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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Reasonable creatures

Katha Pollitt read from her new essay collection, Virginity or Death!, at Barnes and Noble last night. Pollitt has been a major influence on how I think and write since I read her first essay collection, Reasonable Creatures. I admire her reasonableness and her skepticism, her ability to say "Really?" as in this column about Nicholas Kristof's insistence that feminists don't pay attention to human rights. She's a great antidote to Maureen Dowd. The other day, I leafed through the interviews in this transcription of Harvard's Global Values 101 course and was impressed by her comment that the feminist movement needs to get more radical because we're currently settling for less, an issue that she picks up in these essays about the "reframing" of the abortion rights movement. (Lani Guinier's interview in that book is also good.)

Here's an excerpt from her latest column from the Nation about Linda Hirshman's Get to Work and Caitlin Flanagan's To Hell With All That:

Hirshman's weakness is her assumption that the social problem of women's inequality can be solved if enough women make the right individual decisions. She mocks "the same old public day-care business that has gone nowhere since 1972." But really, isn't the stay-home vogue at bottom a response to the fact that society has failed to adapt to working mothers? Isn't choice feminism itself a way of dealing with the whole complex range of resistance to women's equality, by throwing up your hands and saying, Let each woman make her own tradeoffs? Unlike Flanagan, who wants women to give up the struggle, Hirshman wants individual women to fight harder and smarter, and that's great. But it only goes so far. If better personal decisions could bring about gender equality, we wouldn't be having this conversation today.

For another skeptical take on choice feminism, Meghan O'Rourke's response to Hirshman's book on Slate.

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Blogger Xopo on Thu Jun 29, 12:01:00 AM:
A crucial subject that should be discussed much more. I stongly believe that the fight for women's rights is far from won and that actually we have been silenced by the myth of equality...but some women don't seem to agree. Thanks for introducing me to Pollit. More women like her should be heard and read. XXOO.
 

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Red card for Alice

I'm not much of a soccer fan, but I've tried to stay up on the World Cup standings in the past few weeks. Today I walked by a little boy kicking a ball around in the lawn outside of Butler Library. The ball rolled out onto the pathway in front of me, so I tried to kick it back to him, using the inside of my foot as I remembered from elementary school. I shouldn't try to do these things. I managed to kick it away from him, and he looked at me with a mixture of hurt and confusion, like I'd tried to do that. I ran to retrieve it and carried it back to him in my hands. His mother looked at me like I should stay away from children forever.

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Grade me... grade me, my friend

The NY Times's Samuel G. Friedman writes about grade deflation at Boston University:
Boston University officials six years ago began sending deans, chairs and individual instructors data comparing average grades in courses and departments. While some other universities do share such information with faculty members, Boston University's administrators went further in suggesting ideal distributions of grades, C's very much included, and in recommending departmental averages, with par near a B.
...
"These students are competing for admission to graduate school, for post-docs, for study abroad," said Jeffrey J. Henderson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "And to the extent G.P.A. is important, they say, we come out of B.U. and we have a lower grade point and no one can tell why. That is a legitimate concern."
When I taught a course on the American Novel at Black Sea "University" (I don't recall meeting any graduate students) here in Tbilisi, Georgia last fall, there was significant pressure on me not to fail any students, because then the students would switch to another school and the school was at only 50% of capacity as it was.

My experience in college regarding grades was split completely between my engineering courseload and my liberal arts courseload; the standard deviation of the grade distribution in the former was much greater than in the latter. In computer science, going through the motions would earn me a B, falling behind a bit would mean a C, and only with long hours and intense focus could I get an A, though I did get several A+s. The difference between, say, an A- and an A was extremely slight.

Not so in my experience in my other major, history. I found a B to be a breeze, and I agree with Larry Summers's view, at least as regards Columbia, that politically left-leaning courses tend to give generous grades--at least unless they are conducted by a real post-modernist megalomaniac like Gayatri Spivak. Getting a regular A, however, was incredibly difficult for me. The difference between an A- and an A was huge, and I often wished that there were more differentiation among higher scores. With the average GPA at Columbia College something around 3.4, there was much grade spectrum around 1.0-3.0 that was only lightly used. Meanwhile, friends at St. Andrew's College in Edinburgh were graded out of I think 15 points, with a par around 7; earning an 11 was impressive, a 13 was a seriously proud accomplishment, and rare 15s grew into college lore.

I briefly lived in Palo Alto with someone in charge of hiring for a software company during the dotcom boom. When he looked at resumes of graduating computer science studetns, he would toss out those with 3.6 averages with disdain but prize 3.8s as golden nuggets. I think it was a mistake to think that such a difference was meaningful, but what could he do?

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The desert read is not like the beach read

Stephen Amidon has a nice overview of books about Arizona in Salon. The publication being Salon, the letters about the article are along the lines of, "how on earth could you neglect..." and "Monument Valley is in Utah!" and "Yes, but all the photographs of it are taken in Arizona!" So I'll add my two cents about desert literature to the blog instead of the letters page.

How on earth could Amidon neglect Joy Williams' The Quick and the Dead? The book is weird but not whimsical, although I may be biased because one of the main characters is named Alice, and she thinks about stuff like this:
The kids' mother moved one big arm and groped around in the backseat. The car veered down the road, Alice staring stoically ahead, until she retrieved what she was after, a cocktail in a can. "Want a pop?" she said. Alice shook her head. "Sure?" the woman said. "It's mostly fruit juice."

I want ... a scar, Alice thought. A scar that would send shivers up people's spines but would not elicit pity. She didn't want that kind of scar.

No, really, it's not whimsical. It's a very moving book, actually, although it's difficult to tie up the strands of the plot into a single description. I guess it would be something like: three teenage girls drift through the desert, meet a taxidermist and assorted oddballs, learn about death and grieving.

I read it for the first time during the last summer I spent in Albuquerque. I worked for an alternative weekly paper and my first story was about the lack of landscaping budget planned for the reconstruction of the two interstate highways that intersect in Albuquerque. Because of the extreme water shortage in the Southwest, planners have to get creative about landscaping. The result is called xeriscaping: using low-water plants and a lot of rocks and sand. You have to learn to appreciate the subtleties of the color tan, but it can look very nice if it's done well (my mother's yard underwent several transformations from a "sea" of maroon lava rocks to a "dry stream bed" surrounded by chamisa and desert willows over the years). I wrote a story about the how the city and state bickered about who would pay for landscaping and maintenance on the roadside. They may never have come to an agreement about the issue, although the highway and retaining walls look good. I didn't have a car, so I walked everywhere, including a brief jaunt on the side of an access road when I needed to get to the state highway division. I became well acquainted with desert flora, or the lack thereof, and I loved this passage from Williams' book, which is about Sonoran flora but resonated nonetheless:
A black bird, a phainopepla, rocketed past and alighted on a trembling mesquite bush. Alice felt that the desert was looking at her, that it kept coming closer, incuriously. She stared into the distance, seeing it as something ticking, something about to arrive. A brief, ferocious wind came up and a Styrofoam cup sailed by and impaled itself upon an ocotillo. She started back toward the park's entrance, walking not along the road but through the desert itself. Cars and vans occasionally passed by. Tiny heads were what she saw, behind closed windows. She walked quickly, sometimes breaking into a run, through the gulleys and over the rocks, past the strange growths, all living their starved, difficult lives. Everything had hooks or thorns. Everything was saw-edged and spiny-pointed. Everything was defensive and fierce and determined to live. She liked this stuff. It all had a great deal of character. At the same time, it was here only because it had adapted to the circumstances, the external and extreme circumstances of its surroundings.

Plants were lucky because when they adapted it wasn't considered a compromise. It was more difficult for a human being, a girl.

She was never going to seek gainful employment again, that was for certain. She'd remain outside the public sector. She'd be an anarchist, she'd travel with jaguars. She was going to train herself to be totally irrational. She'd fall in love with a totally inappropriate person. She'd really work on it, but abandon would be involved as well. She'd have different names, a.k.a. Snake, a.k.a. Snow--no, that was juvenile. She wanted to be extraordinary, to possess a savage glitter.

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Blogger Meg Lyman on Wed Jun 21, 01:59:00 PM:
Love it. When we were in Albuquerque a few months ago, we both realized just how alive it was. Wherever we went, we saw roadrunner, quail, rabbits, and owls. I have also come to love xeriscaping, which has really evolved. It's actually become quite beautiful. I find myself wondering why people on the East Coast don't do it.
 
Blogger ipofrigio on Sat Sep 19, 10:01:00 AM:
Nice to find a quote from the Quick and the Dead. I am right now translating it in Italian.

Cheers, Marco
 

Laughter, suspense, heartbreak, wordplay

Brette and I went to see Wordplay on Tuesday night (here's my previous concerns about overstating the pleasures of crossword puzzles). Early in the movie, there's a funny scene of Will Shortz doing the weekend puzzle on NPR, in which Shortz names a category (automobiles) and the contestant has to name a noun in that category with the same first two letters (Audi). Other examples included capital cities/ Carson City and Snow White's dwarves/ Sneezy. The Upper West Side audience began whispering their guesses at the answer ("Snoopy," "Snappy"), and I figured this was going to be a long movie.

I won't give anything away, but I will say that Brette and I gasped audibly at one particularly horrifying moment. There were also moments to sigh sadly, laugh at the letters that solvers send to Will Shortz ("you are SICK SICK SICK ... p.s. you are SICK SICK SICK"), etc. There's a performance of a song about crossword puzzles with the refrain, "If you don't come across, I'm gonna be down." So, yeah, it's that kind of movie, but it was pretty good.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Going under water

Possibly the most intense week of my life is ahead, as the conference I'm organizing goes into full swing. At the moment everything seems to be coming together, but with these things you're always just two high-profile cancellations and one lost bus away from total disaster.

With something like this having a blog is weird in the same way having a journal is -- notes are sometimes an attempt to reach out to my future self and borrow some of the safety he has of being done with it.

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Bruce Springsteen: gay for one moment in time

At a party my girlfriend Kate and I threw last week, the rumor went around that Bruce Springsteen had just come out as gay. "Oh, you haven't heard?" Etc.

There were a lot of renditions of lines like "strap your arms 'round my engines", but Kate had the line of the night. She'd just been told, and someone was crying "baby we were born to run!" to which she responded, "born to run... from the heterosexual normative!"

Unfortunately, in the light of day we can't actually find any evidence that Bruce Springsteen is gay.

We did, however, find a relevant Onion headline:

"All Male Celebrities Gay, According to Internet"

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Anonymous Frank on Mon Aug 07, 05:51:00 AM:
Who cares if he's gay? He's just an open minded guy with a guitar that sings what's on his mind, anyway. "Just one kiss from you, my brother and we'll ride until we fall" ("This Hard Land")
 

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I'm on a plane. I can't complain.

Before we went to the Yankees-Red Sox game last week, my friend Jaime sent me an e-mail about the location of our seats, which were relatively close to right field and within foul ball range. "You can bring a glove to protect me," he wrote.

"You'll recall that I don't have any depth perception," I wrote back. "I won't be any use to you."

I've been using that line for a long time to explain my failures at sports, driving, appreciation for M.C. Escher... I have a lazy right eye, and I never developed stereoscopic vision. I was excited to see my disability get the Oliver Sacks literary treatment in this week's issue of the New Yorker (not available online).

Sacks points out that those without stereoscopic vision often don't know it until an opthamologist or optometrist points it out, which was the case for me. The eye doctor gave me a few depth perception tests (pictures of objects at various distances, the Brock test of beads on a string) and then finally asked, "Are you just guessing about your answers?" I didn't realize that there was something I wasn't getting. Sacks writes that most people depend on a combination of binocular and monocular clues to judge distance:
There are, of course, many other ways of judging depth: occlusion of distant objects by closer objects, perspective (the fact that distant objects appear smaller), shading (which delineates the shape of objects), "aerial" perspective (the blurring and bluing of more distant objects by intervening air), and, most important, motion parallax--the change of spatial relationships as we move our heads. All these cues, acting in tandem, can give a vivid sense of reality and space and depth. But the only way to actually perceive depth rather than judge it is with binocular stereoscopy.

I became that kid in gym class who's pathetically untalented but loves to explain the reason why (I always felt superior to the hypoglycemic kids, who should have known better how to control themselves). The gym teachers didn't care (nor should they have). In seventh grade, we learned how to play tennis at the same time that our Spanish class was performing "Blanca Nieve." I played La Bruja and my friend Meg played El Espejo. Faced with my failure at the end of the play, I had to throw an apple at Meg, "break" her, and fall to my knees and exclaim that I had become "inutil" ("useless"--why was this the adjective we chose?) Tennis lessons thus became drama class, in which I'd try to hit the ball and yell "inutil, inutil, inutil!" In retrospect, it seems either really sad or really funny that I made it through gym class yelling that I was useless over and over again.

Because it gives me the opportunity to explain away things that I'm not very good at doing, I've never thought about what it would be like to have depth perception. Sacks writes,
There may even be certain advantages to monocular vision, as when photographers nad cinematographers deliberately renounce their binocularity and stereoscopy by confining themselves to a one-eye, one-lens view, the better to frame and compose their pictures. And those who have never had stereopsis but manage well without it may be hard put to understand why anyone should pay as much attention to it. Errol Morris, the filmmaker, was born with strabismus, and subsequently lost all the vision in one eye, but feels he gets along perfectly well. "I see things in 3-D," he said. "I move my head when I need to--parallax is enough. I don't see the world as a plane. He joked that he considered stereopsis no more than a "gimmick" and found my interest in it "bizarre."

I tried to argue with him on the special character and beauty of stereopsis. But one cannot convey to the stereo-blind what stereopsis is like; the subjective quality, the quale, of stereopsis is unique and no less remarkable than that of color. However brilliantly a person with monocular vision may function, he or she is, in this one sense, totally lacking.

The second half of the article is about a woman who lacked stereoscopy but developed it after she received special prismatic glasses and practiced depth perception exercises. In her correspondence with Sacks, she explained how her new experience with stereoscopy felt like being on drugs or being in a fun house, but she was eager to try out everything she missed. Sacks includes part of her correspondence:
When I was eating lunch, I looked down at my fork over the bowl of rice and the fork was poised in the air in front of the bowl. There was space between the fork and the bowl. I had never seen that before. ... I kept looking at a grape poised at the edge of my fork. I could see it in depth.
...Today, I was walking by a complete horse skeleton in the basement of the building where I work, when I saw the horse's skull sticking out so much, that I actually jumped back and cried out.

More than anything, I'm moved that this woman found a correspondent as genuinely interested in depth perception as Oliver Sacks. It's a wonderful article.

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Blogger Meg Lyman on Wed Jun 14, 05:20:00 PM:
I can totally remember that!!! Actually, I remember us being particularly excited about using the word "inutil" and quite proud of ourselves for using that word (instead of "feo" which, as I recall, was the universal insult). So, are you saying that during P.E. you tried over and over to hit me with a tennis ball? I'm not sure how I feel about that!
 
Blogger Xopo on Wed Jun 14, 07:24:00 PM:
You have made me laugh. So much. Or mucho. I had never realized how many articles plus nouns "Blanca Nieves" has. La bruja, el duende, el espejo. I hope el juego was muy divertido. Great post, Alice!
 
Anonymous Katy on Fri Jun 16, 09:35:00 AM:
Alice, I love the title of this post. Do I get points for getting the reference? Probably not, considering your audience.

It's not quite the same, but I like to use my mild astigmatism as an excuse for my clumsiness. I actually do have some problems with it when I'm walking around in my astigmatism-correcting glasses and my peripheral vision is all distorted relative to what I can see straight ahead. Maybe I can get Oliver Sachs to do an article about my daily struggles to walk down the very long escalator in the T station near my house.
 

NY Times roundup

Notes on today's NY Times stories:

A piece on the Heat's crucial win over the Mavericks reports that "The Heat is alive..." Is that house style? Does the Times also write "the Magic is" and "the Lightning is"?

In the piece, Shaquille O'Neal makes a rare, heartbreaking admission of being over the hill:
In the end, it was Shaquille O'Neal, the 12.5 percent free throw shooter in the first two games, who made his when it counted. With 1:48 to play, he had cut the Mavericks' lead to 93-90 by sinking two free throws — giving him 16 points.

His thought process on the line? “Make them,” O’Neal said after the game. “I just went back to the way I used to shoot – when I was a good player.”
Great unintentionally funny headline: "In Iraq Visit, Bush Seizes on a Step Forward". I picture Bush bounding off the plane and then collapsing, exhibiting "symptoms of seizure activity, usually with convulsions." Still, not quite as good as "MacArthur Flies Back to Front".

And in worrisome news, "For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Résumé". Luckily, Alice and I have no plans to become employed in real jobs any time soon.

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Anonymous k8 on Fri Jun 16, 05:42:00 AM:
Um, take this how you will, but ya'll's blog reads like the diaries of two dorkaholics who stopped attending meetings long ago. (So much so that this humble poster made sure to put TWO apostophes in a word not known for its, um, grammatical correctness.) Anyway, I seriously doubt benandalice.com is going to stop anyone from hiring you, unless you're applying for the job of Stupid Person.
 

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cranky about crosswords

Am I going to like the new documentary about crossword puzzle enthusiasts, Wordplay? More importantly, is the movie going to change my opinion of Yankees pitcher and crossword enthusiast Mike Mussina?

Last year, I had plans to be a freelance crossword constructor until it was not so gently suggested to me that my social life was suffering because of it. Jack McCoy and I spent many evenings sketching out grids and using up gum erasers, but I only finished constructing three or four Wednesday-level puzzles. I can't even find them now. Oh well.

The weird thing about this profile of Will Shortz in New York magazine is the writer's inexplicable decision to frame the story as a (non-existent) problem piece: Sudoku has eclipsed the crossword puzzle in popularity, just as a movie about crossword puzzles is about to be released! Sudoku is, according to the writer, "the ultimate puzzle for a postliterate world."
Less charitably, one could regard Sudoku as the lowest common denominator--a puzzle for a nation whose citizens no longer presume to have any culture in common. "I don’t want to call it a dumbing down of society," Abby Taylor, Dell’s editor-in-chief, says delicately, but she has noticed that nonlanguage puzzles like Sudoku--or nondemanding ones like word searches--have been steadily increasing in sales, while sales of difficult crosswords remain flat.

I'm not surprised that Sudoku is more popular than the crossword, but I'm not troubled by the trend, either. I'm all for people doing logic puzzles on the subway. Spare me the claims about a decline in civilization--that's a lazy narrative conceit, not a real problem.

I'm not convinced that doing the crossword is a marker of cultural sophistication, either. You get good at doing the crossword by learning how to recognize patterns. There was a Henrik Ibsen-themed puzzle a month or two ago in the Times, but figuring out the themed answers didn't have much to do with having read Ibsen. A frequent solver would have recognized the clues as ones that appear often in the Times because they contain lots of vowels. It's delightful to figure out clues such as MRPEANUT and GIJOE, but it's a big jump in logic to say that puzzle-solving skill has moral benefits:
This is the documentary’s precise conceit-—that through the crossword we can see the spirit of an entire class of people, the nation’s highbrows, the wonks who cherish vocabulary and wit, prize precision and accuracy, and who believe it is a moral good to read widely in the culture.

Let's just say this point may be overstated. If Mike Mussina can do the crossword in the Yankees dugout, can we really call them moral? Also, do all brainy leisure activities have to have a larger cultural good?

In his book about crossword enthusiasm, Crossworlds, Marc Romano tried out a similar thesis: "Solving puzzles is an active step you can take to make yourself a better, more informed, fairer, and more tolerant person." The best parts of that book, though, are the profiles of Shortz and frequent Friday constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley. The profiles are funny and natural, and the writing works best when the author intrudes the least into the story. The less interesting parts of the book are the attempts to prove the moral improvement thesis and when he undercuts his moral improvement thesis by going on and on about his troubles with women and how he likes to read Gravity's Rainbow at bars (those two problems may be linked).

So those are a few reasons why I'm ambivalent about this new crossword movie: maybe I'd rather sit at home with my graph paper and Jack McCoy's moral self-righteousness than listen to others try to graft a moral onto my precious grids. Jon Stewart's crossword enthusiasm may be the main reason I'll go see it, as I can't imagine him being too high-minded about it.

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Blogger Leslie Linevsky on Tue Jun 13, 08:36:00 PM:
When I give the present to my oldest daughter she replies “everyone in class already knows how to play” and she grabs the book and begins to literally amaze me with her logic and skill. Parents … take heed … this is 10 thousand times better for your kids to get hooked on than Game boys and iPods.

I also bought a newer game called Kakuro. Like Sudoku, Kakuro is a grid puzzle using numbers. Unlike Sudoku, solving requires actually adding and subtracting. Kakuro is a logic puzzle in which the object is to narrow down the possibilities for each square until you find the one that is correct. It was introduced in Japan more than twenty years ago, but only in 2005 it was introduced in Britain, which is now featured in several best-selling books.
 
Blogger Meg Lyman on Wed Jun 14, 10:18:00 AM:
Very nice blog, Alice. I definately agree that completing crosswords does not make one a better or smarter person. In order to complete them you must do have two things not associated with either: cultural knowledge and being aware of conventions of crosswords. I, indeed, wish had both of those in greater quantity, because I find completing crosswords much more enjoyable and fullfilling than Sudoku. Oh well.
 

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gladwell lowers shooting percentage

I'm late in the game on this one, but Malcolm Gladwell is in full excitable boy mode in his latest New Yorker piece, a review of a new book purported to be the Moneyball of basketball:
In the 2000-01 season, [Allen Iverson] finished first in the league in scoring and steals, led his team to the second-best record in the league, and was named, by the country's sportswriters and broadcasters, basketball's Most Valuable Player.
...
But how do we know that we're watching a great player?
...
In "The Wages of Wins" (Stanford; $29.95), the economists David J. Berri, Martin B. Schmidt, and Stacey L. Brook set out to solve the Iverson problem. Weighing the relative value of fouls, rebounds, shots taken, turnovers, and the like, they've created an algorithm that, they argue, comes closer than any previous statistical measure to capturing the true value of a basketball player. The algorithm yields what they call a Win Score, because it expresses a player's worth as the number of wins that his contributions bring to his team.
...
On average, for his career, [Iverson] has ranked a hundred and sixteenth.
Great opening--Iverson is overvalued, much like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in baseball, and a basketball Billy Beane (general manager of the Oakland Athletics and the hero of Moneyball) could use that knowledge to put together a cheap team of scrappers to take on the big guys. Please, someone kick out Doc Rivers and make this book head coach of the Celtics.

But when Gladwell gets excited, he screws up his metaphors:

[How well a given individual performs is] an easier question to answer when it comes to, say, golf or tennis, where players compete against one another, under similar circumstances, week after week. Nobody would dispute that Roger Federer is the world's best tennis player.
...
Most tasks that professionals perform, though, are surprisingly hard to evaluate. Suppose that we wanted to measure something in the real world, like the relative skill of New York City's heart surgeons... recovery time is a function as well of how a patient is treated in the intensive-care unit, which reflects the capabilities not just of the doctor but of the nurses in the I.C.U. So now we have to adjust for nurse quality in our assessment of surgeon quality. We'd also better adjust for how sick the patients were in the first place, and since well-regarded surgeons often treat the most difficult cases, the best surgeons might well have the poorest patient recovery rates. In order to measure something you thought was fairly straightforward, you really have to take into account a series of things that aren't so straightforward. [emph added]
I assumed, reading this, that Gladwell was leading to a discussion of how to separate an individual basketball player's performance from the context of his team, looking perhaps at how well the team did when he was benched or injured, and how well the teams he has played on do before, during, and after his time as a member of their club.

Not so; the "series of things that aren't so straightforward", in basketball, can supposedly by accounted for quite easily by the player's own basic statistics, as weighted by the "win score" formula, which the book's authors post on their blog:

Points + Rebounds + Steals + ½Assists + ½Blocked Shots – Field Goal Attempts – Turnovers - ½Free Throw Attempts - ½Personal Fouls
Nevermind the relative performance of other employees and the prior condition of the patients. And note that this is not an algorithm at all but a formula, making Gladwell's zealous oversell even more cringe-inducing. In typical fashion, Gladwell is getting ahead of the very ideas he's championing.

On the book's authors' blog, they admit the drawbacks of Win Score:

To get at Wins Produced you have to use the exact values, and make a few adjustments – such as adjusting for position played – which we note in the book. Still, Win Score is sufficient to give you a quick snapshot of a player's performance. And it is especially useful if you wish to know if a player is playing better or worse than he did before. [emph added again]

Gladwell, besides confusing win score with wins produced, does not make such disclaimers about either.

The limitations of this, and any, simple formula for sports evaluation are especially clear in the authors' "Quarterback Score" formula:

Yards - (3 x number of plays) – (50 x turnovers)
Certainly a mediocre quarterback with great receivers could compete in such a score with a great quarterback with poor receivers.

A comment on the author's blog post elaborates what an incomplete measurement of a player's value either formula is:
As a former basketball player, one of my strengths was to get the other team's "best player" to foul me. I was even skilled enough to sacrifice a lay-up to draw a foul and then hit two foul shots. By the fourth quarter, the team's star would either be on the bench or super-cautious defensively, given us a tremendous late game advantage. I feel like this contribution lead to a weaken defense and would have given me more Win Score than your formula would give me, since there are minute factors like this that could come in play even in the NBA.

Also being a "smart player" comes into play when fouling a player. I would like to think there are players, like myself, that make "smart fouls" that save 2 points more than it gives 2 points to the other team. ( i.e. stopping a fast break at half-court.) This could sway the Win Score too.

Not to mention reputation too. For instance, Shaq... teams probably shoot more inaccurate outside shots when he's in the game which would give his team an advantage, because they are less likely to drive the lane. This also would decrease Shaq's opportunities at blocked shots that could raise his Win Score number too. I'm sure for a player like Allen Iverson, an opposing coach would put his best defensive player in the game to cover him (sacrificing the regular starter who's more offensively skilled.) The affects of this would be tremendous as well.

The authors acknowledge these drawbacks and admit that the formula's can err widely with individuals, even as it settles down and decently approximates the quality of the aggregated players on the team. Gladwell does not acknowledge this.

Gladwell writes that, among other surprises,
Jermaine O'Neal, a center for the Indiana Pacers, finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting in 2004. His Win Score that year put him forty-fourth in the league.
...
The Win Score algorithm suggests that Ray Allen has had nearly as good a career as Kobe Bryant, whom many consider the top player in the game, and that the journeyman forward Jerome Williams was actually among the strongest players of his generation.
I calculated the win score of fan favorite Jerome "Junkyard Dog" Williams: he has a career win score of 6.3. Jermaine O'Neal is certainly overrated, and Gladwell is right that he has never been close to MVP, but his career win score edges out JYD's at 6.5, and (using Berri & co.'s formula) his win score for the 2003-4 season Gladwell mentions was 8.4. To put this in context, in Jason Kidd's excellent 2004-5 season, the single best performance in terms of win score that Gladwell cites, his win score was 10.1. Considering his was Gladwell's cherry-picked example, O'Neal's 8.4 doesn't look so bad.

I assume Gladwell's 20 games number for Kidd is a confusion with "wins produced", which the authors discuss on their blog.

For perspective, the best career win score I could find for a player who entered the NBA within 1 year of O'Neal and Williams was Tim Duncan's, 12.9. While we're at it, Iverson's career win score is 5.4, low indeed for a former MVP, but not as low as it was in the 2000-2001 season, when it was 4.9 due mostly to his poor shooting percentage and his high number of free throws.

At this point, if you're not wondering what Michael Jordan's win score was, you may as well become a monk. His career score was 10.7. Yes, this includes the various comeback periods when he was less than 100%, but his numbers in those seasons weren't as bad as I thought. I understand that wins produced provides adjustments for position (though where that leaves position-bending players like Scottie Pippen and Le Bron James, I don't know), but does his high win score mean Duncan is on par with Jordan?

Gladwell's article points out the mistake of assessing player performance using very limited information--watching them play and looking at their scoring--but he doesn't ask how we evaluate panacea formulas for sports performance, which are nothing new. John Hollinger, basketball's closest thing to baseball's pioneering Bill James, made up a complex formula called "player efficiency rating" that is very influential, but seems to mesh with basketball fans' evaluations of ball-hogging stars like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant better than Berri & co.'s win score does. Berri & co. call their book an attempt to both simplify and improve PER (much needed, since there are mathematical symbols in the PER formula I don't remember learning in college).

Gladwell is also short on details of who else is working in the field. As usual, his subjects are islands of insight and wisdom, and you can't blame a CEO for concluding that the best way to gain the wisdom of Gladwell's maverick subjects is probably to pay him a huge honararium to speak at the annual company convention. Gladwell should note that as in baseball, the statistics nerds with laptops are alreadly being hired and given power to test their theories for real teams; mentioning these up-and-comers might help spread the management consultant largesse.

It's easy to poke holes in a busy writer's short book review, but there is one paragraph that fully deserves evisceration:

Most egregious is the story of a young guard for the Chicago Bulls named Ben Gordon. Last season, Gordon finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting and was named the league's top "sixth man"—that is, the best non-starter—because he averaged an impressive 15.1 points per game in limited playing time. But Gordon rebounds less than he should, turns over the ball frequently, and makes such a low percentage of his shots that, of the N.B.A.'s top thirty-three scorers—that is, players who score at least one point for every two minutes on the floor—Gordon's Win Score ranked him dead last.
What a peculiar example. Of course Gordon is dead last--he's a sixth man! "Win score" values absolute numbers of points, rebounds, etc. much more than it does the relative rate of these things. Almost all of the other 33 top scorers are surely starters who play 20-30 more minutes per game than Gordon does, since surely even the most curmudgeonly, old-school coach will start his most fast-scoring players in each position.

If all teams were equal, the best sixth man in basketball would rank 161st in win score, since there are 30 teams with five starters each, and I imagine that if Gordon's rank was worse than 161st, Gladwell would tell us. 'Worse among the top 33 selected by criteria X' sounds bad, but if Gordon were 33rd in the league in win score per minute played, which is the best way I can think of offhand for a sixth man to be measured, he would be not only a shoo-in for sixth man of the year, but perhaps the best sixth men of all time.

Gladwell's example is so convoluted as to be disingenuous: if you select the arbitrary number of 33 and the arbitrary measurement of scoring rate, which comes up no where else in the article (instead than win score, which is the subject of the article), and you list the top players according to that measurement, and then you rearrange the players according to win score, then Gordon is "dead last". Quite a production.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Red Sox-Yankees: the view from the edge

Being so far from the United States--8 hours East of Boston--makes following the Red Sox's season strange. I am almost never awake during evening games, though if they run long I might catch the last inning in the morning before going to work. Most of the time it's as if the season were a slowly growing plant: it's motionless whenever I look directly at it, but when I check in dramatic changes have happened: David Ortiz's bad couple of games has grown into a "slump", Kevin Youklis's amazing season start looks like it might be here to stay, a struggling Curt Schilling surprises me by reaching 9 wins first in the American League.

I can occasionally catch the full audio of a daytime weekend game, but watching it on the US Army cable station they have in a local bar is out of the question. I tried to watch game 7 of the Pistons-Le Bron James series, and the bar closed at 4am, in the middle of the fourth quarter.

This past Tuesday morning, I woke early and realized that a Monday night Sox-Yankees game was just beginning. I took a deep breath and checked the score, knowing that any number of horror scenarios--John Papelbon hurt, Shawn Chacon first in ERA, etc.--could be old news already. I hadn't looked at the standings in a few days, which any Boston fan has learned (Len Bias, Reggie Lewis, Bill Buckner) is plenty of time for the plant to whither and die. In fact, I think Boston fans have a chance to cash in right now by betting big on the Mavericks, because we know that Antoine Walker will find a way to self-destruct and take the Heat with him. (Ask me some time about the money I made by betting against the Drew Bledsoe Cowboys last year.)

Add to this the ability of the Yankees to rise from the grave (or from a .500 winning percentage in the middle of last season, with their highest paid batter hitting something like .200) and checking the score from the other side of the world requires guts. These guys are so apt to ressurrect themselves they even took our baseball Jesus, shaved his head, and made him walk upright. Now he's like Keanu Reeves at the end of My Own Private Idaho, where he says the Henry IV line "I know thou dost".

You can imagine my shock of terror, then, when I loaded espn.com and saw this:
Somehow, we were losing even though we'd scored two hits and they'd scored none.

Clearly that one error was to blame, but it didn't explain scoring with zero hits, since you can't draw an error on a home run. Here's what had happened. Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett--famed Yankee-killer and (therefore) big off-season pickup--started off the Yankees' first inning by walking leadoff hitter and former Red Sock Johnny Damon. No hits so far. Yankee alternate Melky Cabrera hit second, grounding into a fielder's choice--the fielder in this case, Beckett, chose to throw Damon out at second. The Yankees still had no hits because Cabrera doesn't deserve credit for his hit (since the fielder could have decided to get him out instead). Beckett threw a wild pitch, and Cabrera ran to second before it was recovered. Then catcher Jason Varitek erred, and Cabrera scored.

Or at least, that's my reconstruction from the minimal live play-by-play text descriptions mlb.com's Gameday feature provided. When Gameday is all you have to go by, something like "Varitek error" takes on a dozen permutations. I see Varitek clumsily dropping the ball, or letting it bounce off his glove. I see Varitek reaching heroically for another wild pitch by Beckett and being punished in the statistics for his brush with the ball. I see Beckett fusing with fellow Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and throwing a knuckleball, Varitek's Achilles' heel. And I'm feeling an echo of the sinking sensation all New England felt when Varitek, a Gold Glove, loaded up the bases with Yankees on Wakefield's confounding knucklers during the 13th inning of game 5 of the 2004 Sox-Yankees series. (Inhaler break.)

(I did take pleasure in seeing that the Yankees are learning that the cost of having the best leadoff hitter in baseball is that any hit into center field will be returned to the infield with the same aim and care as Falstaff on a bender urinating in the general direction of a trash can. See this Gameday play-by-play:So there is some solace in all this.)

Thank God I went to work at this point. If I had kept watching I would have seen Beckett give up 7 runs in the second inning and get pulled after just 4 outs of play. Watching that sort of thing on television is heartbreaking. Watching it through a sequence of descriptions like "Giambi fly, runs recorded" spooned out in 90-second intervals is torture.

Postscript: I did stay long enough to note a hilarious advertisement. Between the scenery-chewing Red Sox and Yankees, there are so many popular players that it's hard sometimes to remember that the rest of the American League exists, let alone that it includes a White Sox team that's becoming a legend of defensive baseball, or a Tigers team that, losing streak or no, looks amazing and has been beating up on everybody. When I loaded Espn.com, I was shown the following advertisement for All-Star voting:FYI, guys, Ichiro Suzuki is batting .367 right now and is on track for 250 hits.

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Blogger Alice on Mon Jun 12, 12:05:00 PM:
Last Monday's game was indeed a travesty. We watched hockey instead, and it took me until the end of the first period to mumble, "I know how you score a goal in hockey, but how do you strategize? Are there plays?" I'm not saying I understand it any better this week.

I went to last Tuesday's Sox-Yankees game in the Bronx with Jaime's law firm. I had been to A and AAA games before, but I hadn't ever been to a major league game. We sat within shouting distance of Trot Nixon. I can report that Alex Rodriguez is even worse than I'd imagined: his at-bat music is Evanescence. I can also report that Melky Cabrera's catch was all the more devastating to see live.

At least you don't have to deal with the YES network, Ben.
 

Monday, June 05, 2006

ESPN: TMI?

Bryan Curtis wrote a good story about information and opinion overload at ESPN.com in The New York Times sports magazine, Play, this weekend:
Enthusiastic nerds on sports! It could be ESPN.com's motto. If the site has a guiding mission, it's to raise the admission standards of sports fandom. The excessively literary types like Halberstam departed the site, leaving a core of unashamed fanatics who can be counted on to produce thousands of words about utter minutiae. As a result, ESPN.com has nudged sportswriting toward a level of insiderdom once reserved for titles like Baseball America and Pro Football Weekly. John Walsh's revelation was that there was no need to accommodate the nonsporting masses; he was looking for hard-core fans who could keep up. Since ESPN.com's creation, we sports fans have begun to demand a greater level of — this may be a generous word — sophistication in our sportswriting. I'm not alone in saying that I love it. Sports Illustrated and its Web site may be better written, but these days when the serious sports nut demands a continuous stream of opinion and inside dope, S.I. can feel hopelessly well adjusted.

When fanaticism is the organizing principle of the site, Curtis wonders, what happens if there's a glut of information:
If there's a nagging concern about ESPN.com, it's that the site has grown too big for its gigabytes. Every time it adds another prominent writer — Marc Stein from The Dallas Morning News or Ivan Maisel from Sports Illustrated — it raises the question: what are they going to do with him? They're going to throw him up there on the home page and let him jockey for space with everyone else. ESPN.com's philosophy seems to be to hire everyone, print everything and leave it to the bewildered fan to try to make sense of it all. There's a certain glory in this, I suppose, if you like sheer volume. But as you wade through the millions of words on ESPN.com, you wonder if anyone is curating what reaches the screen. (In reality, the company says, it employs 85 Web editors.)

On the day of college basketball's national championship, I clicked over to see if the site's writers had anything to say about the big game. Boy, did they! One columnist offered 20 reasons why the University of Florida would win; another offered 20 reasons why U.C.L.A. would win. The analyst Andy Katz assured us, in separate columns, that both teams and both coaches were deserving of playing in the final. A columnist named Scoop Jackson — more on him below — wrote of a trip to the Westwood campus, where he had to decide whether or not to buy a Bruins cap. It didn't end there. Doug Gottlieb weighed in on whether U.C.L.A. would be vexed by Florida's shooting ability; an ESPN TV analyst talked about the teams' give-and-go plays; Skip Bayless, another columnist, wondered whether his earlier prediction of a Bruins victory would hold up — and on and on, thousands of words spilled in pursuit of ... what, exactly? The game that night was a miserable blowout, remembered only by Florida Gators fans and gamblers, and yet the gang reappeared the next morning with a similar set of takes. One or two good columns would have sufficed.

I see Curtis's point about opinion overload on the site, but I think he's writing around an interesting argument: what if ESPN.com's readers want quantity rather than quality? Maybe not every piece of writing has to stand the test of time. For example, ESPN devotes a lot of coverage to the NBA and NFL drafts, but the prognostication is only relevant for a short period of time, after which writers then depend on reactions to previous coverage, more forecasts, and "here's why I was right (or wrong) in 3,000 words" pieces. To outsiders, it seems like a system based on indulging reactionary blowhards, but that self-reflexive system turns out to work very well.

ESPN has tried to brook some of the repetitive commentary by creating features like the NBA Daily Dime, which contains short pieces by several people on the staff.

I'd be interested to see an article about how phenomenally successful ESPN.com has been about taking advantage of reader feedback systems. The very features that may signal content overload on the site--endless rankings and polls, transcriptions of endless chats (Bill Simmons gets 20,000 questions for his chats), columnists' reevaluations to their own previous work, compilations of reader responses like Simmons' mailbag--generate huge amounts of content. Curtis's point is that not all of this is interesting content, but isn't there a place for disposable media? The editors have found a way to transfer the sports fan's need to boast, respond, react, argue, and nit-pick onto an online forum that keeps readers coming back to the site. If readers were tired of all of the opinion-making on the site, wouldn't they stop sending in their own responses? Are there other web sites that have such large responses to online polls about minutia?

With regard to reader responses, I'm assuming that the future of quantity-quality issues will become clear if people stop writing in. But what about external regulations? Curtis points out flaws in the quantity-over-quality system:
In April 2005, Peter Gammons plagiarized several paragraphs from a Los Angeles Times story about the Dodgers. (Gammons apologized the next day. ESPN won't discuss whether he was punished.) Later that month, the writer Ric Bucher published what appeared to be a juicy scoop: Phil Jackson, who had been wandering the wilds of Montana, was set to meet with Kobe Bryant — a possible first step toward Jackson rejoining the Lakers. The story had two problems. One, it was false. Two, Bucher told The Los Angeles Times that he hadn't written it, even though it appeared under his byline. (ESPN attributes the mix-up to reporting Bucher did on television and, again, refuses to discuss personnel matters.) Last July, ESPN hired George Solomon, a sainted former Washington Post sports editor, to be its networkwide ombudsman. Given ESPN's well-documented conflicts of interest — e.g., how do you hype games for network telecast while reporting on them at the same time? — Solomon is like a man given a wheelbarrow full of concrete and told to maintain Manhattan's sidewalks for one year.

Some of my questions: Is there a saturation point? Why does ESPN.com not have competition? Do writers get burned out on such a punishing publication schedule? How did ESPN deal with issues of professional misconduct and what can we learn from them?

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Blogger Ben on Tue Jun 06, 02:13:00 AM:
Maybe a by-product of internet journalism and blogging will be that plagiarism and other high crimes of traditional journalism won't be so career-ending. After all, couldn't Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass et al. find success right now as bloggers? For ESPN, lowering its standards of journalistic integrity seems like a sensible business move.

The freewheeling approach ESPN takes with the number of different kinds of article seem to be a necessary form of experiment if they are to stumble on such successful techniques as Simmons' mailbag and his various lists, which seem to serve as a sort of style guide for other ESPN columnists, some of whom ape him closely.
 
Anonymous Katy on Thu Jun 08, 03:50:00 PM:
You know what bugs me about ESPN? So much of the content is subscription-only, and I just don't feel like shelling out for it. I read the public content that looks interesting, but it's a bit limited, and some of it is rehash from other places (I can read Sean McAdam saying the same stuff in the Providence Journal if I want). There are some good sports blogs out there, and if anything is going to supplant ESPN or even come close to competing with it, I think it would be something in that vein.
 
Blogger Mike on Fri Jun 09, 11:45:00 AM:
The answer on the saturation point is No. And I say thank goodness for that. Once you have a 24-hour sports network that makes money, you learn that there are enough people want sports all of the time to make this a profitable venture.

What's interesting to me is that ESPN fails miserably every time it tries to extend into culture beyond sports. Also even though ESPN.com is oversaturated, it remains eminently more readable than ESPN TV is watchable. Ever since Craig Kilborn was hired by Comedy Central, every anchor narrates highlights like he is cutting an audition tape.
 

Sue on friendship in Georgia

Fellow Tbilisi resident Sue on friendship in Georgia:
A roof over his head is good news for Felix, but the vultures didn’t stay long at bay. The new neighbors took one look at this 18 year old kid, this orphan who has nobody, and they saw a soft target and had aims on his house and his piece of land. They started giving him a little trouble. And this place, awful as it was, was the only thing between Felix and the streets.

So Felix told my friends, and here’s what friends will do.

They loaded up two cars full of supplies. The kid had heartbreakingly nothing. They got cooking supplies and staple foods, dishes and silverware, bedding, tools, an axe so he can chop some wood for warmth and cooking. We all piled in and went to his village to show the neighbors (and the whole village, really, because if anything can give the speed of light a run for it, it’s the speed of gossip traveling through a village) that Felix wasn’t alone and that he had friends that weren’t to be messed with. My job was to stand around and be American, one task I can reliably perform reasonably well here.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ten better names for NBA teams

Sports is filled with awful team names, but no sport is in such a bad way as basketball. From the Orlando Magic to the LA Clippers to the Golden State Warriors, there are more cringe-worthy names in the NBA than in baseball (RIP Expos) and football (Titans?) put together. And because basketball, with its worldwide growth, looks like it's heading for even more expansion into Puerto Rico and Canada, the glut of crappy names will only worsen.

As a fix, I propose the following 10 name changes, as well as four proposed expansion teams names:

1. Phoenix Ashes

As it is, they might as well be called the "Phoenix Happy Friends". Who's afraid of the sun, let alone "suns" in general? As the "Ashes", their name fits much better, and they have a clear direction for uniform design--all grayscale. The jerseys would sell like hotcakes. And they'd better snatch up the name before booming Asheville, North Carolina gets an expansion team.

2. Hollywood Agents

Let's face it, "Clippers" is stupid. I know they don't play in Hollywood, but the Giants and Jets don't play in New York, either. Identify LA's other team with Hollywood and usurp the Lakers' spot as Hollywood darlings and generate instant worldwide interest. Call them the "Agents" and you have a cool spy mascot.

3. Utah Zion

Want to guess how many of these jerseys they'd sell? It fits--Salt Lake is the Zion of those crazy Mormons--and yet it's just general and inoffensive enough to be acceptable. Plus it carries on the tradition of singular (ie, not plural) team names, so "Jazz" is not forgotten entirely. Best of all, then New Orleans can go back to being the "Jazz", or else the best they can do is to be called...

4. New Orleans Big Easy

When the Jazz left New Orleans and moved to Utah, the "Utah Jazz" were born, with the most improbable name since the Lakers moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles, which is possibly the least-lake-having place in the country.

The best solution would be to give New Orleans back the name "Jazz". But if that's not possible, at least let them have a name that ties them somehow to their city; "Hornets" has always been generic and dull (although the logo is a masterpiece). "Big Easy" is memorable, and somehow sexy, but also intimidating, like a huge guy named "Tiny".

5. Milwaukee Shots

I know the Bucks have a venerable history, but they've been mediocre for a generation and it's time for a change. What's more appropriate and badass than a male deer as your mascot? Hard liquor. They make alcohol (well, beer) in Milwaukee. And "shots" evokes not just getting wasted, but bullets and completed basketball field goals. I can't believe this hasn't already been used.

6. Washington Presidents

I understand that you can't call a team "the Bullets" in a city with one of the nation's highest violent crime rates. But "the Wizards" has probably caused more violent crime (borne of city-wide shame) than "the Bullets" ever did. "The Presidents" is just as generic as the tepid names "Capitols", "Nationals" and "Senators", but it comes with a big bonus--opponents would call them the "dead Presidents" and then they'd start calling themselves that, and it would be an ultra-cool nickname.

7. San Francisco Samurai

"Golden State Warriors" has got to go, and what better way to put it on the map than to admit where most of its fans are, recognize the local Japanese population, and hitch a ride on one of the great exploited historical tropes? The sports cliches about forcing opponents to commit seppuku would write themselves.

8. Orlando Mickeys

When Shaq learned that he would likely be drafted by the Magic back in 199something, he vowed to sit out a year rather than play for such a crappy team. He quickly rescinded this offer, but it's hard to imagine him having the same reaction to the other bottom-ranked teams of the time, the Mavericks, Timberwolves and Clippers. "Magic" is an awful name. Since they're a Disney pet team, like the Angels and (shudder) Mighty Ducks, why not go all the way and call them "the Mickeys", have Mickey Mouse be the mascot, profit from Mickey Mouse's inexplicably huge inner-city street cred, and let the fact that the team name doubles as slang for date-rape drugs bring on controversy?

9. Denver Snow Caps

I'm sorry, "Nuggets"? Are you kidding? "Snow" in your name and "Caps" as your nickname = headlines like "No Snow this Summer" and "Shots Bust Caps".

10. Toronto Reapers

A generation of fans who missed the supposed all-consuming Mighty Ducks craze will forever ask their parents, "Why the is our team called the fucking Mighty Ducks?" So too will those too young to have caught Jurassic Park fever wonder, "What the fuck is a Raptor and why is it Canadian?" I submit that a quiet change to "Reapers" would serve us all well. I swear no one will notice, and when the team is actually good one day, everyone will be happier for it. Plus a guy roaming the stands with a giant sickle is a great showpiece.

Expansion Teams

Virginia Gallows

It's colonial. It's badass. People die whether they win or lose.

Bloc Quebecois

For a team based in Montreal. Andre Benjamin and Wyclef Jean would be spotted wearing the jerseys and they'd fly off the racks.

New Mexico Aliens

For a team based in Santa Fe. Refers to Roswell, but doubly fun because of immigrants. The jerseys would become required gear for protestors.

Puerto Rico Locomotion

For the inevitable Puerto Rico expansion team. So-named only so that their nickname will be the "Locos".


A bad team name isn't just a slight to one city or region--it sends a message to children everywhere that they should not try to excel creatively, since any old name will do. But there's no reason we have to settle for bad team names. Dare to dream, NBA, and every team can be like the (pre-Isaiah Thomas) Knicks!

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Blogger Alice on Sat Jun 03, 01:02:00 PM:
When Charlotte got its team back, there was a vote for the new team name. If I lived in Charlotte, I would have done whatever I could to fix the contest for the Charlotte Spiders. It's not bad-ass like your suggestions, Ben, but it's literary and adorable.

Also, if the Phoenix Ashes and their uniforms existed, would gray be the new teal?
 
Blogger Ben on Sun Jun 04, 06:22:00 AM:
"Charlotte Spiders" is genius.

Sean May is Some Pig!
 
Blogger Anna on Sat Jun 10, 07:17:00 PM:
The quondam Charlotte Hornets were so named because the Hornet is the city logo/mascot thing, equivalent to the Big Apple I suppose only more official. It ceased to resonante that way when they moved of course.

The Warriors are based in Oakland, not San Fran, which is a very important distinction if you're from the East Bay. So changing to the San Francisco Samurai would probably spark an enormous boycott.
 
Blogger Ben on Sun Jun 11, 11:44:00 AM:
Never knew that about Charlotte. It definitely makes the original name make more sense. So what do people call Charlotte, "the hornet"? "Hornet city"? "The hive"? (That's not bad -- if they can't be the Charlotte Spiders or The Charlotte Webs, how about the Charlotte Hive, and fans all wear yellow and black striped shirts and say things like "You will be assimilated"?)

As for the Warriors, point taken. The best I can think of is the "Red Oaks", a reference to the People's Republic of Berkeley next door. Or how about the Golden State Breakers, with an Alcatraz convict as their mascot?
 
Blogger Alex on Tue Nov 20, 03:41:00 AM:
I say screw Oakland. If they don't like the San Francisco Samurais then they should be the Oakland Warriors in the first damn place.
Though this list is genius, I fear that the same paranoid folks who deemed the name the Bullets too violent would strike down the Ashes and and Shots. The Utah Zion is my favorite, but the Jews would likely block that one as it might be too close to home (in addition to the Hollywood Agents).
How about the Orlando Epcocks. It combines a feeling of confidence with the Spaceship Earth symbol of the Epcot center.
Ben, you and I should make millions selling t-shirts with these names and logos (implementing your idea for a service-based ebay where people make the logos), plus old badass logos like the old knicks logo:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:NewYorkKnicksOld.png
 
Blogger Alex on Tue Nov 20, 03:50:00 AM:
Also, who knew that the other finalists for replacing "Bullets" were Dragons, Express, Stallions, and Sea Dogs. I feel like that list should be part of a balderdash-style game where a fake one is inserted.

Wizards
Dragons
Express
Stallions
Sea Dogs
Anamaniacs
 

Friday, June 02, 2006

My great-grandmother

Here's an article from the Houston Chronicle about my 104-year-old great-grandmother, Mora Boone, and our family's devotion to education in Texas. I also found this brief story from one of her former students as part of the Great Teachers feature in the American Profile in 2002.

Stay in school

As a boy, I worked with my father on Model Ts, Model As, bicycles, tractors--anything that required a wrench--in his blacksmith shop and garage. In the eighth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Mora Boone, stood in front of the class and announced, "If I ever took a trip around the world, I would take (Henry) with me as my mechanic."

My father died when I was 15, and I, being the oldest boy, was about to quit school in Beasley, Texas, and go to work in the gas station to help support my mother and the younger children. Mrs. Boone and her husband, the school principal and superintendent, gave me a maintenance job at the school, so I stayed to graduate.

Mrs. Boone's faith in me influenced my joining the Air Force and completing 33 missions in a B24 bomber as a flight engineer and top turret gunner during World War II. Back in the United States, I continued on in my own business--I had a diesel service and gas station, garage, and towing service in Arizona and Texas.

Mr. and Mrs. Boone both influenced many lives during their years at Beasley.

Henry W. Ellison
Camp Verde, Ariz.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Searching for Debra Winger

Oh, NY Times copy staff, I love it when you contort the syntax just to get the tired joke right. You're rivaling the Post with this one.

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Open scholarship

Harold Varmus, Clinton's National Institutes of Health director, has become a champion of open access to scholarly journals, according to Wired. It's ridiculous that so much research isn't available to the public, especially because much of it is funded by taxpayers. I would like to see Varmus's movement also address the question of bias in scholarly publishing, perhaps by starting a journal that accepts all submissions as anonymous works, claimed by their authors only after peer review is finished.

From the article:

Three years ago, through an organization he cofounded called the Public Library of Science, Varmus launched a set of journals, which survive not through subscriptions but by charging $1,500 to most authors (and thus their grant givers) whose articles are accepted for publication. Everything is then put online and kept there, freely accessible to anyone... in a phenomenally short time, [the first PLoS journal] has become the most cited journal in general biology.

It's interesting that Varmus was not successful at first. It was not until the third major project in open scholarship that his efforts attracted the core of high-quality contributions and prestige necessary to propel it to success.
In the fall of 2000, the activists ... circulated an open letter calling for the establishment of an online library that would provide the published record of biomedical research in a “freely accessible, fully searchable, interlinked form.” The signatories pledged not to publish in, edit or review for, or subscribe to any journal after September 2001 that did not make its content freely available in PubMed Central six months after publication.

Over the next year, 34,000 scientists signed the pledge. Journal editors decried what they rightly perceived as the threat of an economic boycott. And when September 2001 came around, most signers, fearing harm to their careers, backed away from their promise. The boycott crumbled.

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