It’s that time again

Today, in just a few minutes, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its inductees for 2006. Some speculation surrounds this year’s list of eligibles because there are no slam-dunk first ballot inductees. Where next year will be a no-brainer with the likes of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, this year’s class will not include first-timers Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, or Albert Belle. I’d make a case for Clark, and I believe Belle’s numbers are good enough, but his behavior will forever block his path into the Hall. But all of that is marginally important to me, mostly because I like baseball. I don’t get excited because this will be little more than another year for Hall of Fame voters to show their selective, short-term memory in excluding Dale Murphy.

Because I respect Jayson Stark, allow me to excerpt his support for Murph’s qualifications:

Here’s another guy whose candidacy, in theory, ought to be reexamined in the wake of steroid-mania. There was, after all, no one cleaner than Dale Murphy. So shouldn’t it carry some weight that back in the ancient ’80s, Murphy led all National Leaguers in runs and hits, tied Mike Schmidt for most RBI and was second only to Schmidt in home runs?

Oh, and did we mention those back-to-back MVP awards? Or five Gold Gloves? Or that the Murph Man was a 30-30 clubber, a leading vote-getter in the All-Star balloting and a guy so classy that any congressman would be proud to interview him? But at this point, the only Hall of Fame drama involving this man is whether he can just stay on the ballot. As recently as 2000, Murphy was getting more votes than Bert Blyleven. Last year, Blyleven outpolled him, 211-54. We get the message. But we’re still voting for him.

I get the message, too, although it makes me respect the writers less, not Murph. As Mr. Stark points out, every nonsensical argument against Murphy (and most other ’80s greats) should be reconsidered given what we now know about the new standards. Anyone who leads a league for an entire decade should at least get more than 54 votes. So, while I know it won’t happen this year, still I believe. Maybe it won’t be until the Veterans Committee considers him, but I’m convinced Dale Murphy will receive his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame someday.

Previous Murphy Hall of Fame entry: Awwwwwwww, skunked again

Update: Murphy received 56 votes this year.

Assaulting your own ears is a crime

I’ve written about the basic idea behind Sirius Canada refusing to broadcast Howard Stern because of Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission restrictions. It’s absurd, and a reminder that we’re still free, despite our FCC nonsense. With this decision to definitely exclude Stern’s broadcast from Sirius’s Canadian subscribers, I’d like to point out something I mentioned before. From the article:

Leaving Howard Stern off its 100-channel service will hamper Sirius Canada as it attempts to eliminate a growing grey market of Canadians that [sic] have chosen to purchase U.S. hardware and listen to U.S. satellite radio services.

Canadian law makes it illegal to subscribe to and receive unauthorized U.S. satellite radio signals. But policing satellite radio is far more difficult for Canadian authorities than U.S. satellite TV services that are illegally picked up via stationary dishes in about 600,000 Canadian homes.

I guess the Canadian government doesn’t understand care what Canadians want. Better to impose some notion of the common good than to hope they choose it as their private wish. And if government policy can harm Canadian retailers trying to sell Canadian receivers, I guess that earns bonus points, even though I thought capitalism was somewhat good in Canada. Throw in the tax revenues going to the United States government instead of the Canadian government because many Canadians are “illegally” procuring Sirius, and I can’t imagine how America doesn’t immediately adopt such a policy.

All snark aside, this is the nonsense we see when censors and content nannies try to circumvent the marketplace of ideas. I think Howard Stern is hilarious, and it’s a reason why I subscribe to Sirius. People who don’t think he’s funny don’t have to listen. That’s especially true now that it’s not free. Letting other citizens interfere with private transactions between two consenting individuals, whatever the technology used to conduct that transactions, is absurd. That’s not concern; it’s collectivism, with only a few decision-makers deciding what’s good. It may work in appearance, as Canada can claim with the superficial absence of Howard Stern from Canadian airwaves satellite beams. But those who want what’s denied will find it, becoming nominal criminals in the process. Sure, society is harmed by Stern in Canada this morning, but it’s not those listening who feel the pain.

Spending money wisely is the kindest gesture possible

I’m a strong proponent of students learning a foreign language. Not learning another language before graduating is the biggest regret I have from my school years, by far. I took four years of Latin, which was a waste. It’s a dead language, you know. That doesn’t matter, of course, because I remember so little of it. I followed that with two years of French, but I hated it so I mostly ignored what I learned. I certainly didn’t use it outside the classroom, so I don’t remember the scant words and phrases I collected. I still wonder why I didn’t learn German, which is what I always wanted to learn of the four languages my school system offered then. (Spanish being the obvious fourth.) Regardless, the fault lies with me because opportunities existed two decades ago when I started learning Latin and only my county’s taxpayers paid for my education. So I’m amused by this story:

President Bush announced plans yesterday to boost foreign-language study in the United States, casting the initiative as a strategic move to better engage other nations in combating terrorism and promoting freedom and democracy.

“This program is a part of a strategic goal, and that is to protect this country,” Bush said.

The plans, which represent an expansion of some programs and the start of a few others, aim to involve children in foreign-language courses as early as kindergarten while increasing opportunities for college and graduate school instruction. …

Much of the instruction is intended to focus not on the traditional European and Latin American languages that Americans have tended to study most, but on what the U.S. government has identified as languages “critical” for national security. These include Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi, among others.

I appreciate that learning languages such as Arabic and Chinese is a strategic goal. Indeed, it’s even wise. But this plan makes no sense. The federal government has no business funding this, since education is a local task. The government can certainly set incentives for learning necessary languages, not to mention retaining linguists rather than booting them for their sexuality, but this incentive is wrong.

I’ll explain more fully in a moment, but allow me to include these quotes as further foundation:

“When Americans learn to speak a language, learn to speak Arabic, those in the Arabic region will say, ‘Gosh, America’s interested in us. They care enough to learn how we speak,’ ” Bush said.

And …

But in a State Department briefing, officials sought to emphasize general growth rather than individual targets.

“We’re not setting the goals in terms of X number of individuals by Y number of years,” said Barry F. Lowenkron, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. “Our goal is to start building capacity.”

What we’ll get out of this is a warm, fuzzy feeling and a new permanent government expenditure. What we won’t get is capable linguists filling defined needs. The government is circumventing the employment market as an incentive, instead promoting some lofty, elusive notion of strategic preparedness and patriotism.

Here’s an idea instead: make the reward for choosing a linguistics career comparable to the need. I’m sure there are plenty of creative ways to do that, but I suspect the uncreative salary is a good starter. Obviously that’s a little tweaked given the military versus private industry nature of government work, so my unimaginative method isn’t perfect. I concede the point. But the military has experience in solving recruiting shortages without resorting to presidential handouts for feel good public relations. Use them.

For a moment, humor me while I return to my opening paragraph. I didn’t retain either of the two languages I studied. Let me suggest why, now that I have fifteen years of hindsight into the experience. I didn’t care. I knew I wasn’t going to need either in college, thanks to exemptions. I knew I wouldn’t need either after college, thanks to my career expectations. So I took both to get a special stamp on my high school diploma. I doubt that’s really helped the United States since I graduated high school in 1991.

More importantly, I would’ve taken Russian in high school if offered, as the President now proposes, because that’s what I really wanted to take. I knew I wasn’t going to join the military, but I would’ve taken it to learn something interesting to me. Scarce taxpayer funding, with only a poorly-defined goal of “building capacity,” would’ve been wasted on someone only interested in learning. Maybe I would’ve used Russian one day while traveling through Eastern Europe, but the federal goverment never would’ve seen a return on that investment. Is that really the best method of allocating money to meet a strategic goal?

Unless President Bush wishes to imply that anyone who learns a language from these newly allocated funds will be subject to a service obligation to the United States government, this program is a worthless waste of tax dollars designed only to make the federal government larger and more influential in every area of life. That, or our leaders are just stupid. Whichever it is, I’m not reassured.

The referee weighs in on Vick

Steve Usecheck, the referee from Monday’s Gator Bowl, responded to the Marcus Vick incident:

“We missed that, and I’m sorry we did,” [Big 12 Conference official] Usecheck told the Newport News Daily Press from his Colorado home. “The TV, everybody saw it but us. I wish we had the opportunity to talk to (Vick) because that was complete (expletive). You bet I would have thrown his ass out.”

Usecheck said he has not seen a replay of the Vick incident but that purposely stomping a defenseless opponent warrants ejection. …

“I was really disappointed,” Usecheck said. “We don’t see football like that (in the Big 12). Those kids were just completely out of control. Louisville wasn’t as bad. Virginia Tech was brutal.”

I have two words for Mr. Usecheck: shut up. He didn’t see the play when it happened. He hasn’t seen it on replay. Those of us who saw it know what the proper action should’ve been. There’s nothing more gained from Mr. Usecheck’s input.

Specifically, those quotes confirm exactly what I screamed at my television on Monday. The officials missed most of the game. They didn’t see Vick’s deplorable step. They didn’t see other penalties, on both teams, that should’ve been obvious. They saw penalties, again, on both teams, that simply never happened. Mr. Usecheck also seemed to take glee in calling penalties on Virginia Tech. It was a pathetic job from kickoff until the final ticks.

Mr. Usecheck shouldn’t perpetuate that by babbling about something he can’t be bothered to see at least once.

For posterity, my Fantasy Football Super Bowl adventure

Before I get into this story, I know that what I’m about to tell you is pathetic.

All the time and energy invested in fantasy football provides little more than self-inflicted headaches, most of the time. But sometimes, usually on a few glorious weekends throughout the football season, it provides more. It satiates a competitive fire that just wants to dominate and to, hopefully, win not lose. When a draft strategy works to put together a team capable of winning, after factoring in various bye weeks and favorable matchups, a gleeful accomplishment overcomes all accompanying frustration. It compels me to keep playing every year, in spite of finishing no higher than 7th in the last four seasons. Throw in the small fact that the top 6 teams makes the fantasy playoffs each year and perseverance becomes more amazing. (I don’t feel like I’m complementing myself as much as I’m admitting that I can’t not play, if that makes sense.) So it goes.

This season I finally did pre-draft research and walked away from the draft pleased with the team I drafted. Correctly, as it turned out. I jumped out to a fast start, scoring the most points each of the first two weeks. My team went on to score the most points for the week five times in the thirteen game regular season. Some guys produced as I’d hoped. A few produced beyond my modest expectations. Regardless, my strategy worked as expected, for the first time. As such, I made only one relevant transaction throughout the season, picking up Mark Brunell to replace the injured Chad Pennington. I didn’t always start the best quarterback after picking up Brunell, but it usually didn’t matter. The few times I botched the decision worked out in my favor, for I finished sixth and made the playoffs for the first time.

I’ve made the playoffs in other leagues before, but those weren’t competitive leagues most of the time. Even when I made the playoffs, it never worked out for me. One year, I entered the playoffs in first place, having crushed the competition all season. I lost maybe two games in the first thirteen weeks. I lost all three playoffs games to finish eighth. I had little expectation this year.

In the first two matchups, my team scored just enough to beat my opponent. If the playoff brackets worked out any differently, I’d have lost either of the first two games because I outscored no one else in the playoffs. I finally had some luck. I earned a spot in my fantasy league’s Super Bowl!

Taking place Christmas weekend, I asked Santa for nothing more than big weeks from my players. As the first games started that weekend, I thought I might get my wish. Throughout the early games on Christmas Eve, my opponent’s players outscored mine. As the day progressed, my players came on strong. Going in to the last two games, my opponent had Thomas Jones and I had Tom Brady going. I led by two points. I felt optimistic.

When Jones scored 19 points on Christmas, I worried a little. Seventeen points down wasn’t insurmountable, especially since Brady faced a bad Jets team. I lamented my decision not to start Brunell, since he’d scored 19 points on Christmas Eve. The would’ve given me the title by two points. I didn’t obsess too long, though, since my opponent sat Julius Jones’s 41 points. Woulda, shoulda, coulda meant nothing in that context. And I still had Brady, with only seventeen points standing between me and a championship. (I would win the first tie-breaker, so a tie score was acceptable to me, although the desire to dominate was still strong.)

I didn’t have the stomach to watch Brady and the Patriots on Monday the 26th, since I’d fret every play. Mostly, this aversion to obsessing over games I don’t care about is why I don’t gamble on sports in any way other than fantasy football. I watched other shows that night and went to bed only aware of my fantasy score with three quarters to play in the game. Brady had scored four points by then, so I trailed by thirteen. Certainly a moderate obstacle, given the ability of my players to score late in their games. I could wait until morning to find out.

Only, I couldn’t wait. I woke up at 1:30. When I saw the clock, I knew the Monday night game would be over. My score would be final, and I could do no more. I had to know. I turned my computer on and waited for it to load. I opened Firefox and clicked the link to my league. Getting nervous, I covered the part of my screen where just the score would show up. I clicked the game link to give me the total score, with each individual player’s score detailed. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and waited a moment. I opened my eyes. This is what I saw (my team is the Underwater Allies):

Tom Brady scored sixteen points. I needed seventeen to win (by tying). I lost. By one point. Because Patriots coach Bill Belichick benched Brady in the fourth quarter of a blowout. I now know how Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson felt as time expired in Super Bowl XXXIV, the game-tying touchdown one yard away. I wanted to vomit.

Finishing second won’t mean any lingering devastation, but no fantasy loss will ever be worse. I can’t imagine winning would’ve been as good as this loss was bad. I just can’t. At least I got this out of the deal:

There is nothing that maroon and orange can't improve.

Is it Draft Day for Fantasy Football 2006 yet?

What to do when excuses run out

Watching Monday’s Annual Virginia Tech Invitational Gator Bowl, Marcus Vick’s disgusting behavior, intentionally stepping on Elvis Dumervil’s knee after a play ended, angered me. At Virginia Tech, we do not condone or engage such thuggery. I expect our Athletics Director, Jim Weaver, to deal with this harshly. Giving the finger to WVU fans earlier in the season was inappropriate, but mostly funny. For this, Vick should be suspended.

I assume Mr. Weaver will suspect Vick for the first game of next year’s season, but I’d be just as content if he suspended Vick for next season. Given that Vick only has one more year of eligibility, that would mean he’d have to declare for the NFL draft in April. Let’s see how well that kind of nonsense is rewarded, especially after including Vick’s prior off-field incidents and his poor play in the two big games he played as a starter this season. I’ve defended him through everything, and even believed he’d matured because he spent last season with his brother in Atlanta. I’ll never abandon a Hokie for poor play, but this is unacceptable and pisses me off. Ass.

Business shouldn’t fear customers

This article about peer-to-peer file-sharing networks shutting down in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court decision holding companies liable for copyright infringement on their networks is interesting. Specifically, this quote:

Mitch Bainwol, head of the music industry trade group Recording Industry Association of America, concedes some file-sharers will find other means of obtaining pirated music online.

“There will always be new technological challenges,” Bainwol said.

I’m surprised that the RIAA seems to concede what was apparent to everyone else almost from the moment Napster showed up. Technology changes the way people live and consume culture. Change is inevitable. It’s one of the most tedious (and useful!) features of capitalism. Those who anticipate, or even play catch-up on the back side of a change, will succeed. When customers start using a product in a way unexpected and/or unintended by a business, understanding and adapting are the most effective responses.

In the case of downloading music and the RIAA, it’s okay to be surprised at the rise of the mp3 player. It’s not okay to exclusively treat customers as criminals (even when they are acting as such) because the new technology won’t go away. Figure out a way to give them what they want, and do it fast. The legal profitable behavior has a better chance of supplanting the illegal unprofitable behavior. A shorter way of saying that goes something like this:

“The company or companies that find the most effective method for transforming downloaders into consumers will be the biggest winners in 2006.” [- Morpheus founder Michael Weiss]

Replace 2006 with 2000 and that’s what smart people were saying when this nonsense started. Only fearful economic dinosaurs don’t know that.

For further thoughts, see this entry at Catallarchy. The premise of the argument and its eventual conclusion are preposterous, but it’s worth noting that someone entertains such a position.

I hope the bridge is constructed better

Since I’ve highlighted in the past writing I admire, the kind of phrase, sentence, or paragraph that makes me wish I’d written it, it makes sense for me to highlight the opposite. It’s very rare that I come across something that makes me groan, since something like that is usually bad from start to finish and not worth mentioning. This article about highway repairs in New Orleans has a sentence that mars an otherwise good job of reporting. Consider:

I-10 is one of three coast-to-coast interstates that link the entire nation, stretching from Jacksonville to Los Angeles; the broken spans were an affront to the Jack Kerouac sensibility of a vast nation united by its long ribbons of concrete.

I’ll concede that “long ribbons of concrete” is an interesting phrase. But does the nation as a whole possess the “Jack Kerouac sensibility” regarding its roads? We like our cars, but really, has all traffic west stopped because a bridge is out? There has to be a better way to buttress “long ribbons of concrete” with a phrase as interesting. There has to be.

A quick note to catch up

I’ve been away the last week-plus do to my first vacation from work in twelve months. I’d like to say I was lazy, but mostly I was just busy doing catch-up stuff – visiting family, mostly. Danielle and spent a day in Richmond and four in Buffalo, so not much time for The Internets. The break probably served me well, although the withdrawal systems were awful. But I’m back.

I’d intended to do a longer entry today, but I shut my car door on my thumb this morning, so my hand is throbbing. Typing isn’t fun. Thus, two short entries today. I’ll be back to all the normal explanations of why I’m right in the next day or so.

Happy New Year, regardless.