Sunday, June 29, 2008


Baseball rules because you can't predict it. Instead of having a clock to tell you when the game is going to end, you have 27 (or 24, or more than 27, depending) outs to get through. If that takes two hours, super. If it takes six hours, super. Furthermore, baseball is so full of quirky parks and quirky rules that there is always a chance to see something you've never seen before.

For instance, last night Jered (sic) Weaver and his Angels lost to the Dodgers. The Angels were the visiting team. Weaver did not give up a hit. Neither did the relief pitcher who took over for him in the seventh inning. However, in the fifth inning a Dodger reached base on an error and eventually scored. No Angel scored a run. The result, for the third time since 1961 a team lost after not giving up a hit. Oh, and this was not a no hitter. Baseball has a rule that a no hitter has to be for at least nine innings (27 outs). Since the home team Dodgers won, they did not bat in the ninth and thus made only 24 outs. That is why baseball rules. Oh, and go ahead and click all of the Angels links.

By the way, check this out. This, if true, is the most amazing thing I have ever heard.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Athletically speaking, Duke University is undeniably a basketball school. The Blue Devils have had tremendous success on the basketball court, with three national championships and 14 Final Four appearances.

Before anyone can debate that the Duke football team has been respectable (if not as successful as the basketball team), know that Duke has already indicated that it believes that its football team is as bad as any team in the nation. See, Duke signed a contract to play four football games against Louisville University. After the first game, Duke refused to play the remaining three games. The contract with Louisville indicated that there would be a penalty of $150,000 per game if a date with a “team of similar stature” could not be arranged.

So Louisville sued for $450,000. Three games, at $150,000 per game. Not so fast, said the Dookies. We only owe you $145 large if you were unable to reschedule with a team of "similar stature." Duke's football team is 6-45 over the last five years. Duke actually argued in open court that with that kind of record ANY team playing major college football was at least as good, if not better, than Duke. Consequently, any scheduled replacement relieved Duke of its penalty obligation.

Sayeth the judge who heard the case:
At oral argument, Duke (with a candor perhaps more attributable to good legal strategy than to institutional modesty) persuasively asserted that this is a threshold that could not be any lower. Duke’s argument on this point cannot be reasonably disputed by Louisville.

Amazing what a school will allow its lawyers to say to save $450,000.

Friday, June 20, 2008


The Tribune reports that a six foot alligator was found alive in the Chicago River near 37th Street today. I wonder if Lyle Lyle Crocodile's relations moved to Chicago.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


There are two articles in the July/August 2008 Atlantic (Monthly) that I found really interesting. One tries to explain the recent rise of the murder rate in some American cities, while the other argues that street signs make us less safe, rather than more safe.

In the first article, Hanna Rosin explores why cities like Memphis have seen a spike in murders. Memphis, as described in the article, has seen crime spike in areas where it had not been before. It also saw crime fall dramatically in areas where it had been a problem. Now police forces are misaligned, since crime is no longer where the police are. Oh, and like so many cities, Memphis tore down its projects.

Lo and behold, it turns out that when you track the displaced residents from the former projects, it turns out that the spike in crime correlates to the location of displaced people. In other words, there was nothing intrinsicly violent about the project buildings themselves. Instead, it turns out that a certain percentage of the residents of the projects were violent thugs, and remained violent thugs after they were displaced from the projects. Seriously, it took Memphis years and two professors to figure this out. Now, we can have debates and discussions about the underlying cause of the thuggery, but good God, this is incredible.

UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, there are people who think the Atlantic article is off base for a variety of reasons. First, correlation is different from causation, and second, slightly tweaking the data to reflect crime rate rather than criminal incidents may undermine the apparent correlation. That's all fine, but all it really means is that the Memphis data is used to prove too much. That being said, I invite the authors to buy a house in Maywood next to some Section 8 housing with people displaced from the CHA projects living there. Let us know how that works out. They'd be better off moving 100 feet from Cabrini-Green.

In the second article, John Staddon argues that stop signs and speed limits actually make our roads less safe. I believe that a fair summary of this thesis is that all of the thousands of stop signs, and ever-varying speed limits (a) distract people from driving, and (b) give people a false set of expectations regarding the driving behavior of others. In other words, the "defensive driving" theory we all learned to drive with is eroded by the pure amount of signage out there.

Apparently in the UK there are many fewer traffic signs, including many fewer speed limit signs, and very few stop signs. This leads to fewer traffic fatalities per million people (so it is not a function of the US having more people). The theory is that the UK lets drivers . . . drive. They pay attention, and they do not have a false sense to security with all of the signs. When there is a sign, people take it seriously because signs are so rare. The article basically says that this model could and should work in the US as well.

There are a few things here. First, with regard to point (b), I have argued for years that people would drive more safely if safety glass, seat belts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes were removed. They would drive yet more safely if insurance, rather than being universal, were against the law. The risk of driving would skyrocket, and people who did it would be very, very careful. However, I strongly suspect that rationale (a) (i.e. we are all distracted reading signs) is almost certainly wrong, and that the fact that we ignore so many signs directly leads to (b) in that others expect us to have read the signs. To that extent, getting rid of many of the overly informational signs may actually make us safer.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Last night in Chicago we had some pretty serious rain. I don't know how much, but it was a lot. However, check out Ludington, Michigan below.

Find more videos like this on Ludington Talks

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Alfonso Soriano got his hand broken last night and will be out six weeks. Soriano is the Cubs' lead-off hitter. He is hitting .283, with 15 homers this year. However, as the lead-off man, it is his responsibility to be on base when DLee and Ramirez come up. Soriano's OBP is .332. That's not so good. His replacement at lead-off is Ryan Theriot. He only has one homer, but his OBP is .400. That's very good. We'll see if the Cub offense suffers from Soriano's absence.

R. Kelly's trial is going to closing arguments. No matter what happens, he will never ever, ever, ever live down Dave Chapelle's send up of his career.

Wisconsin Dells, which I guess is something like some cheesey beach town on the Jersey shore for East Coasters, has an issue, maybe. See, this article shows that Lake Delton burst its banks and drained into a river. The lake was man-made and drained, wiping out houses and leaving lakefront property and resorts high and dry. The picture shows that the lake is no more, and maybe, maybe knee high. This is also how the story is being reported in the Chicago press. However, the official Dells web page says:
Although the waters of Lake Delton have temporarily receded, Wisconsin Dells is still ready for the summer season . . . We’re certainly looking forward to Lake Delton refilling, but the fact remains that with the exception of no water in the lake, the area has not been affected. Most lakeside resorts, condos and cottages offer swimming pools as well as access to many attractions and water activities in Wisconsin Dells.
Temporarily receded? Sure. In the long term, I guess that is fair. Still, if you are going to the Dells this weekend, it does not seem as if the lake will be there, so beware.

Monday, June 09, 2008


Today the Bears put Cedric Benson on waivers. That essentially means he got fired. Benson had four touchdowns last season, and two DWIs in Texas in the last month or so, so you could see where he was headed out the door.

Still, the timing was interesting. On the day that the Bears got rid of Benson, the Bulls hired Vinnie Del Negro as their next coach. And, like the end of Hamlet where [SPOILER ALERT] everyone ends up dead, Vinnie Del Negro will end up as fired as Cedric Benson some day.

This is graduation season. For those of you who have graduated from college, graduate school, law school, or almost anywhere else, one part of graduation is the speaker. Remember your graduation speaker? Remember what they said? I'm pretty sure it was all about you being the future, and being the best generation yet. Right?

Well, apparently some of America's most entitled graduates have shown this month that they don't understand how little any speaker has to say. They also showed that their parents should have taught them not think things they do not say. First, at Northwestern (IL), a vocal minority has decided that the mayor of Chicago is not a celebrated enough speaker for their graduation. Students expected Tony Blair (?!?) or the Dalai Lama. Mayor Daley was too "parochial" for Northwestern. Students cited past speakers including Senator Obama (at the time a mere first time senator from the state in which Northwestern is located), and Senator McCain (at the time a multi-time loser in presidential races, and probably more sought after as a former P.O.W. than a senator). It's hard to see how Daley is more "parochial" than Obama was. Stupid kids.

This week a vocal minority of Harvard students made clear that J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame was not up to their standards. Said one young jackass, "Harvard seniors have every right to demand a Harvard-calibre speaker." Oh, where to begin. As was quoted in the NPR story I heard, "freshman bring so much, seniors take away so little." Again, stupid kids.

You have to hope that the parents of the quoted jackasses had the sense to thwack said jackass in the head and tell them to smile and nod, get their diploma and start actually doing something in the world (or go to grad/professional school).

The New York Times has an article about the garbage crisis in Europe. Apparently the Europeans are working to cut their percentage of garbage going to landfill to 35%. It is about 55% in the U.S. and 60% in the UK. In fact, the UK is called the "dustbin of Europe." Whatever that means.

This raises a number of troubling issues. Perhaps the most important though is why Europeans hate open recreational space. For instance, one common use of old landfill is to build a golf course. Even in the flatest prairie, you can have hills, bunkers, and any other land form you want if you build on top of garbage. Alternatively, you can leave the holes out of the grass and just call the area a "park" as Champaign, Illinois is. In other words, by throwing trash in landfills, people are increasing available open recreation space. Europe, why do you hate open recreation space?

Of course, the other issue is why the European Community is requiring the UK to cut its landfill use. Is there a more fundamentally local issue? Shouldn't this be at the county level, as opposed to the international level? Is there any compelling reason that Brussels should be deciding whether Devonshire (wherever that is) has too many landfills? Seriously, if there is not a cross boarder garbage issue, why is this an international issue? I sound like a Republican now, don't I? Oh boy. I need coffee.

Monday, June 02, 2008


The New York Times on Sunday had an article about the cooperation between U.S. and Italian police in crushing the mafia. The article draws out the possible parallels to the situation with the drug gangs in Mexico and the possibility of U.S. cooperation with Mexico.

So far so good. However, in talking about the difficulties in the situation with Italy, one of the issues was that the F.B.I. did not trust the Italians. They thought they were corrupt. In describing the situation, one person said "and the F.B.I. was not known for its generosity with colleagues, acknowledged Mr. Sheer, now a security consultant in Florida. 'We were the catchers,' he said. 'They pitched, we caught.'"

Uh. What? I am pretty sure that there were less ambiguous ways to say that. I mean, just a quick trip to urbandictionary should convince the F.B.I. and the New York Times that pitchers and catchers either were not involved here, or the F.B.I. REALLY cooperated with the Italians.