Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

Copyright Notice

Everything that appears on this blog is the copyrighted property of somebody. Often, but not always, that somebody is me. For things that are not mine, I either have obtained permission, or claim fair use. Feel free to quote me, but attribute, please. My photos and poetry are dear to my heart, and may not be used without permission. Ditto, my other intellectual property, such as charts and graphs. I'm probably willing to share. Let's talk. Violators will be damned for all eternity to the circle of hell populated by Rosanne Barr, Mrs Miller [look her up], and trombonists who are unable play in tune. You cannot possibly imagine the agony. If you have a question, email me: jazzbumpa@gmail.com. I'll answer when I feel like it. Cheers!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

State of the Union

President Obama's final State of the Union address has received generally high marks - at least from people who think with their brains and not the nether reaches of their alimentary canals.  But there were a couple things in it that troubled me.

One was his enthusiasm for the TPP.  Undoubtedly, it has some good features.  But it's features were kept secret far too long; and it was never adequately explained to the American people.   Especially troubling is the prospect of foreign corporations being able to sue the U.S. for lost profits due to our internal decisions and rule making.  TransCanada is already using NAFTA provision to sue us for lost profits due to our refusal to let the Keystone XL pipeline go through.   Who knows how much more liability we might face under TPP, and what types of courts or tribunals might make those decisions

Do the proposed benefits of TPP outweigh the potential downsides, which might include direct challenges to U. S. sovereignty? Does TPP benefit U. S. workers, or trans-national mega-corporations? How can anyone decide these question intelligently?

The second was his moment of abject humility over his alleged failure to bridge the partisan gap with the Republicans - as if they hadn't met on the night of his first inauguration and mapped out a strategy to make him fail.  This crystalized for me as I listened to Thom Hartmann while driving home last night. Obama has spoken repeatedly about Dolores Kearns Goodwin's book 'Team of Rivals," which tells the story of the opposition members Lincoln installed in his cabinet. This seems to have influenced him since he said that a greater president, like Lincoln or FDR, would have been able to unite the differing parties.

This is not only false, it is so wrong it makes me sad.  Evidently Obama is still operating under the delusion that the Republicans will work with him to achieve anything.  They've already been blocking the appointment of new ambassadors for well over a year, have slow-walked judicial nominations for as long as they've had the majority, and now will approve no more during Obama's term in office.

When Obama spoke those words on Tuesday, I turned to my lovely wife and said, "For the thousandth time Obama extends an olive branch across the aisle, and for the thousandth time it's dashed to the ground and stomped into splinters."

Lincoln might have worked with members of the opposition, but it was an outspoken opposition sympathizer and anti-abolitionist who murdered him.

FDR, on the other hand, had no regard for bipartisanship.  In a 1936 campaign speech he famously said, "I welcome their hatred."  Then he went on about his business.

I don't know what Obama was thinking.  Maybe this is one more move in his game of 11 dimensional chess.  Certainly he is savvy and far more intelligent than the Republicans who oppose him.

But it looks to me that the time for conciliation is several years past its expiration date; and Obama needs to start educating the American people who their real enemies are.

That would make him a whole lot more like FDR.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Movie Review - Star Wars, Episode VII The Force Awakens

Update 12/28/16 -  For another take on this move, see here.

We saw The Force Awakens Tuesday night, guests of my step son Doug.  So thanks to him for the treat, and to my lovely wife for reminding me to take my ear plugs so I could survive the mayhem of the previews of coming destructions with my hearing still more or less intact. 

I’ve never been a fan of the Star Wars series, and went in fully prepared to hate this installment, but was relieved when that didn’t happen.  I assume everyone who cares has seen the movie, perhaps multiple times by now, so I shouldn’t be too concerned with spoilers.  But if I’m wrong, and that would bother you, then don't read beyond the fold.

To me, Star Wars has always been a series of mediocre check-your-brain-at-the door action-adventure stories filled with tropes that were banal centuries ago, wrapped up in mediocre plotting and truly dismal science fiction. This is the sort of stuff that writing school would tell you to avoid like the plague.  That it has become a multi-billion dollar franchise spanning decades and generations of die hard fans tells you exactly why you don’t ever want me in your focus group.

That said, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit - rather more than I actually liked it; and no, I’m not quite sure what that means.  The story has a lot of little treats packed in it for fans - cameo appearances by the ever annoying C3PO and a comatose R2D2, a trash compacter reference, and I’m sure lots of other echoes of earlier entries and tidbits that flew past me.

I walked out of it feeling that I had just rewatched Guardians of the Galaxy.  [I’ll leave the compare and contrast exercise to the interested reader.  Hint 1- there is no Groot analog that I am aware of.  Hint 2 - the Andy Serkis character.]  The plot was a herd of rabbits drawn from hats, and it seems that Abrams, et al, have a firm grasp of Dan Brown’s first law of success via bad story telling - keep the action moving at lightning speed and the audience won’t have a chance to fall through the plot holes.

Nits first, big complaints later -
  • Storm troopers still cannot hit any target - moving or stationary, despite their intense training from early childhood
  • Their armor still provides absolutely no protection beyond anonymity
  • Sound and flames still carry and burn in the vacuum of outer space - still and always unforgivable

Monday, January 4, 2016

Detroit Lions - A Tale of Two Seasons

Not two separate seasons, but the Lions' season before and after their week 9 bye.   The differences are stark.   In the first 8 games, the Lions went 1-7.  The 8th game was played in London, against a Chiefs team that at that time was 2-5.   This winnable game proved to be the low point of the Lions' season, as they not only lost, but got blown out 45 - 10.   [It was also the turning point for the Chiefs who went on to win all the rest of their games.]  This was the first game with the Lions' trio of new assistant offensive coaches.  Their predecessors had been fired just before the team boarded their trans-Atlantic flight, so their opportunities were limited.   The team looked to be in disarray.

Mercifully, the next week was a bye.  And the Lions did more than lick their wounds with the time off.  Owner Martha Ford sacked team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew.
This couldn't have effected the play on the field very much. I'd like to say that promoting Jim Bob Cooter to offensive coordinator was they key to the Lions' second half success, as the Lions averaged 18.6 points per game through game 8, and 26.1 from game 9 on. But that might be less than half story.

Here are the results of the Lions' games this season.

Game Lions Opponent W – L
1 28 33 L
2 16 26 L
3 12 24 L
4 10 13 L
5 17 42 L
6 37 34 W
7 19 28 L
8 10 45 L
9 18 16 W
10 18 13 W
11 45 18 W
12 23 27 L
13 14 21 L
14 35 27 W
15 32 17 W
16 24 20 W

Graph 1 shows the production of the Lions' offense in points per game.  Also shown are a 4-game average, and season average to date.

Graph 1 - Lions Points

The first game was not bad for the offense, as they scored 28 points, but they lost anyway as the defense gave up 33 to the Chargers.  Week 6 was by far the best game of the first half of the season. Stafford threw for 405 yds. - 166 of them to Calvin Johnson - as the Lions eked out a 37-34 O/T win at home vs the Bears.   The rest of the first half was close to an offensive drought as the Lions' next highest score was only 19.

They remained stuck on 18 in games 9 and 10, then exploded for 45 against the Eagles in game 11. That's when the new offensive presence made itself known; and the Lions went on to score at least 23 points in all the remaining games, except for a 21-14 loss to St. Louis in game 13.   The Rams finished the season number 13 in point prevention, allowing 20.6 per game.

The red line gives a rolling 4-game average, significantly higher in the 2nd half of the season, and still climbing at the end.  The yellow line is season average to date.  This perked up in game 11, and continued a slow climb from there to the end of the season.

I didn't realize this until I took a look at the numbers, but the 2nd half improvement in the defense was even more impressive.  In games 5 and 8 they gave up 42 and 45 points, respectively. In only one of those first 8 games did they hold their opponent under 24 points - and that was a 13-10 loss to Seattle where they got stiffed by the Zebras, who somehow neglected to give them a first down at the Seattle 1 yard line with 1:45 left in the game.

After the bye week, no opponent scored more than 27 points - a total reached twice.  The first time was the result of a heroic hail Mary completion by Aaron Rogers following yet another horrendous gaffe by the the Zebras, who gave Green Bay a free play with no time on the clock, following a phantom face mask call by an official who was approximately 3 miles from the action.  The second was against the Saints in game 14, but the Lions scored 35 to secure the win.

Graph 2 shows the opponent's scoring, same color and detail as in graph 1.

Graph 2 - Opponents Points

The defense did pretty well in games 2, 3 and 4, but was dismal the rest of the first half.  After the bye week, they did much better, knocking 16 points off the 4 game average from game 8 to game 16. Both the 4-game average and the average to date peaked at the game 8 debacle in London.  After that, the defensive turn around was stunning.   The Lions finished the season 23rd in point prevention, allowing 25.0 per game.  The first half average was 30.6 points, while the 2nd half average was 19.9.

None of this takes into consideration the quality of the opposition - something I might [or might not] take up an a follow-up post.  But the turn-around after mid season gives me hope for the future. The fact that the team improved dramatically in both offense and defense is very encouraging.

The Lions finished the season 7-9.  But this should have been no worse than 8-8, and almost certainly 9-7, but for the inexcusable ineptness of NFL officiating.    Matt Stafford is probably not a top 5 QB under any circumstances.  But he was excellent in the season's final few games.  With him and a few other skill players in key position I think the Lions can become a play-off team again next year.

Addendum:  The Lions played one of the toughest schedules in the NFL this year, facing 8 teams that made the playoffs - including Minnesota and Green Bay, who they each played twice.  Next year they have 4 games with teams from the NFC East and AFC South, this year's weakest divisions.   This is just more good news.