washington for the pot odds against Memphis. Memphis is favored enough to swing things that way.

16 March 2014

Last pass rankings

Pre madness.


1) Arizona18-4
2) Louisville7-5
3) Florida19-2
4) Virginia16-6
5) Kansas18-9
6) Villanova16-4
7) Duke14-7-1
8) Wichita St8-0
9) Creighton16-7
10) Michigan St15-8
11) Wisconsin19-6-1
12) Michigan17-7-1
13) UCLA12-6-2
14) Ohio St17-9
15) Oklahoma St11-12
16) Kentucky14-9-1
17) Iowa St17-7
18) VCU10-8
19) Pittsburgh11-9
20) Tennessee8-8-4
21) Gonzaga8-4-2
22) Syracuse17-3-2
23) Iowa9-11-1
24) San Diego St9-3-1
25) Cincinnati10-6
26) Connecticut10-7-1
27) North Carolina13-7-2
28) Oklahoma14-9
29) New Mexico8-6
30) Oregon9-7-2
31) Baylor12-11
32) SMU4-6-3
33) Louisiana Tech5-4-3
34) Stanford7-10-2
35) Saint Louis7-5-1
36) Harvard3-2-2
37) Texas13-10
38) Memphis6-8-1
39) Providence10-11
40) St Johns7-11-1
41) Utah7-10-1
42) BYU5-7-4
43) Florida St8-12-1
44) Xavier10-11-1
45) Kansas St11-10-2
46) Arkansas9-9-2
47) Arizona St11-9-2
48) Maryland8-14
49) Massachusetts10-7-1
50) George Washington11-7-1
51) Minnesota10-12-1
52) St Josephs10-7-2
53) Clemson5-10-2
54) Dayton9-6-4
55) Georgetown7-12-2
56) Nebraska11-11-1
57) West Virginia7-14-1
58) Colorado8-10-1
63) ND State2-3-3
66) New Mexico St1-3-6
69) Manhattan2-2-5
72) Tulsa2-6-6
75) Stephen Austin0-1-1
83) NC Central1-3-2
94) Mercer2-2-6
95) Delaware0-6-3
102) American
114) ULL
119) W Michigan
134) E Kentucky
159) Milwaukee
168) Cal Poly
169) Weber St
174) Albany
192) Wofford
201) Mt St Marys
227) Coast Carolina
234) Texas Southern

I have included all the auto-bids to date (which is the bolded names), and all the bubble teams (italics) plus a handful of teams that make my top 60 but won't get in (and probably shouldn't, this is the struck out names). The top 100 records will get updated fully in a day or so. I haven't re-run those entirely yet.

Colorado is the lowest rated team on my list that's likely to get in at large. California and Southern Miss have a handful of bracket experts parking them on the list, but neither is likely, and both are much lower rated.

Some thoughts on the auto-bids
The lesser conferences mostly went to form. 

Cal Poly was rated about 80 spots below the best team in that conference (Cal-Santa Barbara until a couple days ago), but despite being 11-19, they're not the worst team in the field. Indeed, they're not even that close. 

Milwaukee was 90 spots worse than Green Bay. Albany was around the same from Vermont. 

Providence probably would have gotten in anyway, but they may end up seeded a little more respectably now. 

Iowa St may be an attractive upset pick for me. They're likely to get a 3 or 4 seed (they could be as high as a 2). 3-6 is usually a bad spot to be seeded for winning a conference tournament (disclaimer: UConn won the title a few years ago that way). UCLA will be a much more attractive upset pick on those grounds actually.

Iowa St will play faster than almost any other team in the field (BYU? there's a few others who are close, UMass, Oklahoma, UNC). Virginia and Syracuse are the slowest pace teams, though there's a bunch of teams down in the sub 300 rated tempo area. Wisconsin is not one of them.

North Dakota St and Manhattan at first glance look appealing as upsets. So does Harvard.

I'm not sure why a #1 seed was in the works for any Big 10 team. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan St aren't that far apart, Ohio St and Iowa also, and none looks that dominating. They would be the weakest #1 seed in quite a while. Going back maybe to Stanford in 2004. They were 29-1 coming into the tournament, and were upset in the second round. My take would be that if Virginia wins the ACC tournament, they should get it. It should really be Louisville, but it's hard to justify a #1 with their schedule being so poor.

Update: Should note NC State does not appear and SMU doesn't appear as a bubble team. This would be a rare instance where the committee undoubtedly goofed on the selection of teams a little.




11 March 2014

cosmos

So. As much as I like NdGT. I'd have to say I was sort of underwhelmed by Cosmos. I found two high points 

1) The story at the end about Carl (tying the series to the old). Most of humans teaching about and exploring the world around us owes a great deal to people before us mentoring and motivating. And not to people hectoring and lecturing. And one of the points he mentions is not merely that Sagan was a scientist of some note, but that he made a favorable impression on Neil as a human being as someone to aspire to be like not merely as a professional calling but in qualities of decency. We're not quite like robots.  

2) The pale blue dot and the capacity to pound away at the immensity of geological and universe-level time scales and the immense vastness of space. The moon as a single pixel scroll from a week ago does this too. 

Space is... really big, and usually not much to see. 

Time is also not that full of humans. The insignificance of man in the face of these features shouldn't be discounted, and does much to free us from worry over all but our most personal and immediate concerns (food, shelter, safety and well-being of loved ones, etc). Chances are, whatever it is, it just isn't going to matter very much in 50 years (rarely do humans and our squabbles matter this long) or 5000 years (much rarer) or 5 million years (we haven't even been around that long, so who knows). 

We're just not used to thinking of time in those terms. 

Most underwhelming: Bruno. I guess that was included in part to try not to piss off as many religious fundamentalists? I'm not sure if it worked or not. But the biggest problem was that Bruno was mostly operating from an unfounded conjecture and had found little or no evidence to cling to his convictions with, and there didn't appear to be a very strong tie to Galileo or Copernicus' actual discoveries and scientific explorations being made so much as a morality play about the evils of censorship and closed-minded attitudes in positions of authority (which there are rarely any other kind). 


These are both important points for the operation of discovery and inquiry. But they're not always scientific modes of discovery or inquiry after those requisites of relative freedom academically and curiosity are met for the paths of our exploration. People have explored lots of useless bullshit in their free inquiry and while dominant theories have been overturned and later ignored, not just things like the earth-centric universe, many theories go no where or turned out to be useless conjectures. We don't talk about most of it now, mostly because we have some new versions of it. I suspect string theory would fall in this category under the rubric of science that goes no where, possibly much of social psychology and medical reviews under flawed science that should go somewhere, and I know most creationist babbling would fall into it under the rubric of free formed inquiries rather than rigorous investigation. 


I've seen Neil talk before (live and on frequent guest slots on Daily Show/Colbert, and podcast appearance), so I know he knows how to communicate science and concepts of science and philosophy. But overall it was merely decent as a starting point. Between this and Bill Nye's indirect funding of Ken Ham's nonsense, this hasn't been a great month for science. But it hasn't been a bad one either. 


Note: I watched the True Detective finale first the other night and only got to Cosmos tonight (Monday). I was okay with that too but it was somewhat meh at parts. 


I did really like that they didn't get them all, just the one guy, that there wasn't some weird plot twist from left field, that they both almost died, and the last line (it used to be all dark, I think light is winning). I wasn't as fond of the Marty's family plot line back story sort of pbth'ing out. 


I'm not sure why some commenters weren't happy about the sheriff not being a lead/being obviously involved either. Lots of promising police work goes nowhere. It would make sense to include some of it at the expense of an authoritarian prick like that sheriff clearly was, being brought lower. 

10 March 2014

NCAA ranks championship week edition


1) Arizona18-3
2) Louisville6-5
3) Florida15-2
4) Kansas17-8
5) Villanova16-3
6) Duke12-6-1
7) Wichita St7-0
8) Virginia13-6
9) Creighton15-6
10) Michigan15-6-1
11) Wisconsin18-5-1
12) Ohio St14-8
13) Iowa9-11
14) Michigan St13-8
15) Oklahoma St10-11
16) Syracuse17-2-2
17) Tennessee(!)8-7-4
18) Kentucky12-8-1
19) Gonzaga6-4-2
20) Cincinnati8-5
21) Pittsburgh10-8
22) UCLA11-7-1
23) VCU8-7
24) Iowa St14-7
25) North Carolina13-6-2

Notes: Arizona has struggled more than Louisville has played well to put those two in the top rung. I think we can say the injury to Ashley is going to be a problem in the tournament coming up as a result.

Right now I'd go with Florida or Kansas pretty safely to win the thing. Louisville doesn't strike me as a repeater with their soft schedule (only 11 meaningful games, some of the bubble teams have more "actual" wins than they do).

Yes. Syracuse has 2 losses out of the top 100. One of which was at home and both in the last month. Note that despite this, they haven't changed much in my ranking. This is because they just weren't that great of a team to begin with, and also because many of the teams below them were either too far behind or haven't played as well at various stretches.

Wichita is bold because they've already clinched a bid.

There are around 9 bubble spots for around 17 teams, maybe a couple more if you regard the RPI as a reliable judge of some strange team the committee thinks of as good. I still haven't looked at it at all, so I have no idea what teams that would be this year.

Tennessee has really jumped up over the last couple of weeks. They're still regarded as a bubble team by most because of the 4 non-top 100 losses, although the convincing win over Missouri this weekend should have helped a good deal. I think they make it but they can't lose to a terrible team in the SEC tournament. And there are a lot of those. Has to be Florida, Arkansas, or Kentucky that knocks them out basically.

Pitt has only 1 win over the top 50 so they're also considered a bubble watch team for some good reason. Other than Duke, all of their losses were close and other than NC St, they're all to top 30 teams. They should still get in simply because the bubble is weak. They've also been solid on the road (10-3).

Utah (6-8-2) is coming in rated at 32 and won't make the field unless they win the Pac-12 tournament most likely. They were 2-8 on the road. The Pac-12 is very good this year which helps, but they have few good wins.

Virtually every other bubble team is ranked between 38 and 60. This is what we should expect from year to year and it means most won't have a strong case for inclusion if they're omitted.

38) St Johns 7-10-1 : 1 win against the top 50, not as many wins/good record against top 100 as Pitt. Probably won't make it without a win over Providence at minimum in the conference tournament. May have to beat Creighton or Villanova.
39) BYU (5-6-4): Maybe safely in. Needs to win tonight to seal it, a loss to Gonzaga tomorrow wouldn't be a huge hit. Number of bad losses though. Wins over Texas, at Stanford, and Gonzaga basically the selling point here.
40) Florida St (7-10-2): Probably out. Probably shouldn't be. Close loss to Florida looks better now, wins over Pitt, VCU and UMass should help. Most of their losses were not close though.
42) Arkansas (9-9-1): Probably safe. 9 wins over top 100 is a lot for most bubble teams. Sweep of Kentucky and a win over SMU are the big ones. Blowout win over Minnesota also. Their biggest problem is a poor road record (5-8 in road/neutral games) otherwise they'd be very safe.
45) Xavier (9-10-1): Safer than Arkansas. Splits with Creighton and Tennessee, sweep of St John's, and a big win over Cincinnati. Also splits with the other Big East weaker bubble teams (Georgetown, Marquette, Providence). Only real minus is a loss to USC.
49) Minnesota (9-11-1). Possibly out, probably shouldn't be. Wins over Wisconsin and Ohio St and Iowa as well as Florida St. Home loss to Northwestern hurts the most.
51) Georgetown (7-12-1). More likely out. Wins over Michigan St, Creighton, and VCU are more than some of these teams can point to, plus a big win over Kansas St, but that may not add up to enough to overcome all these losses. Biggest problems are being swept by Seton Hall (a middling team), and a loss to Northeastern.
52) West Virginia (7-13-1). Almost certainly out. Bubble chances are fueled by a win over Kansas (without their the KU center and probable #1 pick), a blowout win over Iowa St, and a bunch of close losses (Oklahoma St twice, Wisconsin, Gonzaga). Loss to Virginia Tech is the only really bad one here. I'm not sure I'd put this team in, but it's a measure of how deep the Big 12 is that their 8th best team out of 10 still gets some consideration.
53) Dayton (9-6-3). Wins over Gonzaga and St Louis are the icing here, but they also beat George Washington and UMass and Iona, crushed Cal, and barely lost to Baylor. Getting swept by St Joe's doesn't help if they're the last two being looked at. They had a run of 4 losses in January that may have been from injury problems that they've since recovered from as well and also somehow lost to USC. But they're probably safe.
54) Colorado (9-9-1). This is probably the most interesting team in the group. Their best player (Dinwiddie) is out for the year and they've been a sub .500 team since he went down (7-8). They've struggled on the road. The only bad loss was to Washington, right after Dinwiddie got hurt (and UW is right on the cut line for "top-100") but they were crushed by both UCLA and Arizona both times they played. Those are the conference powerhouses. They do have a win over Kansas as the big one, plus over Stanford, Harvard, and Oregon and a split with Arizona St. I would hesitate a lot to put this team in the field between the injury problem and the road record. But right now they look very safe.
56) Providence (7-11). The big thing here is no "bad" losses (they were blown out by Villanova and Kentucky, but that's to be expected) and they have a home win over Creighton. But that's it. They've also got a ton of games they won against mediocre teams in OT or by under 5 points. I don't see this as a tournament team. Right now it's likely they are not.
57) Nebraska (11-10-1). Another interesting team. The 11 top 100 wins is very high even for non-bubble teams though. Three are over top 25 teams (Wisconsin, Ohio St, Michigan St). Right now they look safe. The reason they're ranked so low though... they're bad on the road (4-10), they lost to UAB, they were clobbered by Ohio St, Michigan, and Cincinnati, and barely beat Northwestern both times. I think they're in though.
60) St Josephs (7-7-2). Wins over VCU, UMass and the sweep of UD are the only real fodder. Losses to Temple and LaSalle aren't helpful. I'm not sure this team belongs in, but they also don't really DQ themselves the way some of the above teams did. Right now they look like the safest bubble team. Which is not as it should be, but they may belong in over some of the Georgetown-WVa groups of teams anyway.
62) California (7-11-1). Right now this looks like the first team out. Wins over Arizona, Arkansas, and Oregon. USC comes in as the bad loss for a 3rd team. This is another bad road team. I would not put this team in or pay much attention to them except that the a) the bubble is soft and b) the bracket matrix has them listed as getting some attention.

So far Green Bay's loss in the Horizon League has cost a conference the most seeding/competition wise. They were probably a 12 seed, rating at 63 right after Cal. Assuming Wright St wins the conference final, they'd be a 15. If it's Milwaukee, it's a 16. New Mexico St in the WAC is in a similar case, but isn't on the bubble the way Green Bay was.

Update: It sounds like Embid might miss some or all of the NCAA tournament. With him playing, I'd take Kansas to win. Without, I suspect they'd lose in the Sweet 16, possibly the Elite Eight if they got a favorable draw with some upsets. This is fairly similar to the year UConn won with Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor with Okafor's back causing problems prior to the tournament. Except a stress fracture in your back is kind of a bigger problem.

The other possibility might be Villanova, as Florida doesn't seem to score enough (they don't play fast) and Louisville looks to have loaded up on cupcake games.

The main notice I see by looking at the efficiency scores is that the top teams are much weaker than in past years, and may easily be weaker still once they are seeded (something the committee almost always does very poorly because of the RPI's use as a horrible metric). There's some balance in the middle 5-8 seeds (assuming they get 5-8 seeds), so expect some upsets and madness would be the rule of thumb here. Don't expect many favorites to survive.



06 March 2014

A brief note of culture

True Detective is quite good. It's written well, delivered in a languorous and depressed atmosphere, shot that way (except for the frenetic action sequence at the end of an episode that was... awesome too, but like watching a baseball pitcher throwing 12-6 curveballs all day and suddenly he remembers he can throw it 100mph and throw right by your face all day too).

What I think I've concluded is that it isn't a mystery. It's a cop buddy show. The pieces for mystery are watching them try to figure out how to get along long enough to figure out their case. But we've seen all the pieces already and probably figured it out after episode 3 or 4 (where the Carcosa/Yellow King references started to pop up in earnest, they've only built over time).

The show is not some sort of metaphysical bullshit like Lost apparently was. So I don't expect a smoke monster or a polar bear to show up or some such. What I would expect is this

1) One or both is going to end up dead or will be revealed to have been dying anyway. They're bringing in a new duo for the next season so this is the most logical ending.

2) This will not be a "good" ending. The case probably won't get "solved". The child sex abuse ring they're trying to break up, it will most likely continue. It's possible some of the key figures (lawnmower man?) will be dead, but that's as optimistic as this show should let anyone be.

I'd be more suspicious that hardly anyone dies from their crew. It's clearly been going on for decades and if there's one thing the show hints at, it's that change is unlikely, or circumstantial at best. (Note: Marty and Rust are not going after these guys to arrest them, that much is obvious as neither are cops). Be warned that many people may come out like the Red Wedding or Baelor from Game of Thrones and be highly pissed.

3) They may tie this into Marty's kids somehow, probably in a way we won't like very much. There haven't been many throw away scenes and those are just so obvious that something, somewhere, happened there.

19 February 2014

NCAA ranks mid February 14


1)Arizona13-2
2)Creighton12-4
3)Duke10-5
4)Louisville3-4
5)Iowa8-6
6)Florida11-2
7)Kansas13-6
8)Villanova11-3
9)Wisconsin14-4-1
10)Ohio St14-6
11)Syracuse15-0
12)Virginia10-5
13)Michigan St12-5
14)Wichita St9-0
15)UCLA8-5
16)Michigan10-6-1
17)Kentucky8-6
18)Pittsburgh8-6
19)Connecticut7-4-1
20)Oklahoma St7-10
21)Iowa St11-5
22)Gonzaga6-4
23)North Carolina10-5-2
24)Cincinnati7-3
25)SMU4-4-2

Arizona is still holding up at the top. Though they will start falling back more with the Ashley injury. Without them at the top, there will be a very muddy title shot pick. Kansas right now would be my favorite to win it, mostly because they should have the top 2 picks in the next draft class. But I wouldn't feel very solid about it. Followed by Florida and Arizona. 

Creighton keeps blitzing Villanova to get a huge boost in the computer ranks. I don't think they're #2, but they're in that next cluster. 

Louisville must not have played any of the better teams in that conference (UC, SMU, Memphis, Connecticut), because they just do not have a tough schedule. 

Highest unranked team is Pitt, followed by Oklahoma St (which has lost 7 in a row now). 

Ranked teams
31) San Diego St 6-2
27) Saint Louis 6-2
29) Texas 11-6
32) Memphis 4-6

Early bubble thoughts. 
There's a thick mixture of teams around 20-50 that are not that far apart. Some of those are very safe (Iowa St, Cincinnati, North Carolina), some need only to right the ship (Oklahoma St), and others are most likely out of the field in a few weeks (Arkansas, BYU, Florida St). The bubble itself looks like a total of 5 spots for about 20 teams. Of these, Baylor, West Virginia, and Oklahoma St could all get in as they have many opportunities to play their way in, and St John's looks to be playing well. Most everybody else, your guess is as good as mine. What this does say is that I continue to think two things
1) There's no reason to expand the field further to ensure competitive teams get in. Most of the teams that don't make it will not be very good anyway. 
2) There's little reason those teams should complain if they don't get in. Virginia was the only team I think was snubbed last year but I had them as no better than a 10 seed, which isn't much of a snub. The year before, it was Arizona, which I had as a 12 seed, and Middle Tennessee (a minor conference powerhouse that lost in their tournament). 

The committee does a decent job slotting teams into the field is the point (but generally a terrible job seeding them) 

09 February 2014

Who watches the Olympics anyway?

So based on studies from last time, my suspicions of the current Winter Games' audience are confirmed: 

1) Mostly women are watching (or at least more women than men)
2) Mostly older people are watching. 
2a) In fact an incredible percentage of older people are watching. 

My guesses for why
1) Most of the winter sports are kind of dull to watch. There isn't usually that much hockey coverage compared to figure skating, as the premier events, and that's really about it outside of snowboard/skiing stuff that's marginally exciting to a casual fan of winter sports. The Summer Olympics are all over the place with stuff to do or see which tends to be a little more interesting to someone (gymnastics, volleyball, swimming/diving, track, basketball, plus all the "niche" stuff like fencing or water polo). I think this pushes out non-casual sports fans who can just keep watching basketball games in the winter (hockey goes on break), and those hardline sports fans are skewed mostly male. I don't think the "dramatic stories" style of coverage for all Olympics actually has much of of a gendered bias so much as that men just find something else more exciting sports wise to watch. 

1a) There's also more obvious sex appeal in the summer games, as competitors aren't bundled up. I don't know if this effects the summer/winter skew or not. I haven't found that study. I did find studies that suggest the Summer games cover and televise more of the men's events. I can't remember seeing a women's basketball game for instance. And what women's events are covered tend toward the skimpy clothing fare (beach volleyball is really popular, along with swimming/diving and gymnastics). I'd bet these two things mean more men watch the summer games than the winter ones. 

2) Older people are more "patriotic" on average, and inclined to share in patriotic displays, which the Olympics clearly are. Younger people are more inclined to express views that are not as heavily dipped in "American exceptionalism" to care that much about patriotic displays. 

3) Older people have more nostalgic feelings toward the games, when they were once a soft power expression of the Cold War and can be associated with competition against clear global rivals (the Eastern Bloc). Running jokes about the judges from Poland or East Germany make less sense to a 25 year old today. China doesn't really have the same potency at the Winter games, which are more clearly a set of rich nation sports, so there's not as big of a soft power rival (I mean, really, who hates Norway or Germany that much in the US?). This cuts down on casual interest from younger people I would suspect. 

For what it's worth, I'm not planning on watching very much of this, if at all. It's prime basketball season, with both the All-Star game and college basketball in its stretch run. I was mostly noting the sources of commentary through social media conformed to a certain set.