No, the Blackhawks Will Not Win the Cup Because Patrick Kane Won an Earlier Series


Comcast Sports Net Chicago’s website ran an infuriating piece yesterday entitled “Why Kane’s game-winner may foreshadow another Cup for Hawks.”  Consisting of only 115 words of copy, it suggested the Chicago Blackhawks might be primed to repeat as Stanley Cup champions because their most talented player, forward Patrick Kane, scored a series-clinching goal in overtime against the Minnesota Wild the night before to send his team back to the Western Conference Final for the second straight year.

Their evidence was thus:

In 2010 Kane scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime of game six against the Philadelphia Flyers.  In 2013, he completed a hat trick in double overtime against the Los Angeles Kings to send the Hawks back to the Final.  And on Tuesday night, he did this.

CSN stupidly adds, “Notice a trend?”

No.  It’s not a trend.  If it were a trend, there would be more than two pieces of evidence.  Also, Patrick Kane is a top 10 player in the NHL, maybe even top three.  He is not some good luck charm who magically creates a universe in which his team is guaranteed its league’s highest achievement for something he did weeks before.  He is in almost all cases, the best player on the ice, juking, faking, spinning, and able to score seemingly at will when he’s at his best.  If he continues his career in a Blackhawks sweater, it stands to reason he will score several more series clinchers on top of the normal boatload of scoring he provides.

But to suggest that a goal scored in one series means the team will win it all is asinine.  It’s fan baiting.  It creates a delusion to suggest that, because it’s in the media, it must be true and that the CSN staff are experts on the subject when they clearly don’t understand the fundamentals of logic.  It must always be repeated that correlation does not mean causation, but in sports writing, that logical fallacy is everywhere.  “They did it before, so they’ll do it again!”

That’s the same as saying, “I sneezed the day my grandpa died.  Achoo!  Quickly, go check on grandma!”  It’s lazy and people get paid to do it.  They get respected by fans because they have the cloak of legitimacy provided by their position at a network with “Sports” in its name.  But it’s not legitimate to throw false information to people, pat yourself on the back, and call it a day.  It’s misleading, bad journalism.

Now, sports journalists being misleading about the correlation-causation problem isn’t the same as spreading propaganda about real problems like, say, climate change, but it takes the fun out of talking about hockey with other people.  If they don’t have a Woody Allen-style tendency to overthink every aspect of life, they are more likely to ignore the slight cognitive dissonance given them by a writer who didn’t think for a second about what they were writing.  As a journalist, if you mislead people — be it willfully or because you’re stupid — in any milieu, you’re doing a disservice to the job.  You make yourself look like an idiot, or, more likely, you are one.

So please, CSN staff, do your job better.  Or hire someone who can do it better for you.  Either way, stop spewing drivel to the masses that ends up in my Facebook feed without my asking for it.

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Evangelicals Probably Aren’t the Ones Climate Advocates Need to Worry About


Chris Mooney at Slate has a feature on Katharine Hayhoe, an Evangelical Christian who happens to be a climate change advocate and science advisor on the new Showtime global warming series, The Years of Living Dangerously.

Her research today, on the impacts of climate change, flows from those early experiences [with her scientist father]. And of course, it is inspired by her faith, which for Hayhoe puts a strong emphasis on caring for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. “That gives us even more reason to care about climate change,” says Hayhoe, “because it is affecting people, and is disproportionately affecting the poor, and the vulnerable, and those who cannot care for themselves.”

Hayhoe mentions five strategies she has used to convince Christians like her to become stewards of the environment, including the linguistically obvious “Conservation is conservative” — a line of thinking that has always screamed “blatantly evident” to me that I’m shocked it is not used as a starting point in every argument over what strategies to employ for any climate policies.

But the money quote comes at the end:

“If you believe that God created the world, and basically gave it to humans as this incredible gift to live on, then why would you treat it like garbage? Treating the world like garbage says a lot about how you think about the person who you believe created the Earth.”

Throughout the piece, Hayhoe reminds Mooney and readers that Evangelicals are capable people with minds, able to discern data in front of them.  Blasting them for thinking differently than you is not a way to get them to listen to you.  These are people who believe the world is a gift from a powerful, benevolent being, but one with a penchant for some wrath if He/She/It sees His/Her/Its creation being messed with by those gifted with the power of free will.  Climate change is as biblical as you get in that sense.  If you frame your conversation in a way that fits their worldview, like Hayhoe’s showing them climate data from only the last 6,000 years, they will eventually accept your premise a majority of the time.  There will always be a portion of any group that falls into the trap of epistemic closure, but after a certain point, you can no longer worry about them so long as you have a majority accepting the overwhelming evidence in front of them.  One should never, ever forget that 97 percent of people who dedicate their professional lives to studying the climate agree that it is changing due to carbon emissions from humans; they’re not out to cause alarm, just report on the data they find.  When you keep hammering that point home, reasonable people, a group not mutually exclusive with Christians, will look to help in any way they can.

Accepting this, though, leads to the question: Why do only 44 percent of Evangelicals accept climate change?

Mooney points out that, on the whole, they are politically conservative on top of their social views.  This puts them firmly within the Republican coalition.  The problem with the Republican coalition as currently constituted — and all gigantic coalitions (the Democrats are far from exempt here), which brings up the need for more than two parties, but that’s a discussion for another time — is that there are four main, sometimes competitive fixtures.  You have the libertarians (excuse me for being brief, but they essentially boil down to fiscally very conservative, socially liberal people with a strong aversion to governmental surveillance and a relaxed foreign policy; retired Texas congressman Ron Paul is the stereotype here), the business people (the Mitt Romneys of the world who probably don’t care as much about social issues so much as running a tight fiscal ship), the neoconservatives (you’ll recognize the strong defense, muscular foreign policy with less regard for fiscal restraint from the previous administration), and the social conservatives (Evangelicals like Mike Huckabee who are focused on fixing perceived social ills derived from the Bible).

One can see that these fixtures are not necessarily compatible with each other.  It’s impossible to be all things to all people at all times, and yet that’s what politicians of any expansive coalition must do to preserve their support.  As one might expect, none of them do it particularly well when examined with any critical eye.  A Republican senator who denies climate change may be trying to help any number of people.  Maybe he represents a state rich in the oil or coal industries, which, as carbon-based pollutants are the primary cause of climate change.  They have a financial stake in what happens, so the senator has a duty to serve his constituents.  But as money is not the only motivation in the world, serving that part of his constituency is not enough.  He must bring in other supporters from other parts of the coalition, and this is where the Evangelicals can be called upon.  If the senator can get people with preaching experience to start talking about how God wouldn’t want to hurt the world or wouldn’t let us hurt it, it makes his job a lot easier in trying to appease everyone he represents.

Of course, when the lives of billions of people, animals, and entire ecosystems are at stake, appeasing one state’s — or collection of states’ — constituents is not of primary concern for humanity as a whole.  When people like Hayhoe start convincing Evangelicals, people just trying to be good in their God’s eyes, of the dangers of climate change — she mentions in the interview that the number of Christians whose acceptance of climate change has risen 10 percent in the last six years — they can raise their objections to their elected officials.  If those officials have strong parts of their coalition against the business side, those oil and coal company officials, perhaps they will convince the oil and coal people to start diversifying their businesses by experimenting more with nonpolluting energy sources like solar, wind, biofuels, or, fingers crossed, fusion one day.  Climate change is a problem that requires all hands on deck, and the free market — that supreme tenet of conservative ideology — will have a field day figuring out how to make money from saving the world.

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Silly Human Nature: Bat Your Best Hitter Second


FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine wrote a great piece on the underutilization of sabermetric data in Major League Baseball lineup construction.

Traditionally, the two-hole was the domain of contact hitters with good bat control, with premiums placed on the ability to hit behind the runner, to sacrifice bunt, and to generally move the leadoff man over (even if it meant making an out). You can see this statistically: During Major League Baseball’s expansion era (1961-present), the No. 2 slot has the highest aggregate contact rate of any batting order position.

But research by Tango and his compatriots suggests teams have been doing it wrong. After examining how important each batting event (single, double, walk, etc.) is to each lineup slot — based on factors such as how many runners are likely to be on base and how many outs they’re likely to hit with — the data says a team ought to bat its three best hitters in the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 slots, with the most balanced hitter occupying the two-hole. That’s a far cry from the conventional wisdom of slotting the best hitter either third or fourth, and putting a weak contact specialist at No. 2.

Essentially, given the likelihood of positive outcomes in a given lineup spot, say, Miguel Cabrera should never move from the second spot in the Detroit Tigers’ order.  But since he’s The Guy in Detroit, that doesn’t happen.

Which leads to the question, why does being The Guy matter?  Couldn’t he be just as important — and the data suggests, more potent a threat — batting second in the lineup?

Historically, the numbers three and four hitters are the ones expected to drive in the majority of a team’s runs, and this leads to enlarged egos for those players who earn that distinction.  They’re important.  They matter as the most valuable players of the team and sometimes the entire league.  The guys who bat second have “always” been more slap hitters, bunters, and grinders willing to sacrifice their own statistics in order to help the team move their leadoff men into scoring position.

But the longer data analysts look at hitting production, they learn things.  Bunting over a runner and sacrificing an out actually diminishes the likelihood of the team scoring a run because the more outs you have to work with, the better your chances of getting more hits, walks, and earning a base by getting hit by a pitch.  That data alone suggests putting a bunter in the two hole is a less than productive idea.

Yet teams still do it.

And in doing so, it keeps them from optimizing their run scoring potential.  With people like Paine writing pieces like this, one would expect teams to take notice, especially with their own proprietary data systems that are likely lightyears ahead of what is publicly available via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs currently.

So, again, why do teams perpetually succumb to history and ego over what has been discovered empirically to help them win?  It could be as simple as human stubbornness.  “This is how it’s always been done,” the managers think, upholding tradition.  And tradition is important in life, because it’s also a form of gained knowledge about what works.

But when new information becomes available, particularly in a competitive business such as professional baseball, shouldn’t everyone do what gives them the greatest chance of winning?  If tradition is shown to be not as effective as what the current data suggests, it would behoove every manager to utilize it to its fullest.

I fully understand the notion that it’s hard to take a guy out of his comfort zone, particularly an MVP like Cabrera.  But if his manager, Brad Ausmus, were to sit down with Cabrera and explain why he should hit second every night, I’d be willing to bet he’d understand.

“See, Miguel, we have evidence that you’d be even better batting second and we’d win more.  You could add another ring to your hand,” Ausmus could say.  Perhaps Cabrera’s personal runs batted in total would diminish slightly, but he would create more runs, which is more valuable to winning, which, again, any professional competitor should strive for at all costs.

Eventually all teams will follow the Los Angeles Angels’ lead — their best player, who also happens to be the best in the game, Mike Trout — by batting their best hitter second.  Right now it’s a silly adherence to the past for adherence to the past’s sake, but sooner or later teams will want to win more than they want to protect ego and tradition.

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More From Me At The TV Addict


Yesterday Daniel Malen at the TV Addict ran my second piece for them.  The idea I pitched was a game for readers and site contributors alike, which we called “Play Fantasy TV: Choose Your Own Adventure.”  Everyone wants to think they’d be able to make great art, no matter the medium, so I wanted to put that to the test.  I pitched a TV show I’d love to see, explained the main influences, wrote an outline for a pilot, and a vaguer direction for the rest of the first season.  I want the TV Addict’s readership to chip in with comments to act as a virtual writers’ room, and I want friends and family to pitch their own ideas using the rules I listed in the piece.

Here’s a quick look at the article, but click here for the whole thing.  And keep coming back for more, because I have other ideas brewing, and Daniel’s regular television coverage is phenomenal.

The Show: P.I.

Reductive Combination Comparison: Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE meets THE THIN MAN film serials of the 1930s.

The Concept: A fun-loving drunk/private detective aims to take on the lower stakes cases (a tier above cheating spouses but not CHINATOWN-level regional power plays) other fictional detectives shy away from, but of course always finds himself embroiled in labyrinthine plots. Each season will focus on one main case and the odd jobs he takes to support his drinking. They’re usually connected in some way.

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Dear Media, We Need to Have a Talk About “Allegedly”


Today’s episode of NPR’s All Things Considered discussed the racism scandal surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling that erupted after this TMZ report over the weekend.  Repeatedly — seemingly at every turn — All Things Considered hosts and contributors stumbled over themselves in an attempt to appear careful and balanced, and they sound condescending at best and woefully unable to pinpoint blatant racism at worst.  Here are a few examples (emphases mine):

“The NBA is investigating a recording in which the owner of the L.A. Clippers allegedly makes several racist remarks.”  “We hear Donald Sterling allegedly saying, ‘I don’t hate anybody.  I love the black people.  I love everybody.’ … He’s apparently saying to his girlfriend, allegedly, ‘Do whatever you want in private, just don’t put [pictures of her spending time with people of other skin color] on your Instagram.'”

Yes, an NBA investigation into the recording is ongoing to determine whether it is indeed Sterling’s voice.  And, as the NPR report says, California law makes it a dicey issue if Sterling did not know he was being recorded, so it may all be inadmissible in court, if this were to become a legal matter.  NPR wants to cover itself in the astronomically unlikely case the recorded man’s voice is not Donald Sterling’s.  But the way they write their copy is lazy, amateurish, and so fearful of potential lawsuits that they look foolish.

Being careful in methodology, sourcing, and especially word choice are key tenets of journalism, but you don’t have to be stupid about it.  The above quotes, and others in the media — All Things Considered is far from the only culprit here — place the onus of their carefulness on whether these comments were racist, not whether it’s in doubt as to who said them.

And this is a problem.

Of course these comments are racism in its most naked form.  The man saying them is a racist, willfully trying to insulate himself from people with different skin color entirely because of that difference and exclude them from doing something they have every right to do.  Whether it’s Sterling saying these things, we can debate all day until there is confirmation by vocal experts and software — but really, it’s him, and the media is being overly cautious in reporting it — but to play this “maybe, maybe not” game with confirming the comments’ potential immorality is asinine.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  There are simple ways for the people at All Things Considered to properly report on this story, and it only involves moving a couple words around and adding a parenthetical phrase or two.  They need to say, “The NBA is investigating a recording, allegedly of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, making racist remarks,” or, “the man in the recording tells the woman, ‘Do whatever you want in private, just don’t put it on your Instagram,'” and so on.  The moral quality of the comments is not what is in question, but the man saying them is.  It’s such a simple distinction, but it’s immensely important for anyone who cares about calling out the wrongs of society, which is is ostensibly every journalist’s job.  It takes an extra second or two to write these things in a way that both covers them legally and still makes light of how wrong it is to subjugate other human beings in speech or action.  It’s dismaying to see the media perpetually get this wrong when it’s so easy to fix it.

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Streaming Choices: The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (2012)


In Streaming Choices, I take a quick glance at the world of cinema available on Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)

Our families sometimes make us become people we aren’t proud of.  Lifelong disagreements, misunderstandings, and ideological clashing can have that effect.  When estranged brothers Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly) meet each other for the first time in years for Mark’s birthday party at their mother’s house, they succumb to their worst urges.  Mark gets tunnel vision, obsessed over his white whale, defeating his brother at their made-up athletic competition of the film’s title.

Mark is overweight, balding, and dealing with the “burden” of a calm, helpful wife who just wants the best for him at all times and a son who’s less ungrateful than he is desirous of meaningful conversation with his dull father.  Mark’s in therapy for his stress and general malaise of life.  Jeremy is a professional poker player — you can tell this was shot in 2008, as the online and ESPN-hyped poker boom was receding — who doesn’t care about what he does and doesn’t know what else he can do with his life.

So they meet and beat up on each other in feats of strength, athleticism, and underwater breath holding.  The 25 “events” in their Olympic-style tournament are each hilarious, and perfectly designed to bring out the pettiness in grown men who have been at this since the dawn of their existence.  They finish marathon ping pong sessions drenched in sweat, neither willing to give in.  They obsess over keeping a level playing field.  Mark says, “Are you wearing shoes?  I’m not.  Take them off,” during the arm wrestling bit, after they have wrapped their hands together in a bandanna and agreed to not grab the table for leverage.

The movie grows more poignant as it continues, with Mark grappling with his compulsive nature and Jeremy admitting his hip life doesn’t make him happy.  It finishes in a satisfying manner, like a 76-minute stage play.

And therein lies the problem.  Mark and Jay Duplass, the film’s directors, are among the most successful members of the mumblecore filmmaking movement, known for its documentary-style, immediate camerawork and attention to small stakes in the grand scheme of things; no world destroying monsters rampage through their movies.  But for as great as docu-realism and intimate stories are, movies are a visceral, visual medium.  There is no pure cinema on display in The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.

Let’s start with the camerawork.  It’s jittery to a fault.  The movie was shot digitally, with seemingly outdated equipment for even six years ago, which makes a later viewing like mine appear even more dated.  When the camera moves, there’s a faint ghost trail of colors and characters’ faces.  And the camera moves far too much.  There is nary a tripod in use.  Owing to mumblecore’s improvisatory nature, the camera operators are not able to plan specifically what to do.  Actors don’t have exact marks to hit, and the camera operators struggle to keep them in frame, jutting back and forth, sometimes seemingly on the verge of falling over during the quickest pans.

The editing is a little on the eccentric side, too.  This is likely a product of the improv, too.  The Duplasses probably did not get a lot of coverage during shooting because of the different lines for every take.  This leads the editors to piece things together in a hodgepodge of quickly cut moments.  This makes small conversations take on the visual language of modern action scenes, and it does not cohere properly.  These scenes should be more intimate.  The actors and directors do an admirable job of trying to overcome the obstacle, but they don’t quite get there.  The filmmaking does not properly function for the story being told, and this is a problem for the movie’s overall quality.

But that does not mean the movie is not worth discussion.  The acting, particularly the brothers and Mark’s wife, Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur), do phenomenal work.  Their relationships are lived-in.  Love exists but it’s strained, just like a real family.  The Duplasses overcome a lot of limitations in what is available to them in order to tell a compelling, affecting story, aided by their troupe.  But again, it’s probably best suited to be performed on stage than, as currently constructed, a film.

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is currently available on Netflix Instant.

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Necco Wafers, Ranked


The internet is overrun by unnecessary rankings of all kinds, usually in an attempt to reveal the greatest, worst, and most overrated or underrated ephemera “of all time!”  They’re easy lies to draw eyeballs, in order to make a quick buck.  I’m an attention-starved wannabe writer, so I need to swallow my pride and join the crowd because I am no better than anyone else.

This week’s rankings are inspired by the ample Easter candy I’ve been munching all week.  Necco Wafers are my favorite confection and I don’t care that they’re essentially flavored chalk.  And now, after eating them and little else in recent days, it’s time to definitively order their quality.

8.  Orange (Orange)

They’re terrible.  If you mashed them up and poured the dust into a solution with viscosity somewhere between yogurt and milk, you would get the exact taste of my childhood’s most hated medicine.  I don’t remember what it’s called, but the fact remains: Orange Necco Wafers taste like medicine.

7.  Chocolate (Brown)

Also fairly maligned by my taste buds, the chocolate flavor does not mix well with the chalky qualities.  If you’re going to eat chocolate, it needs to be at least somewhat chewy.  But when your chocolate is itself crunchy — without, say, rice like in a Crunch bar — it doesn’t work.

6.  Lemon (Yellow)

A huge improvement over the previous two entries, there is nothing wrong with the lemon flavored Neccos.  They’re a little on the bland side, as the lemon flavoring is not particularly overpowering.  But they’re pleasant and I don’t get frustrated when there are an inordinate number of them in a roll.

5.  Licorice (Black)

A flavor that has fallen precipitously in my estimation since my childhood.  It’s still good, but the amount of black licorice — and black licorice-flavored snacks — I’ve had in my life has numbed me to its finer points.  Still tasty, but not the overwhelming deliciousness I remember from my younger days.

4.  Clove (Purple)

One that has risen as I’ve aged, clove is tasty and always a pleasant palette cleanser after the lesser Neccos on the lower end of the list.  This is probably not reflective of the truth, but the clove-flavored wafers are seemingly the rarest of the bunch, and they almost never appear twice in a row.

3.  Lime (Green)

Now we’re talking.  I get genuinely excited when I see a green pop up in the roll.  They have a strange spicy kick to them at the beginning, but the aftertaste is smooth.  As a bonus, they tend to appear packed together several in a row.

2.  Cinnamon (White)

Much like the limes, the whites have the spice one would expect from cinnamon.  They’re overpowering in the best way, especially when chewed after the gross ones.

1.  Wintergreen (Pink)

I save the best for last.  With every roll I get, I unravel the paper wrapping and pick out every pink wafer I see, then pile them together.  Most other wafers disappear rapidly, but the pinks I savor.  The aftertaste sticks around for a while, which is nice, too.

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