November 27, 2009

My Sons Recommend This

November 26, 2009

The Best Quarterback in Football

Two men stand apart from the rest of the League at the quarterback position. One is a gutsy, resourceful quarterback who made his reputation in Green Bay. And the other is Brett Favre. As of tonight, the IAYPA standings are:
1. Rodgers, GB - 7.6
2. Favre, MIN - 7.5
3. Rivers, SD - 7.2
4. Brees, NO - 7.2
5. Manning, IND - 7.0
6. Brady, NE - 7.0
In his second full year in the League, Aaron Rodgers has played the quarterback position better than a number of men with bigger reputations. Now, you might have heard that Favre is this year's MVP, or close to it, how he cures lepers, casts out demons, and works miracles (like giving the Vikings a winning record).

But Rodgers is slightly better than Favre on IAYPA, and no one else is seriously challenging for League leadership. So let's dig into this a little further.

Q: Who has passed for more yards?
A: Rodgers.

Q: Who has thrown more touchdown passes?
A: Rodgers.

Q: Who has a better offensive line?
A: Favre. The Packers' line, says one beat writer, is a "borderline disaster" this year. Rodgers has been sacked 44 times, Favre 21. Now some say a portion of those sacks (1/4? 1/3?) are Rodgers' fault, because he's scrambling, holding the ball, whatever. Could be...but going backwards six yards is a hell of a lot better than turning possession over to the other other team. A bad quarterback hurries the throw, a good quarterback pulls the ball down and takes the sack.

Q: Beyond that, who has a better supporting cast?
A: Favre, and it's not close.

Q: Would the Vikings be better, worse, or about the same with Rogers?
A: Probably about the same - Rodgers is confident, throws well and, like Favre, has mastered the "hand-off".

Q: Would the Packers be better, worse, or about the same with Favre?
A: Probably worse (he's not mobile enough or durable enough to survive with that line).

What does Rodgers have to do to get some recognition here? Do it from a wheelchair? Play while balancing a duck on his head?

But the clincher for me is: this is the best season of Favre's life.

He's always been a very effective quarterback - better than, say, Terry Bradshaw, perhaps roughly as skilled as Donovan McNabb. But his career has been marred by his propensity for mistakes. Time and again Favre has given the other team an opportunity by throwing the ball to them:
Year Int
1992 13
1993 24
1994 14
1995 13
1996 13
1997 16
1998 23
1999 23
2000 16
2001 15
2002 16
2003 21
2004 17
2005 29
2006 18
2007 15
2008 22
2009 (ytd) 3
92-'08 Avg. 17

Full marks for his fine performance this year - but it is utterly out of character for him. Favre has had six seasons with more than 20 interceptions. John Elway, in fifteen years, had just one. Ken Anderson, likewise. Peyton Manning has had two so far - 1998 (his rookie year) and 2001. But there are even a few players whose worst seasons were better than Favre's average season:

Most interceptions in a season (career)
  • Joe Montana, 16
  • Steve Young, 16
  • Roger Staubach, 16
  • Tom Brady, 14
And, of course, Aaron Rodgers (13).

Rodgers stands atop the League tables performing very much as he did last year, throwing the ball downfield and avoiding the big mistake. Favre, whose season has been almost as good, has done it with a better supporting cast and the best decisionmaking of his career. There's no question in my mind who is the better quarterback.


In San Francisco, the decision was made a while back to replace the effective but unspectacular Shaun Hill with draft bust Alex Smith. 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye loves Smith's play. Since the switch, “the quarterback play has been very good and at times it has even tilted toward being outstanding.”

I guess I missed that part. Comparing Hill and Smith is pretty easy - both have 155 attempts year-to-date. Hill has thrown for 943 yards with two interceptions (5.4 IAYPA, about the League average), while Smith has thrown for 1,034 with seven interceptions (4.4, down in the Jay Cutler / Trent Edwards division). And Smith has had Crabtree on the field, while Hill did not.

Well, you might say, that's just statistics. What about winning? Well, Hill is 10-6 as a 49ers starter, 3-3 this year. Smith has a lousy 12-22 record as a starter over the years (admittedly playing hurt and on bad teams) and is 1-3 since the switch. From what I can see, Hill is an average but unspectacular NFL quarterback, a solid player who can lead an average team to a .500 record. Smith, based on what he has done on the field this year and over his career, is not that good.

One other odd thing about all this. In 2005 the 49ers had the first pick overall in the draft, and used it to pick Smith. They had been considering another guy, a player out of Cal who ended up slipping all the way to 24, before the Packers picked him up. Aaron Rodgers.

At long last, a little respect, please.

Mild Legitimate Resentment vs. Destroying the Earth

The story here is not that climate scientists were sometimes angry and resentful at not simply the ideological stupidity but the massive corporate malfeasance directed against them, particularly considering the stakes. What they were dealing with was way beyond healthy skepticism. I'm frankly surprised at the restraint in their emails. The story is that someone illegally hacked private emails in a successful attempt to distract and possibly derail the summit in Copenhagen- and my gut feeling is that this was professional, and rises to the level of a serious crime.

November 25, 2009

Success in Art v. Talent

November 24, 2009

Moon. Us. And Health Reform is Impossible?

The Counselor forwards this from a mountain highway bend somewhere between Heartache and Opportunity.

November 22, 2009

The Curse of 370

One thing about this dumb game the Laird makes us play - it is teaching me a lot about football. For example, I had not known until a few hours after I drafted Michael "Burner" Turner, that there was such a thing as the Curse of 370. It turns out that running backs who have more than 370 carries in a season tend to have bad follow-up years.

I was not too concerned until Turner actually said "I'm not thinking about the 370 thing." Which means, of course, that after it had been pointed out to him he was thinking about it every waking hour of his life.

Nonetheless, I thought Turner had beaten the curse, or at least mostly dodged it. His fan points ytd, by game:
  1. 6.5
  2. 15.0
  3. 9.6 (obviously cursed, so I benched him)
  4. Bye
  5. 27.7 (on the road, against the then-vaunted SF defense, so I put him back in)
  6. 10.6
  7. 11.0
  8. 21.1
  9. 30.0
  10. 11.1 ... and done
As of today, 370 chickens have come home to roost. He is out for 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain.

Football harmful? Who knew?

Of course under the Fantasy Football Uncertainty Principle, if I waive Turner the Laird will pick him up and he will run for three 40-point games at year-end. If I retain him, he is certainly done for the year.

So, when we draft next year - beware the Curse of 370!

You save $1,768.58 with the Kindle edition

Must be a hell of a book. Note the reviews.

[UPDATE: This has also been brought to my attention - note customer product photos and reviews.]

November 21, 2009

Gratuitous Bazookas

The Annotated "Ripple"

Dr. X posts this from his studio in a barn in Northern Marin, after refusing to reimburse my travel expenses to deliver some Stephen Stills master tapes to him:

"Dear Front,

"I'm thinking of appropriate therapy for your Allman Fugue Disorder. I suppose the prescription must be something with a strong family resemblance...less rhythmically forceful, perhaps, and ideally with a little more lyrical complexity. I am taking a significant step here, and insisting you familiarize yourself with 'Ripple':

"Of the myriad critical conundrums faced by the elite musicologist, surely the status of 'Ripple' ranks among the most challenging.

"A deceptively simple 4/4 popular song in the key of G is thoughtfully subverted by the introductory rhythmic syncopations of the lead vocal and the syllabic haiku structure of the chorus. It is a different kind of complexity, which, once contemplated, might lead you, finally, out of adolescence and into an appreciation of things other than whipping posts, bazookas, and helicopter crashes.

"The lyrics, by contrast, are relatively straightforward. I am grateful to Professor William C. Dowling for this authoritative exegesis."

November 20, 2009

Hey Prez

They got film.

Night Music

JJ Cale hangs with Jools Holland.

Sarah Palin: Ludicrous and Dangerous are Not Mutually Exclusive

From the Front Row Washington Blog, a turnaround characterization to quote for the ages:

But Palin’s claims of victory for the plaintiffs and of playing a role in achieving that victory are highly distorted, said the chief attorney for the approximately 32,000 plaintiffs that sued Exxon over damages from the worst oil-tanker spill in U.S. waters.

“That is the most cockamamie bullshit,” said Dave Oesting of Anchorage, lead plaintiff attorney in the private litigants’ civil case against Exxon and its successor, Exxon Mobil Corp. “She didn’t have a damn thing to do with it, and she didn’t know what it was about.”

And here is the metaphor:


November 19, 2009

What is wrong with this picture?

Yesterday, I was browsing through the slide show of reader-submitted photos of "Life in rural Alaska" on the Anchorage Daily News website, and I ran into this photo, which seemed out-of-place.

The caption read: "Sophisticated photographer Myron Rosenberg takes well to Bush life in the remote village of Palmer."

For the benefit of our non-Alaskan Eisengeisters, for the record: Palmer is not a "village," not "remote," and not located in "the Bush." Also, I have it on good authority that Myron Rosenberg is not "a sophisticated photographer," but is in fact, "an asshole."

November 18, 2009

House Rent Blues, By Woe

My Cogent Analysis

November 17, 2009

Why take the risk?

David Rees on what's going to happen if we try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City:

Then he will turn his wild eyes to the judge and hypnotize him: “Judge, look into my eyes … you are growing sleepy … sleepy … give me your little wooden mallet … yes, yes … now I hold the mallet … NOW I’M BASHING YOUR HEAD IN WITH YOUR WOODEN MALLET!!!”

November 15, 2009

Putting things right

With the news that the Duke of Kent is selling off family heirlooms to make rent and Prince Charles preoccupied with matters Islamic (if not a secret convert), is it so wrong to wonder if we could do better? Could England have a royal family that is a little more dignified, a little better-suited to the needs of its constituents? It's not like this just started - there's something about the House of Windsor that makes people act like fools.

Well, what are we going to do, it's not as if there's another royal family around that could replace them, right?


It is well-understood that the Glorious Revolution was a legal travesty, and even the most superficial reading of the Bill of Rights of 1689 reveals the flimsiness of the claims against James II. In point of fact, that Parliament - illegitimately convened in the first place - never deposed him. Instead it advanced the specious claim that a man hounded from his throne by foreign armies and raging mobs had "abdicated."

Well, maybe it's time to un-abdicate him.

The current head of the House of Stuart is Franz, Duke of Bavaria. (Just in passing, when he was 11 he did time in the concentration camps before being rescued by the U.S. Army.) Now he's 76, and the succession is a little complicated - he has no children, so upon his passing, his brother Prince Max is next in line. But Prince Max is 72 - hardly an age of good, kingly vigor - we really need to look to the next generation. Next in line is Prince Max's daughter, Sophie, Hereditary Princess of Liechtenstein. She is a good, Christian woman, and she has four children, including an eldest male heir, Prince Joseph Wenzel...who was born in England.

Is it really so mad? England could have a royal family...the legitimate heirs to the throne...that has good, decent, family values and none of that nasty tabloid stuff.

Think about it England. For the next generation would you rather have this or this? Perhaps it's time to right an old wrong. Look into it. You'll be glad you did.

November 14, 2009

But What a Widget It Is

Even more than the software industry, the motor vehicle industry lives on hype. From the advertising, to the journalism, to the customers themselves, even the most prosaic vehicles are bathed in superlatives. A routine test drive of yet another ordinary sedan elicits descriptive terms better-suited to a helicopter crash.

Since all vehicle reviews must be hyperbolic, there is a special challenge when an actually superior vehicle is encountered. I recall a brilliantly over-the-top 1990s magazine review of the V-Max (maybe in Cycle?). I can't find it on the Interwebs, alas, but snippets still linger in my mind. There was something about toe tags, and, "I saw Jesus so many times I started using him as a braking marker." [Update: Jeff Karr, Motorcyclist magazine, apparently...]

But in a world where even the humdrum must be hyped to infinity, it is a rare review that offers you a glimpse of a truly superior ride. Which is why I so enjoyed Dan Neil's L.A. Times review of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing (here).

Neil understands that ordinary hyperbole just won't do. So we get:
The lightest throttle feathering produces a molten, bubbling overrun note that sounds like a hot caldron of Venusian sex.

Note, in particular, his ability to acknowledge impressive capability without actually becoming emotionally involved. This is L.A., after all, and the car is basically the automotive equivalent of Pamela Anderson. All the boxes have been checked, but it's still not love.

The supernumerary techno-speak isn't all that important. Mercedes-Benz has dared to build a car and call it Gullwing. The question is, is this one worthy of the name?

No, but how could it be? The 300SL was a minor miracle. This car is a widget, a commodity, a product.

The object of Dan's musings:

November 09, 2009

"Wherever you look - the guns follow..."

Now, if it's helicopter crashes you want, Blue Thunder has at least three (0:26 - very satisfying, 2:12 - crashus interruptus, 2:45 - fireball). My favorite moment comes when the cops pull over his girlfriend in her car - only to discover they must answer to a higher power (2:53).

It is one in a great tradition of Roy Scheider action films that are insanely implausible, yet highly watchable, the pinnacle of which is the utterly brilliant and totally awesome Executive Target, which has helicopters, and crashes, and (at 1:52) a particularly satisfying helicopter crash.

Executive Target is further enhanced by Angie Everhart, who is packing heat, and also has a gun.

World's most dramatic helicopter crash emergency

Flying a helicopter is dangerous business, even for hot-dog pilots like this guy:

(I took the liberty of adding dialogue here- First Sea Lord)


Ext, Day: Doc and Janet, spunky blond EMT with a drinking problem and a mysterious past, are testing the new Swedish helicopter in the parking lot at SF General Hospital.

Janet: I know you always loved me, it's just that you think love is some kind of weakness (sips vodka from straw in IV bottle.)

Doc: Sweet, this Nordic whirlybird slides like a greased otter at a waterpark!

Janet: Oh sure- your new toy! 10 mph (sarcastically) in the parking lot.

Doc: Watch this- into the street, baby, wooo! I ROCK this town!

Janet: Oh sure, Doc, right down the street, that's just great. You can at least wait for the light. I might as well be talking to that telephone pole there.

Doc: Listen, witch, if you think you've got your claws in ol' Doc here, you've got another...

(Emergency Helicopter crashes!)

Highlight reel needed

Can somebody please edit together a highlight reel of helicopter crash emergencies, sped up and set to Yakety Sax? (With helicopter repeatedly crashing and un-crashing to slide-whistle accompaniment.)

Thank you for your cooperation.

November 08, 2009

Finance Book of the Year (Possibly the Decade)

When I returned to my Club last night, I found this book (some reviews here) waiting at the desk, with a note:

This is the best account of how we got here. Too bad, but knowing how we got lost might not be enough for us to find our way back.

As for your friend's question, some would say it is wrong to put a price on the life of a cat, or a person. But of course we do it every day. It's just considered bad form to admit it.

- Dr. Capital

November 07, 2009

Seward's Folly, Audited

An economist from the University of Alaska- I mean Iowa- says that given the financial returns- or rather losses- the United States probably should have just rented Alaska instead of moved in.

"Cash flow from Alaska to the federal government since 1867 has certainly exceeded the initial purchase price, but this fact is not sufficient to demonstrate the purchase was a sound financial investment," said David Barker, an economist and adjunct professor of finance in the Tippie College of Business. "The economic benefits that have been received from Alaska over the years could have been obtained without purchasing the territory. In financial terms, Alaska has clearly been a negative net present value project for the United States."

It would be very easy for Eisengeiste's writers to jump all over the poor economist with a devastating quip or well-informed pejorative. And those may be forthcoming. But considering Alaska's deeply squirrelly economic state, it's an interesting conjecture.

Youthful indiscretions

A correspondent suggests I ought to no longer to worry about my teenage indiscretions, presumably because my teenage years have receded so far into the distance as to be virtually unrecoverable. At least, I hope so. Which got me wondering, what is the statute of limitations on youthful indiscretions?

I mean, if, for example, I and my friends were playing an imaginary (but for school credit) socio-political game and I betrayed their trust and had their royal families kidnapped and killed...I mean, can someone really ever atone for that? When can we stop the hate? How many years must pass before we open our hearts in forgiveness?

I'm thinking about 50, but that's really just a trial balloon.

The War for Glenn Beck's Internal Organs

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The 11/3 Project
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Mars Now on Exhibit at the Modern

Science is driven by the same impulse to understand and recreate the world, and might be considered a historically recent aspect of Art. An example of astonishing beauty from NASA in the form of high res surface photos, oddly unhindred by bluish, detail-obscuring atmospheric perspective, which heightens their abstract qualities and formal beauty. 

Thanks, Mr. Sum and Popmonkey for the heads up.

I Call Bullshit on Your Contemporary Social Concept of Beauty

For no reason: Botticelli's Primavera.

At Least it Wasn't "World of Tibet"

World of Warcraft causes a major bureaucratic battle in China, leading to a shutdown of servers to 50 million Chinese players.

I'll just say that the nation that rules the World of Warcraft ....rules the World of Warcraft.

November 06, 2009

Don't Look Now

...but the word is out.

Love and Loss at the Langham

Well, finally, after many years of fruitful correspondence, I met face-to-face yesterday with Dr. Capital, at his secret lair, the marvelous Palm Court (slides 7-10) at the Langham in London.

A generation older than me, Dr. Capital would seem world-weary and exude an air of resigned bemusement at the state of affairs on planet earth, except that he is so incredibly rich it really is hard for him to care. No one questions, however, his continued intellectual engagement and ongoing fascination with the great game of markets.

After some lighthearted banter about how little we resembled our (decade-old) photographs, we sat down to chat. I have learned through a few unfortunate phone calls to ration out the deep questions. It is not that Dr. Capital is averse to answering them, but, really, the only reason he talks to a prole like me is that he enjoys a light conversation now and then. If things get serious he is likely to start his meter running, and we both know I can't afford that.

So we talk about the latest light entertainment in Leicester Square (across from the Hippodrome), the tragedy in Liverpool, and the dubious virtues of the Birmingham lecture circuit.

The coffee comes. My latte is superb, smooth and light, the foamed milk composed of almost microscopic bubbles that put those gauche Starbucks concoctions to shame. Served in a white porcelain cup with tasteful brown inlays, on a white porcelain saucer with tasteful brown inlays, it is nothing less than a concentrated bit of civilization.

So, I ask, it is time to give up on modern finance? After all that has happened surely we have to acknowledge that there has been more than a little witch doctoring?

"Of course, of course," he laughs, "throw it all away. Wouldn't it be wonderful to go back to the markets we have before? Say the 1920s, or the 1930s? Those were the good times, weren't they, unburdened by the destabilizing forces of global credit derivatives."

"Look," he says, becoming more serious, "there is more than one Chicago School. There are the Friedmanites, there are the equilibrium guys, and they are very different in important respects. I am partial to the basic toolkit because it is logical, it usually makes a good fit with reality."

"But," he pauses... "When the tools fail, they fail. It is not as if there is a better alternative toolset waiting in the wings. We have what we have, and it does not always work. Much of the art of modern finance is understanding the limitations of the tools you are using. Just there are storms no ship can survive, so it is with financial markets."

"Thaler and his ilk have a bit of a point. Markets are made of humans, and humans often do foolish things. But I must say I still have Friedmanite sympathies. Markets are Darwinian - fools die off quickly. The fact that so many fools are ruined, and yet markets remain less-than-perfectly-rational suggests to me not that markets are not perfectable, but that it is mankind itself that suffers from some deep intrinsic flaw."

For a brief moment the smile disappears from his face, almost as if he had suddenly, for only just a moment, remembered that he is just another little primate, breathing, sweating, and lonely, on an island off the coast of Europe.

The bill comes just then, and the cheer returns as Dr. Capital writes his room number, ends the interview with a smiling handshake, and rises to proceed to the sitting room, where he will engage Financial Times mano a mano.

I hesitate, then venture my last question for the great man - are you happy with all you have accomplished? The smile changes from something manufactured to something a little more natural. He shakes my hand. "There is an old proverb," he says. "Do not make yourself big. You are not so small."

With that, he takes his leave, and I, in my rumpled blazer, lugging my oversized briefcase, stumble down the front steps of The Langham, back into the rough-and-tumble of real-life London, my mind dancing with images of Brownian Motion and Ito's lemma.

In that moment of exhilaration I suddenly realized...that someone had stolen my cell phone.

November 04, 2009

For your delectation

The following is offered as grist. Who can provide the best commentary for this item?

PLoS One 4, e7595 (2009)
Libiao Zhang of Guangdong Entomological
Institute in China and his colleagues have
documented what may be the first case of
regular fellatio in adult animals other than
humans. They report that female short-nosed fruit
bats (Cynopterus sphinx) licked their mate’s
penis during 14 of 20 observed copulations.
Matings that involved licking lasted
significantly longer than those that did not.
Possible functions for this behaviour
include stimulation to prolong copulation
and assist fertilization; mate guarding;
antibacterial effects; and the detection of
chemicals assisting in mate choice.
The authors say their observations could
suggest a possible adaptive benefit for the
activity in this species.

November 01, 2009

Notes From the Front - of Green Park

After spending no time in Europe for over a decade, I have had to cross the Pond twice in the past few weeks. This time I am in the U.K. making a few appearances in service of my ‘academic career’, better described as a fleeting and bizarre alternate reality.

As I am paying for a good part of this excursion myself, when a friend offered spartan but inexpensive lodgings as a guest at his sailing club, I jumped at the chance. The ‘lodgings’ themselves are too tiny for anything other than bathing and sleeping, but the common rooms are beautiful, and, as I settle down in the library to sweat out my jet lag on a Sunday night, deserted.

The club was founded in 1927, and it appears they have been steadily building up the library since then. The books fill a ceiling-high shelf at one end of the room, with the remainder of the space taken up by some easy chairs, a single round table covered in the day’s newspapers (‘Russell Brand Confesses: Obsession with Helen Mirren’), and a well-worn Persian rug that does not fully cover the well-worn wood floor.

Above the fireplace hangs a 19th century painting of a Venetian scene - St. Mark’s with a nicely-painted gondola in the foreground, and a pair of luggers moored at a nearby quay. On another wall there is a magnificent 1808 chart of the English Channel, about 6 feet long and 3 feet high. It is framed, but upon inspection, yellowed and stained from use.

In the corner, old photo albums – one entitled simply ‘1925-1937’. Within, sepia-toned photographs of sailing yachts of that era. Each photograph is a formal portrait of one boat only, with the name inscribed in white at the bottom of the print, along with an inconspicuous reference number in the corner:

  • “Zig-Zag” (22133) – A graceful white 2-master schooner, broad-reaching in calm seas with two jibs up.
  • “Thalassa” (16386) – Sleek but bluff-bowed, she is making good headway near shore under her gaff rig, a solitary figure in black standing at attention at the stern.
  • “Driac” (15374) – This slender hot rod is flying along in strong winds under her triangular dark mainsail, with four men and a lady (in a nice white hat), crowded in her cockpit.
  • “Ailee” (13648) – More ship than boat, she has a black Xebec-like hull and three identical masts. In light airs she has raised all possible sail, presenting an unbroken wall of canvas from stem to stern.

And then there are the books…

  • South From the Red Sea, Plymouth, 1956
  • Elements of Yacht Design, New York, 1927
  • 117 Days Adrift, Lymington, 1973
  • Voyage of the Tai-Mo-Shan, Glasgow, 1935
  • Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Ephemeris and the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, London, 1960
  • Thames to Tahiti, London, 1933

And, oh yes, bound issues of The Yachting Monthly, with miscellaneous articles and beautiful drawings. The first issue is from 1906. Those were the days when a yacht was a yacht: “Messrs. Ramage & Ferguson Ltd., Leith, have launched from their yard a steel screw steam yacht of about 700 tons…”

I am supposed to go to sleep in an hour or two, but I don’t suppose I will.