Saturday, October 31, 2009


“It’s the end of the world as we know it.”---R.E.M., 1987

Two recent books, “America Alone” by Mark Steyn and “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe” by Christopher Caldwell, detail the story of Europe’s demographic and cultural collapse, a topic of such exquisite political incorrectness that it has received virtually no attention in the American media.

Mark Steyn’s focus is primarily on the demographics, and his book provides something of a primer on that dismal science. The key number to remember is 1.3 births per woman, which demographers call “lowest-low” fertility. This is the level from which no civilization has ever recovered, and there are currently seventeen European nations reproducing at this rate. In theory, the population of such a country halves every 35 years, though in practice it happens faster than that, since young people tend to depart rather than live in an old folks’ home. In thirty or forty years, there will still be places on the map called Sweden and Germany and Spain, but it will be hard to find a Swede or a German or a Spaniard in them.

But of course, when you have a nice modern infrastructure, somebody is going to move into it. Those people are the Muslims who came in as guest workers beginning about fifty years ago and now do all the jobs Europeans won’t do, including the job of reproduction. In the UK last year, the ratio of Muslim babies to babies born of English/Scottish/Irish parents was 10 to 1. The most popular name for a boy baby in London is Muhammad, as it is in a number of other cities in the UK, and in Amsterdam, and in Malmo, Sweden, and in all of Belgium, and in many cities across the continent.

Steyn’s witty book was a best seller, and is now in paperback. It consists primarily of a description of Europe today---the infantilizing welfare state, the empty churches and full mosques, and the disappearance of nationalism and national cultures in the face of the growing power of the EU. The “message” is polemical: though Europe is irretrievable, America can survive the culture war with Islam if it learns the lessons of Europe’s demise.

Caldwell would have no disagreement with Steyn on the current situation in Europe, but his book is different. It is a cultural and political history of Europe since about 1960, when the first wave of third-world immigrants were brought in as “guest workers.” Different nations had vastly different approaches to the central problem of assimilating large numbers of immigrants, and the immigrants themselves differed over time. Gradually, as national sovereignty eroded through the growing power of the EU, what were once local issues became pan-European issues. In other words, the problems facing Germany in 1970 were very different from the problems in France. Today, though those differences still exist, they are not as important. It is not easy to make sense of the miasma of politics across numerous nations over a fifty year period, but Caldwell does an excellent and comprehensible job.

My recommendation: start with Mark Steyn. His writing is always entertaining, accessible, and obsessively documented. If, after reading “America Alone,” you want to delve deeper into how it all came about, give “Reflections” a try.


Friday, October 23, 2009


As we all sit around awaiting the start of the Fall Classic, here are a few bits of baseball trivia that might amuse you. They are taken from “The Baseball Book Of Why,” by Dan Schlossberg. It’s a work of real baseball history (as opposed to all the books with great baseball stories that aren’t actually true).

They’re not as tough as they look. A little baseball knowledge and some logic will get you most of them. Answers at the end.

1. Why do the Yankees wear pinstripes?

2. On July 4, 1976, Phillies catcher Tim McCarver hit an apparent grand-slam homer in the 2nd inning, only to have it become a three-run single (and an out) when he passed the runner who had been on first base. Who was this well-known Phillie?

3. What pitcher holds the record for most strikeouts in an inning?

4. What non-pitcher posted career marks of 33 runs scored and 31 stolen bases, played in 105 games, and never batted?

5. With two strikes, a fouled bunt is strike three, rather than simply a foul ball. Why?

6. Who holds the record for highest career on-base percentage?

7. When a thrown ball hits an umpire, it remains a live ball. Why?


1.Yankee management, after a dismal 1914 season, decided to emulate the dressed-for-success look of Wall Street bankers, so they designed a uniform with dark pinstripes on the standard home whites.

2. Garry Maddox.

3. Joe Niekro, with five. It WOULD be a knuckleballer, of course. His brother Phil is one of many pitchers who struck out four.

4. Herb Washington, the track star hired by Charlie Finley as a pinch-runner.

5. A foul bunt with two strikes was once a foul ball, but some players with good bat control could foul off a dozen pitches or more and eventually work themselves a walk. Luke Appling was especially skilled at this, and he is probably the main reason the rule was changed.

6. Ted Williams. Babe Ruth is second.

7. A thrown ball hitting an umpire was once a “do-over,” so fielders who couldn’t throw out a runner would throw the ball at the umpire instead. Umpires got tired of it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


All of us have become so accustomed to the franchise model of doing business (e.g., McDonald’s), that we can be surprised when we discover a large and successful retail business that doesn’t work that way. Franchise outlets are owned by individuals under elaborate and detailed agreements with the mother company, but the headaches and the responsibility, and the profits, belong to the capitalist who stuck his neck out and bought into the deal.

Argus is different. All Argus stores are owned and controlled by Argus. Every truly significant decision about what happens in an individual store is made by executives who may never have seen that particular store. The job of those who manage a store is to carry out the directives they are issued from the head office as well as hire and fire the hourly workers. Managers have virtually no input on pricing, marketing campaigns, the mix of merchandise available, safety, wages, machines used, computer issues, or the physical plant. There are more than 1700 Argus stores, according to the Argus website. Actually, there is only one store, but it has more than 1700 locations. As far as I know, all of the big-box stores, like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, operate this way.

The biggest advantage of a hierarchical structure like this is that it provides clear lines of responsibility, and little opportunity to shift blame for failure. If a marketing campaign doesn’t work, for example, it’s not the fault of the store manager. The guy who designed that campaign is in an office somewhere in Minnesota, and he will have to answer for his mistakes. If, however, shrinkage (shoplifting and employee theft) is higher in a particular store than it should be, the store manager is probably doing something wrong. There are measurements and parameters and rules for every job, from the lowest grunt to the CIO. Also, for each of thousands of tasks, there is a training program and a certification process, and if you do something you are not certified to do, you are in trouble no matter how well you do it, or how silly and pointless the certification process. Some things can’t be measured, of course, and a personable, high-energy employee is going to get recognized eventually, but the numbers are always more important. Every single employee is constantly being measured on how he is doing the very specific things he has been trained and certified and ordered to do.

The system, which has been developed over many years, works well for Argus as indicated by the only real measure of a company’s viability---profits. Argus makes money. It has made money for years. It is even making money today (though not as much), in a deep economic recession. A hierarchical, by-the-book system like this, however, does have unintended consequences. For example, it can be impossible to get a toilet fixed.

There are two staff bathrooms, both unisex, in the store. The one closest to the break room and offices has been broken, with a leaky pipe, for over two months. Yesterday, I asked our maintenance guy, Manny, if it would ever be fixed.

“I could fix that toilet in a half hour,” he said, “but they vendored it out. I’m not allowed to touch it.”

When Manny says it would take him a half hour, it means it would require fifteen minutes. Manny is one of those guys who can fix anything, and thus amazes those of us who can fix nothing. Manny can fix shelves, floors, electric lights, hard drives, carburetors, walls, doors, air conditioners, motorized wheelchairs, trash compactors, scissor trucks, Segways, alarms, cash registers, shopping carts and pipes. Manny could fix a heart-lung machine if you gave him the manual for it. If you gave Manny the right tools and stents and scalpels and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, I have no doubt Manny could perform a bypass operation. If Manny were in charge of Kim Jong Il’s nuclear program, Hawaii would now be a smoldering hole in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But Manny cannot fix the toilet in the middle of the store. He’s not allowed to. So everybody (including pregnant women) has to walk an eighth of a mile to get to the other one.

And this is one of the unintended consequences of the hierarchy. Showing any sort of initiative is irrelevant to job performance, and thus is discouraged, even where it would solve a small but real problem. There is simply no approved procedure for fixing a toilet when, for whatever reason, the outside contractor doesn’t fix it. It is literally nobody’s job to solve this problem, and if it’s nobody’s job, nobody can do it. Chuck, the store manager, has certain tasks just like the rest of us, and doing something not on his list would be a type of insubordination. No one is allowed to deal with the little things that “fall between the cracks” because, officially, there are no cracks. There’s a procedure and a training program and a certification ritual and a person responsible for everything that can possibly happen, except of course, there isn’t.

It’s tempting to view Chuck simply as a bad, or inattentive, store manager, but that’s unfair. It is true he is in one of those situations where it would be easier to obtain forgiveness than permission. If he disobeyed orders and told Manny to fix the bathroom, it is unlikely he would ever be chastised for it. But because of the culture imprinted upon him by the system, that course of action simply doesn’t occur to him, or to anyone. It never presents itself as an option.

In other words, no one who works there “owns” the store. Everyone, from the lowest grunt to the store manager, has responsibilities of various kinds and those responsibilities are generally taken quite seriously. Taking those responsibilities seriously is what gets you more money and gets you promoted. But no one feels any responsibility for the store itself, or the overall enterprise that is Argus.

I see the effects of this all the time.

Recently, the “market” section of the store was remodeled, and all the refrigerator and freezer cases were replaced. In the course of the remodeling, all sixty of the old cases sat empty for about three weeks, before they were removed. And nobody turned them off.

When I noticed the coolers were still on, I mentioned it to one of the executives. When nothing happened, I told another, and then another, and then another. It became a game for me; I was curious to see if anyone would ever take action. Over the course of two weeks, I quietly informed a dozen of my superiors, all of whom could have turned off the damn things. Nobody did. The cases remained on until the remodeling team (from Minnesota) removed them from the store. The orders to our in-store personnel were simply to empty the cases, and once that was done, our duties had been discharged.

On several occasions, when I brought up the subject to an executive or Team Leader, a surprised look would appear on his face. “Wow, you’re right,” he would respond. “We’re wasting a lot of money, aren’t we?” And that would be the end of it.

One day last summer, a patio-chair appeared in the back room with a paper sign on it: “DO NOT MOVE. BEING SAVED FOR GUEST INCIDENT. ---Leah.” When I asked Leah, an executive, about it, she told me that a customer (a large woman), had sat down in the chair to try it out, and had fallen over backwards. We were saving the chair in case of a lawsuit.

“You know,” I said, “a lawyer would tell you to give the chair to one person and have them store it in a locked room. If this turns out to be the main piece of evidence in a lawsuit, you want to have one person who can testify it wasn’t tampered with. It’s called a ‘chain of custody’ issue.”

She looked at me with that amazed look you sometimes see on the face of a manager or executive when one of the grunts says something worth thinking about that does not involve Beyonce. “You’re absolutely right,” she said. “That’s a good idea.”

Three months later, the chair was still sitting in the same place in the back room, with the same paper sign on it. Though my advice had been sound, and though Leah had recognized what should be done with the chair, she had never been ordered to segregate the chair, so she never thought about the issue again. There were bathmats to be shelved, and cans of beans, and packages of toilet paper (there always are), and it was her duty to get those things on the floor. Custody of the chair was interesting in a theoretical way, but had nothing to do with her job.

Yet another example is the way PDAs, the hand-held computing devices, are allocated to employees.

Not everyone uses them. Food service workers, cashiers, security personnel, the pharmacy staff and administrators have little or no need for them. But for everyone else, everyone who deals with product in the backroom or on the sale floor, they are essential. By scanning a UPC barcode, or a label on the shelf, you can learn the price of an item, its proper location on the shelves, its proper location in the backroom, whether the store has the item (and how many it has and where they are), whether it can be found in other Argus stores or on-line, and whether it has recently been reduced in price. When an item is moved from one place in the store to another, it must be registered via the PDA. When a damaged item goes in the trash, a PDA must be informed. In conjunction with a printer, a PDA makes labels and signs, and changes prices, and makes lists of products that must be moved from one place to another. With a PDA, you can order more product from a warehouse. You can check on whether a particular employee is in the store, or has next Thursday off. There are many things you can do with a PDA, and there are very few things you can do without one.

With all the hardware and software in these things, each one is worth hundreds of dollars, and considering how important they are, you would think Argus would make a serious effort to keep track of them. You would think an employee would have to sign one out at the beginning of a shift and turn it in at the end. It wouldn’t be difficult to set up a system to do that, and put somebody in charge of the things, and hold employees responsible for them in some way. But no, that doesn’t happen. If there is one in the equipment room when you start your shift, you get one. If there isn’t (and you don’t have a manager who has tucked one away for you), you don’t.

Since there are never quite enough to go around (they break, get lost, and need to be recharged), an allocation system would also ensure that those with jobs for which a PDA is essential would have one. Others, perhaps those working on a team project, could share.

The failure to allocate a scarce resource like PDAs, or even keep track of them, has predictable results. Some people always have them but don’t really need them much. Other PDA-dependant employees who can’t get one will need twice as much time to perform their required tasks. If you leave your PDA unguarded, it may get stolen. Also, at the end of a shift, you don’t necessarily return it to the equipment room. Instead, you shove it in a hidey-hole (behind some towels, maybe, in aisle D35) and hope it’s still there when you start your shift tomorrow. This means, of course, that there is one fewer PDA available for the people who work while you are home sleeping.

It is obvious to everyone that the failure to track PDAs reduces the overall productivity of the staff, but there is no way to measure the overall amount of the loss or translate it into lost profits. The effects are intermittent, and scattered across the workforce. On the other hand, instituting a solution would mean devoting some (small) quantity of time and effort to administer it. Solving the problem would cost measurable time and money, and there would be no way to justify that expense because no one knows what the problem itself costs. There is thus no incentive for anyone at my Argus to do anything. A solution could only be implemented if there were orders to do so from Minnesota, and there haven’t been.

* * * * * * * * * *

I see that this article can be read as critical about the way Argus runs its business, but that is not my intention. I am surprised by the way the place works simply because I have never been part of an organization like this. I’ve been ignorant, in other words, but now that I have looked behind the curtain, I’m more amazed by what it does right than by what it does wrong.

Argus employs tens of thousands of people, many of whom are 18 years old, barely literate, and have never held a job before. You need a system of some kind, and rules, and a sense of priorities, in order to make this kind of business work. And Argus does. Argus pleases its customers, consistently feeds the gaping maw of the American consumer, and makes money. Of course, there are things that don’t work quite right or don’t make much sense, but this is true in any organization. The difference is that the things Argus deems important, its priorities, are actually done well. The system is designed, obsessively and compulsively, to accomplish them. In order to keep ten thousand products on the shelf, there are certain things you have to ignore.


Saturday, October 10, 2009


“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”
---Baron de Montesquieu, 1742

Those of you who have read my articles over the years are aware that I reserve a special circle of hell for two particularly loathsome categories of public vermin.

The first, which we will call “Spoiled-Rotten Irish-Catholic Prosecutors” (see here) consists of those DA’s and US Attorneys who use their offices to advance themselves politically or to grind their own ideological axes. The list is long---Elliot Spitzer, Mike Nifong, Arlen Specter (way back when), Patrick Fitzgerald, the squad that sent Martha Stewart to prison, the West Palm prosecutors who claimed, on every TV station in America, that they had Rush Limbaugh pinned to the specimen board on eleven felonies and then got him on NOTHING, and many others. There are times I wonder whether the only prosecutor in America who is NOT spoiled-rotten and Irish-catholic is Arlene Fisk, but I suppose there must be others.

The second category of miscreants consists of those who, having disgraced themselves in public in some morally repugnant manner, won’t go away. There was a time in America when a public personage who did something wrong would never be heard from again. He would retire to the country, raise root vegetables, pray for his immortal soul, and disappear. The shame of his disgrace would forever change him. I miss those days. I miss shame.

On January 22, 1987, the Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a gentleman named Budd Dwyer, shot himself in the head during a televised press conference because he had been accused of financial improprieties. This, I felt, was carrying matters a bit further than necessary. For my money, it is sufficient if the gentleman simply retires to a lifetime of golf with O.J., or, since O.J. himself is currently incarcerated, the equivalent.

But they don’t, do they? Jim McGreevey writes a book and shows up on Oprah. Rod Blagojevich still holds press conferences for anyone who will listen. Spitzer is reportedly “exploring his options” on a return to public life. And Bill Clinton? It’s like he never even went away, isn’t it?

But enough about those guys. This is about Scott Harshbarger, who appeared in the papers recently as the guy hired by ACORN to conduct their internal investigation of themselves and tell them whether there is some institutional flaw that may have lead to ACORN’s numerous indictments, or whether it’s been merely a strange concatenation of circumstances. Mr. Harshberger is thus in the news, winning him my personal exacta of disdain. Not only is he one of the most despicable and ambitious Spoiled-Rotten Irish-Catholic Prosecutors of recent American history, but now, alas, he’s back.

In 1984, Scott Harshbarger was the District Attorney of Middlesex County, in Massachusetts, when Violet Amirault and her adult children, Gerald and Cheryl, were arrested for child molestation at their Fells Acres day care facility. This was one of many cases across the country in the mid-80’s where staff at day-care centers were accused of bizarre acts of child abuse. In California, there was the McMartin case. Little Rascals Day Care was the culprit in North Carolina. In New Jersey, a child-care worker in a Jersey church, Margaret Michaels, was hit with 2800 charges of child sexual abuse. Janet Reno pursued Grant Snowden, a decorated Miami police officer, through five trials before getting a conviction. In Wenatchee, Washington, a lone police detective brought case after case against more than twenty people, mostly members of a single church, accusing them of engaging in hideous sex rituals with numerous children.

In all these cases, which have been compared to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, children were “interviewed” by therapists (usually the same therapists, who traveled around the country), until they “disclosed” what had happened to them. Gerald Amirault, for example, took children to a “magic room,” blindfolded them, and performed sex acts on them, including anal rape with a long knife. One child claimed Cheryl Amirault killed a dog, drained its blood into a sandbox, and then had a robot threaten the child with death if he ever told. Other children reported ritual killings, being raped with sticks, and other outrages.

There was never any physical evidence produced, in any of the cases. Instead, children’s rehearsed testimony was presented to juries while the children were shielded from any cross-examination. Often, they testified on videotape and never appeared in court. Expert witnesses (the therapists) then told the jury to “believe the children” because children were incapable of lying about such things. Convictions, and long sentences, were automatic.

By the mid-90’s, once the mania had been exposed, all of the defendants in these cases had been released. (Some of the therapists went on to create the “recovered memories” scandal, where families were destroyed when adults in therapy, under hypnosis, would “remember” instances of abuse they had suffered as small children.) But the Amiraults remained in prison. Scott Harshbarger, who had used the Amirault case to advance his political career, was now Attorney General of Massachusetts and was about to run for governor. Thus, in 1995, when Violet and Cheryl were granted new trials, the state appealed the grant of new trials to the Supreme Judicial Court, and had them overturned. Violet and Cheryl’s convictions were finally overturned in 1999, after Violet had died.

But Gerald remained in jail, serving his sentence of 30-40 years. He continuously asserted his innocence, and refused all offers of sex-offender “treatment” in prison, maintaining that since he was not a sex offender, there would be no point in him attending treatment sessions. His stance on this matter was cited in parole hearings as evidence of his intransigence, and lack of remorse.

In 1998, Harshbarger tallied 47% of the vote, but lost the race for Governor to Paul Celucci.

Gerald was finally paroled and released, by a unanimous vote of the Massachusetts Parole Board, in 2004. He had served eighteen years in prison. Over the years, even after his political career had come to an end, Scott Harshbarger wrote numerous letters to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, which had campaigned for Gerald’s release. In them, he bitterly complained that the Journal was trying to cover up child abuse and even deny its existence. As late as 2004, more than a decade after the lunacy of the day-care cases had been exposed, he called the decision to release Gerald Amirault “unfortunate.” “I think,” he said, “we often forget there are a lot of victims out there, people whose lives have been dramatically changed.”


Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Of the playoff teams in the National League, the Dodgers have hit the fewest homers, but have the best staff ERA. Colorado seems mediocre in a number of statistical categories but were the hottest team (.616) in the second half of the season. The Phillies hit significantly more homers than anybody else, but don’t seem to know who’s going to be on their pitching staff. St. Louis has great pitching and Albert Pujols, but scores the fewest runs of the bunch.

Anyone can win the National League this year.

The LA-St. Louis match may decide the issue, and I’ll take St. Louis. It promises to be a low-scoring affair characterized by pitching duels, with a dramatic homer or two, and it could go either way. St. Louis played .600 ball over the second half, however, while LA limped in with a 38-35 record, so that tips the balance.

I feel fairly confident the Phillies will handle the Rockies. They scored more runs, hit 34 more dingers, and they even have an edge in staff ERA. Also, Colorado does not have a lefthanded starter. Colorado’s chances are based on the legitimate questions about what sort of Phillies team will show up. Though Philadelphia had a strong second half (.587), both of their star starters (Lee and Hamels) have ERAs over 7.00 in their last three starts. Also, of course, nobody knows who Charlie Manuel will put on the mound should the Phillies find themselves with a one-run lead in the ninth. I have always argued that the best strategy for the Phils is to score ten runs in every game and let the chips fall where they may. That may be the only way they will advance very far in this year’s tournament.

The Yankees, of course, will beat the Twins or the Tigers. They hit better, they pitch better, and they won more games. And if that’s not enough for you, consider what the Yanks did to these teams in the regular season. New York was 5-1 against Detroit. Against Minnesota, they were 7-0.

Boston versus the Angels will probably be more interesting. Boston has a small advantage in HRs (207-172) and in ERA (4.34-4.47). On the other hand, my impression is that the Angels grabbed their division by the throat early on, while Boston rather meekly accepted its role as the second-best team in the AL East, and never seriously challenged the hated Yankees. Probably they ARE merely the second-best team in the AL East, but one has to wonder whether they enter the post-season fray with the correct attitude. Also, one cannot ignore the Angel’s 47-28 (.627) record in the second half, which is far superior to Boston’s 40-33 (.548). I wonder whether I am letting my emotions affect my choice here, but I’m still picking Boston.

(It’s not that I have any particular fondness for Boston, but if the Angels go out in the first round [like they did last year], they will become one of those loser teams that always win a lot of games, usually win their division, and never go anywhere. And that would be fine with me. I mean, let’s face it. The Angels are a sushi team. They’re not EXACTLY Los Angeles, but they’re still Southern California and the fans spend most of the game tweeting to their snotty friends about how good their seats are and then they leave the games early so they can get home and watch a Roman Polanski movie. They’re not really baseball fans.)

In the NL Championship series, the Phillies would have a decent chance against the Dodgers, but they will probably be playing the Cardinals. And the Cards would win. On paper, the match-up is reasonable. The St. Louis ERA is half a run better than the Phillies’, but the Cards have hit 63 fewer homers. The second series is best-of-seven, however, and it’s at this point that the Phillies’ pitching weaknesses will surface.

In the AL, it is fair to observe that Boston and the Yankees split their season series. Given that, as well as the history of the rivalry, we will all be told to “throw out the record book” and believe that anything can happen. Well, I don’t think “anything” can happen. I think these Yankees are one of the great teams in baseball history and only one thing can happen. I think the Yankees will beat Boston in less than six games and then do the same thing to whatever comes out of the National League.

The astonishing thing about New York in 2009 is not the home runs. The new Yankee Stadium has weird wind patterns or something and a lot of homers get hit there even though it’s a copy of the old Yankee Stadium, it’s right across the street from it, and it’s oriented directionally just like the old place was. So much for wind engineers. What is stunning about the Yankees is that, playing half their games in the most homer-friendly park in baseball, their team ERA is the lowest of any AL playoff contender. The Yankees won this year because they have the best pitching staff in baseball. En route to their crown, I would be surprised if they lose more than four games.


Sunday, October 4, 2009


On April 5, 1989, in one of the most famous games in NCAA tournament history, 16th-seed Princeton held the ball for most of the game, and lost 50-49 to Georgetown, the best team in the country. On every possession, the Tigers passed the ball, worked their weave, and usually managed to find a decent shot with 2 or 3 seconds remaining on the shot clock. And they almost won, though it was a game that should not have been close

In most games with a clock, “holding the ball” is a strategy employed by the weaker team, not the stronger. Reducing the number of possessions effectively shortens the game and introduces an element of luck. In a shorter game, the weaker team always has a chance. Back before the NCAA introduced a shot clock for basketball, it was not UCLA who would hold the ball for as long as they could, it was the St. Leo’s of the world. In a 4-possession game, St. Leo’s could beat UCLA; in a 120-possession game, UCLA would win by sixty.

Football teams often try to employ the same strategy, especially since Bill Parcells used it to win the 1991 Superbowl with what was probably the worst team ever to win an NFL championship. Holding the ball for 40:33 of the game, the New York Giants eked out a 20-19 win when Buffalo’s Scott Norwood missing a winning fieldgoal attempt in the final seconds. It was this game that made Parcells a certifiable football genius and sent every football coach in America scurrying for ways to manufacture 12-minute drives.

There is an additional factor that makes the strategy attractive. It simply takes more energy to play defense than offense. While this is true in any sport, it is even more important in football because of the extreme demands made on defensive players. Football coaches feel that if they can keep the opposing defense on the field for most of the game, they will wear down, become exhausted and make mistakes. Undoubtedly, there is some truth to this, though it would be difficult to quantify.

However, though reducing the number of possessions can help a football team win a game against a stronger opponent, there are three reasons shortening the game is not as effective a strategy in football.

First, it ain’t easy. On the basketball court, playing keep-away is relatively simple, even for the weaker team. In football, however, executing a 15-play drive that consumes eleven minutes on the clock requires you to advance the ball steadily down the field, getting first downs when you need them to keep the drive going.

Secondly, you are less likely to score. One of the biggest problems in putting together a 15-play drive is the likelihood something will go wrong---a fumble, an interception, a bad call by the refs, or a major penalty. In a 15-play drive, something going very wrong is three times as likely to happen as in a 5-play drive. A 15-play drive is notable BECAUSE it is so rare and difficult to achieve. Defenses, remember, are composed of large, extremely-fit, highly-trained, violent men, and their mission to prevent you from advancing the ball. While it may be possible to fool them or overwhelm them on occasion, a strategy that requires you to do that repeatedly is not likely to succeed. (This is why, by the way, every team that relies on the running game for most of its offense is doomed to failure.)

On September 21, 2009, the Indianapolis Colts beat the Miami Dolphins 27 – 23. The result was not surprising. What was notable about the game was that the Colts had possession of the football for just 14:53. The Dolphins had the ball more than three times as long as the Colts, yet lost. This brings us to the third reason that mitigates against holding the ball, at least in pro football.

Specifically, let’s consider the importance of Peyton Manning to the Colts. He is, after all, the highest-paid player on the team, and certainly the most valuable. It’s a solid organization from top to bottom, of course, but without Manning, it would have virtually no shot at making it to the Superbowl. With Manning, however, it’s one of the favorites. He is at least as important to the Colts as Tom Brady is to the Patriots. The Patriots are another great team, but look what happened last year when Brady was injured. The team played well, and were always dangerous, but they never really had a shot at the title.

Every play Peyton Manning is on the field is a play in which he might get his neck broken. It’s a violent game. And this possibility is something every sane general manager and coach has to take into consideration. If you want to get to the Superbowl, and your most valuable player is Peyton Manning, don’t you want him on the field for fifteen minutes a game rather than forty? Ideally, don’t you want to send him out for a four-play touchdown drive and then sit him down while your cheaper (and somewhat interchangeable) beasts go out for ten minutes to stop the other guys?

In the NFL, teams pay about as much money to the defense as they do to the offense, overall. However, the quarterback and the left tackle (and often the star wide receiver) usually get paid more than anybody else on the team. These three offensive players may get 30% of the team payroll. When you are that heavily invested in three players on the roster, you want to do everything possible to protect them from injury, and one thing you can do is design an offense that puts them in danger as little as possible. When Peyton Manning is your quarterback, the LAST thing you want is a 15-play drive, because it might mean the end of your season.