Yea Democrats, Boo Press

Al Franken is resigning under pressure from Democrats. The AP says:

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s departure from the Senate solves one problem for Democrats, demonstrating their will to push out one of their own when sexual harassment allegations pile up.

Good for the Democrats!  Neither party has covered itself in glory over policing its own but it has been a particular problem for the Democrats since Harry Truman left.  On the other hand, the press wants him to leave as the lion of the Senate.

Sidebar: Yes this is our less subtle dig at the Democrats as Ted Kennedy is often given that mantle.  Teddy is the one who left Mary Jo Kopechne to die, invented Borking, and had problems with females.  He is evidence of the difficulty that Democrats have in policing their own. End Sidebar.

He is a 66 year-old celebrity back bencher who is the poster boy for ballot integrity.  Yet one AP report we couldn’t find online called him a rising star.  Perhaps it was a subtle dig at the Democrats age problem.  Another AP report said:

Franken, 66, had gained respect as a serious lawmaker in recent years and had even been mentioned in talk about the 2020 presidential race.

We had not mentioned Al so don’t blame us.  We expect Cory or Kamala.  Perhaps there is hope for the Democrats but until the press comes around it seems unlikely.


Picking Winners

It is hard to pick winners in a sporting event.  It is much harder to pick winners in the economy because you don’t know who is playing.  Arsenal hosts Tottenham tomorrow.  Get the odds from Ladbrokes for win, lose or draw.  You could bet on other events like which player gets the first goal.  Wisconsin hosts Michigan is even easier because it can’t end up in a tie.

Economic events are much harder because the set of alternatives is not known.  It would be like if Chelsea (or even better example, a team that does not yet exist) could win the Arsenal-Tottenham match.  Picking economic winners involves ignoring prices and markets to say X is the best.  Recent evidence shows the problems when the warmists and their allies try to pick winners.

Sidebar One: There are two main issues in global warming (whoops, climate change).  The first is the science side of it.  What determines global temperatures?  To date we have some evidence that carbon dioxide and temperatures are positively related.  The models have been unimpressive in forecasting temperatures but the ability to explain the past suggests we need to pay attention.  The bigger problem is what to do about the forecasts.  The warmists, with the exception of a few like Bjorn Lomborg, want to take action now.  That means picking winners.  End Sidebar One.

Two articles show the problems with trying to pick winners.  One is on Germany from the WSJ and the other is an academic study of ethanol from the University of Wisconsin reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  Let’s start with the WSJ.

Mrs. Merkel’s failure [to reach carbon emission goals] comes despite astronomical costs. By one estimate, businesses and households paid an extra €125 billion in increased electricity bills between 2000 and 2015 to subsidize renewables, on top of billions more in other handouts. Germans join Danes in paying the highest household electricity rates in Europe, and German companies pay near the top among industrial users.

On the other hand, the AP reports on carbon emissions in the US:

In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years [Emphasis added].

It continues to amaze us how often the press is surprised when pricing mechanisms work.  The odds are to be surprised the other way.

Sidebar Two: We were not supportive of the mandate during the George W. Bush administration to require ethanol on a tactical basis.  We support price mechanisms.  We thought that there was a reason to do it on a strategic basis.  During W’s administration it seemed to us that the warmists had the momentum and there was a chance that the government would do something on an epic level of foolishness.  We made the judgment call that the ethanol mandate was the least foolish option available.  It seemed to sap the warming momentum.  End Sidebar Two.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study has looked at the impact of the ethanol mandate on carbon emissions.  A word of academic caution.  No one study is definitive and this one has not yet been subject to a formal (everyone gets informal peer reviews as they create a paper) peer review.   The authors found that the trade off between more corn and less fossil fuel did not work as hoped:

The study underscores the unintended consequences of a federal policy meant to reduce America’s reliance on fossil fuels.

While adding ethanol means burning fewer fossil fuels, the study found that the benefits were lost as even greater amounts of carbon held in the soil were released into the atmosphere in newly cultivated farm fields.

It is not a surprise when you ignore market prices.  It would be wise to reduce the amount of ethanol in gas.  We need to eliminate wind subsidies.  We would take a reasonable carbon tax instead.  Eliminate the gas tax and make the carbon tax equivalent to the old gas tax is our idea.  It is revenue positive and makes the incentives right.  We are pretty sure that carbon is a bad thing but we don’t know how bad.  There is time for the market to fix it and there is really no other viable choice than to wait for the market.  Epic foolishness is not called for.

Sticking To Sports

Ryan Huber has a great article on Sticking To Sports that is reposted on NRO.  It also ties into expertise and our current political environment.  How does Bill Simons become an expert about the current football season?  Ryan says:

[Bill], who parks himself in front of multiple TVs 20 Sundays a year to watch football for twelve hours (because it’s his job)

Expertise is hard to acquire.  It requires time to acquire it.  We don’t know if Bill is a football expert having rarely or never heard him but he is meeting one criterion, experience.  We recently commented about another Bill, Texans’ coach O’Brien (we don’t cite ourselves but it is recent if you want to look).  We felt competent because our expertise is not in football but in decision making.

What does Ryan recommend for the wanna-be pundits?  He concludes that all sorts of folks should weigh in on the issues of the day but:

But it does mean that when they enter this realm, a realm in which they will admit no special expertise or insight, they should do so with humility, generosity, and an awareness that their audience is most likely incredibly diverse. If analysts, hosts, and columnists choose to continue to speak about politics in the same way they recently have, more and more people will tune them out. But ESPN already knows that.

Well said.  But beyond that the evidence suggests that expertise is not valued lately.  See “Oh, No, A Pharma Exec” at WSJ:

President Trump said he will nominate the former Eli Lilly & Co. executive to lead the Health and Human Services Department. Mr. Azar was immediately criticized for, well, knowing too much about health care.

Then consider our last two presidents.  They are both good campaigners but neither was practiced in government.  Experts are wrong often because they get the difficult questions.  Sometimes they are wrong because they go outside their expertise or they don’t recognize the knowledge problem.  We need to find a way to identify and respect expertise without attaching God-like qualities to them.  We think it will continue to be a challenge.



Monday Evening Coaching

We thought at the time Bill O’Brien of the Texans made a really bad coaching decision Sunday afternoon.  It certainly turned out to be true.  The Texans were leading the favored Rams 7 -6 when a Rams interception gave then the ball on their own 25 with a minute and 35 seconds to play.  The Texans stuffed Todd Gurley for a yard loss and everybody was getting up slowly.  It looked like the half was over until Bill came running down the sideline to call his second time out.  We said no-no-no but he didn’t hear us.

This was a really bad choice for two reasons.  First, the good outcome, given that you have only two timeouts left, was that the Texans get the ball back on their own 40 with 30 seconds left.  Their offense had not been scintillating in the first half and was unlikely to be with Tom Savage as QB.   They ended with 283 yards for the game.  Second, the Rams are, in 2017, offensively potent.  Bill was playing with fire.  He got burnt as the Rams made a 50 yard field goal to take the lead and the momentum into halftime.  The Rams came out in the second half and blew away the Texans with 21 points in the third quarter.

It is entirely possible that the Texans were doomed in the second half in any case.  Bill was still wrong to call the time out.  If you had all three time outs, a less than elite offense with the ball, and an elite offense to give it to then you might try to justify the call.  The Texans were zero for three and paid the price.

Civil War Choices

Dan McLaughlin at NRO has an excellent article on the Civil War related to comments by Tim Kaine and John Kelly.  We one complaint about it the commentary on compromise and the opportunity for a financial settlement.  A possible way to end slavery would be to set the slaves free by buying the slaves from the slaveholders.  Research has shown that the market in slaves was efficient.

The problem is to consider such a solution you must compare the expected cost of the two alternatives.  So when Dan says this:

Over 600,000 men died in the Civil War, and many more were wounded or crippled. It’s not such a bad thing for a president to be advised by veterans who look at that kind of carnage and linger over whether it was avoidable.

He is making the wrong comparison.  Both sides expected a short war with many fewer deaths.  Using the actual cost of the Civil War to compare to the expected cost of ending slavery overstates the lack of compromise from the South.  The actual opportunity was to free the slaves at birth and death.  That is, current slaves would stay slaves all their lives but their children would be bought out of slavery.

Sidebar: You have to trust us on the data on this.  We wrote this paper in grad school before word processing so there isn’t a record of it.  End Sidebar.

Thus, we are unable to agree with Dan in laying all the failure to compromise at the feet of the South.  We support the John Kelly view.  The available plan would split the abolitionists from the rest of the North because the former group wanted to end slavery now.

John Whitman Sutter

We just finished Nelson DeMille’s Gold Coast and Gate House narrated by anti-hero John Whitman Sutter.  Nelson has created one of the most interesting characters in John.  We chose not to call John the protagonist or hero as the protagonist is defined as the hero and hero has three definitions according to

1. a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character,
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal,
3. the principal male character in a story, play, film,etc.

John does fit category three, he has a mixed record on courage, but he utterly fails nobility of character and role  model.  To give a short list, he is a murderer, tax cheat (as a tax lawyer), liar, blackmailer, drunk, and highly judgmental.  His complaining about other folks drinking is inspired.  But he is also fun and impetuous.  Much of the judgmental stuff is a joy in our politically correct environment.  In short, John is an strange person from a privileged background but he is very human.  And Nelson puts him in intense situations that test his humanity and lack of it.  Enjoy both of the books.  We did.


The Monsta

We were reading Mark Newman’s discussion of MLB’s 2017 relievers of the year and we came across this:

Kimbrel led Major League relievers in strikeouts per nine (16.43) and WHIP (0.68), and tied for first in strikeouts (126). That whiff total was the most by a Boston reliever since Dick Radatz struck out 183 in 1964.

Dick Radatz was The Monster (or Monsta in New England) because he was 6’6″, 230, and had a sidearm fastball that completely terrorized right-handed hitters.  From 1962 through 1964 he had three of the best years by a reliever.  His burnout is also exhibit A of why we treat relievers differently now.  He was 40 and 21 with 76 saves while pitching over 400 innings during that period.  The Red Sox were eighth, seventh, and eighth (out of ten) in those three years.  The Red Sox won 224 games and the the Monsta won or saved 116 of those or 52 percent.  Kimbrel will likely be the AL Reliever of the year for winning or saving 43 percent of the Red Sox games.  Some time around the All-Star break next season in his third season with the Red Sox Kimbrel will pitch as many innings for the Red Sox as The Monsta did in 1964.  Radatz had three great years but the abuse of pitching double to triple the innings that closers do now caught up with even a Monsta.

Manager Johnny Pesky’s abuse of the Monsta in “64 led to him being less effective in ’65 and the Red Sox lost 100 games.  Kimbrel’s line of 1.43 ERA, 67 games, 51 games finished, 35 saves and five wins looks similar to the Monster’s 1964 season of 2.29, 79, 57, 24, 29 and 15 wins.  The difference is that the latter pitched 157 innings while the former pitched just 69.  There is much discussion about how to use closers but Radatz was over used, especially in 1964.