Saturday, November 28, 2015


For the 2015 season, the NFL has instituted a new PAT rule, moving the line of scrimmage for an extra-point kick from the three-yard line back to the fifteen.  This is still well within the range of any NFL kicker, but inevitably there will be more missed kicks.  In 2014, from the three-yard line, extra-point tries were missed on 8 of 1230 attempts.  Over 99% were successful.  So far, in 2015, 727 of 768 have succeeded, for a rate of 95%.

The rule for 2-point conversions has not been changed in ways that will affect its success rate.  You still run a play from the two-yard-line, and you still have to get the ball into the end zone.  Since 1994, when the two-point conversion became possible, the success rate has hovered slightly below 50%.  (Only four seasons since 1994 have seen a success rate of 50% or higher.)  This year so far, 31 of 65 attempts (48%) have succeeded, which is virtually the same rate as the past 21 years.

The new PAT kick distance has changed the analysis on whether to go for one or two.  In the past, with a .99+ rate, the expectation on a single extra point was .99 points (1 x .99=.99).  The expectation on a two-point try, however, was only .96 points (2 x .48=.96).  The kick had a better payoff, in other words, so unless there was a strategic reason to go for two (e.g., you score a touchdown when you are trailing by 8 or 11 or 15 or 22 points), you would kick and take the certain one point.

Now the math favors going for two, unless there is a strategic reason not to (e.g., you are down by six when you score a touchdown, so the almost-certain single point puts you in the lead).  The expected points in going for two are still .96, but the expected points from kicking are now only .95.

(Note: the sample size for the new extra-point kick is small, so we can’t make any definitive conclusions at present.  Historical data from 33-yard field goals, however, suggests that a 95% success rate on the new extra-point kick is higher than it should be.  This would mean that the two-point try will be proven an even better choice than it appears to be now.  On the other hand, every professional kicker is practicing the 33-yard kick much more than he used to, so maybe they will soon be automatic.  For the purposes of this article, I am assuming the two-point try truly has, and will continue to have, a slightly better payoff than the kick.)

Football, like many games, is a race to see which team can score more points within a given period of time.  This means that in the vast majority of situations, the only driver of the decision to kick or run a play is the expected number of points that will result.  Up until this year, the higher number of expected points (.99 points vs. .96 points) came with the kick.  That is why two-point conversions were only 4% of the post-touchdown plays---this option only made sense late in the game (or possibly as early as the 3rd quarter), when the situational value of scoring two points was significantly higher than the situational value of scoring an almost-certain one.

Now, however, the worm has turned.  In 2015, there is rarely a reason to kick the extra point because the rewards are greater when you go for two.  But do NFL coaches do this?  Of course not.  Just as coaches properly chose to kick 96% of the time in the past, the rule change means they should now go for two 96% of the time.  But they don’t.  Instead of going for two 96% of the time, they do it after only 8% of touchdowns.

Let’s simplify this so you will know what you are watching.  Since strategic reasons for going for one or two only arise in the second half, there is never a reason now to kick an extra point in the first half of an NFL game.  When a coach chooses to do so, he is making a mistake.  It’s usually not a huge mistake, of course, but it is an error, and some of us who are fans are annoyed that these highly-compensated football coaches don’t take their jobs more seriously.

I have mentioned before that while coaches of many sports study how to play games (their game, in particular), football coaches never do.  Football coaches are the kind of people who leave poker games wearing only a barrel.  They know the X’s and O’s and how to design a play and they know what a middle linebacker looks like and, in the NFL, they know how to manage fifty very large, very rich, very violent men who have no manners.  But the football coaches who have ever won a game of Monopoly are the rare exception.  They resemble military generals more than anything else.  This is why every NFL owner needs to hire a twenty-year-old math geek (for $100 a game), and give him absolute authority to make all the either/or decisions in the game.
“No, Mr. Harbaugh.  I know it’s 4th down, BUT YOU CAN’T PUNT in this situation.”
“No, Mr. Ryan, you MUST go for two here.”
“No, Mr. Kelly, you may not attempt this field goal.  If you do, we will have you committed to an institution for the criminally insane.”


(NOTE: Another piece of the new conversion rule is that the defense can score when the offense attempts a two-point conversion.  If there is a fumble or an interception on the conversion attempt, the defense can run it back and score two points, just like in college.  This also creates a new type of score, the “conversion safety.”  If the offensive team goes for two and the defense gets a turnover, and the defensive player tries to run the ball back but gets tackled in his own end zone, the offensive team gets one point.  The conversion safety has never happened in the NFL, but there have been a few in college games, most notably in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.)    

Sunday, November 8, 2015


     The Trump Menace rolls on and, as predicted, there is no serious attempt being made to take his issue away.  The Republican establishment remains fully committed to amnesty and dreamers and paths to citizenship and helping the poor bastards who are living in the shadows.  And open borders.

     The only major change has been that no one takes Jeb! seriously anymore, maybe not even his parents.  This is just not the year for a guy who needs a fresh makeover, based on whatever his consultants tell him, every time he appears in public.  There was a time he was pulling double digits in the polls.  Now he is somewhere around 4%, which means he is within (and under) the margin of error.  In other words, it is statistically possible that if the Iowa caucuses were held today, NOBODY would vote for him.

     So the amnesty crowd needs another candidate.  Chris Christie wants that job but he won’t get it.  Instead it will almost certainly go to Marco Rubio, the brilliant and articulate Cuban-American who was once described as a “tea party” politician but has subtly dialed back his conservatism in order to make himself acceptable to establishment Republicans.  As part of this repositioning, he has embraced the amnesty/open-borders agenda.  Because of Trump’s rise, and the obvious unpopularity of open borders among Republican primary voters, Rubio doesn’t talk much about his support for the “comprehensive immigration reform” he supported in the Senate, but he hasn’t backed away from it either.  When Jeb! gets dumped by the regular Republicans, Rubio is perfectly situated to slide into that (well-funded) slot, the one that led to a nomination for both McCain and Romney.

     A large majority of Republican primary voters want a fence, they want border enforcement, they want deportations of criminals, and they want the legal immigration policies that favor Somalis over Belgians to be reexamined.  The switcheroo from Jeb! to Rubio is an attempt to fool the Republican base. Rubio is young and cute and smart, and certainly could defeat the dreadful Hillary, and he usually sounds like a conservative.  Can he be sold to primary voters even though he (quietly) wants the borders open and citizenship for those who have already snuck in?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

      Trump will not be silent about Rubio’s position on immigration.  And neither will Ted Cruz, whose strategy is to inherit Trump’s enforce-the-borders voters when and if Trump stumbles and fades away.

     There is still just one issue in the campaign for the Republican nomination.  Will the Party, and its largest donors, accede to the views of a large majority of Republican voters and demand a return to enforcement of immigration law?  So far the answer is no.  So far, Mitch McConnell and the Bushes and Karl Rove and Paul Ryan and the people who fund them believe Donald Trump and his supporters will all go away.

     But the clock is ticking, and the Trump Menace not only survives but seems to be as strong as ever. The open-border Republicans are faced with a critical decision and they only have until early February to make it, because once Trump starts collecting delegates, it may be impossible to shut him down.  Will they abandon open borders, or will they let Trump win the nomination (and almost certainly lose the general election to a Democrat)?  At the moment it looks like the leaders of the Republican Party would rather have Hillary become our next President than allow enforcement of our immigration laws.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

REPUBLICANS 101---The Trump Menace

Somewhere around the 4th of July, Ann Coulter casually remarked, on some show or other, that it would be easy for the Republicans to get rid of Trump.  “All they have to do is take his issue away from him.”

And yet, no one will do it.  It wouldn’t be that difficult for a half dozen stalwarts of the Republican Party (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Priebus, McCain, Kasich, Walker and Rubio, for example), to issue a joint statement along the following lines:
“OK.  We finally get it.  Really.  We’ve pretended to care about border security, and we’ve pretended to care about changing the immigration protocols so we get educated people from Belgium and Australia rather than people from primitive cultures that think gang rape is a sort of party game, and we’ve pretended to care about enforcing existing American laws, but of course, all we really wanted was to please the Chamber of Commerce and the business guys who give us money so they can hire cheap maids and gardeners.  All we really cared about was granting amnesty to anybody who managed to get here, so we could then encourage the next squad of cheap illegals to sneak in.
“That’s still all we care about.  There’s no point lying about that.  But here’s the deal.  We promise that we will enforce the law, we will patrol the border, we will build a wall, we will deport illegals who commit crimes, and we will change the immigration quotas and protocols so that civilized, educated people will have an advantage in the who-gets-to-be-an-American sweepstakes.  You win.  There will be no more talk of “a path to citizenship” or “dreamers.”  Ever.  We will suck it up and give the nanny an extra $3.50 an hour.  OK?
“Just lose Trump.  We get it.  Now lose him.  Maybe we’ve lied to you over the years, and it’s pretty obvious you don’t trust us, but we can do better than him, can’t we?  Do we really need a guy who, when he gets pissed off at a woman, starts throwing tampons at her?  We will do what we should have done years ago and we will enforce the law.”

But the Republican Party won’t make this offer, will it?  It will NOT abandon amnesty, at least not yet.  Trump rises and rises in the polls, but still the Party will not give in to a majority of the American people, and a large majority of Republicans.  The Party establishment won’t embrace the one issue that has propelled Trump to the top in order to take that issue away from him.

At least not yet.  With more than four months to go until the Iowa Caucuses are held on February 1, they are still holding out hope that Trump will melt down, or voters will tire of him, or something will happen to restore what they view as the natural order of things.  And maybe they’ll get what they wish.  Aren’t we all a little surprised the Trump phase of the 2016 presidential campaign has gone on as long as it has?

But what happens if February 1 approaches and Trump is still riding high in the polls?  It’s fine to hope for him to disappear, or snipe at him from the sidelines, but once he actually starts collecting delegates, it may no longer be possible to stop him from winning the Republican nomination.  The big question of this campaign season is whether, before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican establishment will shout “Uncle” on the immigration issue and start promising that our laws will be observed and enforced.

I suspect they will not.  I believe the Bushes and McCains and Kasichs and Priebuses and Walkers and Rubios would rather lose than give in on their dreams of open borders and amnesty.  Rather than cede an inch to Trump and the American people on this issue, they are willing to sit back and hope Hillary (or Biden, or somebody) beats Trump in the general election.


In one of those quotations that is attributed to everybody because nobody knows who said it first (I give the credit to Mark Twain), somebody once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Donald Trump is not exactly Herbert Hoover, but he certainly rhymes.

Hoover was a highly successful businessman who became president, though he had no previous experience in elective office, because he was the kind of guy who could “get things done.”  As a Republican Progressive, he believed in “efficiency” and in hiring experts who would tell us all what to do and how to do it.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs into law (the largest tariffs in our history), raised both income and corporate taxes, and plunged the nation into the Great Depression.  Even based on the economic science of the day, what he did was foolish.  As he dragged the American economy into an abyss, economists were begging him to reconsider.  

Sound familiar?  Trump loves tariffs, and advocates them today.  He has always been in favor of increasing taxes, and talks about it a lot in the campaign.  And of course, his appeal is the same as Hoover’s was.  He’s an “outsider,” not part of the political class, and a rich guy who can’t be bought, but who cares about the little guy and knows how to cut through the swamp and fix things.

Hoover regularly appears on lists of “America’s Worst Presidents.”  There is no other President with whom Trump is even remotely similar.


Sunday, July 26, 2015


Words we need.

Something that makes you vomit is an emetic or a nauseant.  A thing that makes you pee more is a diuretic.  A drug or food that makes you poop is a laxative.  We need a word to describe something so disgusting that it makes stuff come out of all orifices at the same time.


Several things I learned on
1)    One aspect of the male privilege I routinely benefit from is that when I have an emotional reaction, no one ascribes it to my menstrual cycle.
2)    “Breast-policing” is the sense ingrained in us by the patriarchy that those girls need to strapped in at all times.  I learned this from an article by a trans-man (formerly a female) who never had his tiny but noticeable breasts removed.  As a guy, he now likes to walk around without a shirt on, but sometimes people look at him funny.
3)    If you are a Trans-something, the “something” is the thing you are turning into, not the thing you were born.  Caitlyn Jenner is a trans-woman.
4)    A “non-binary” gender is anything that is NOT a standard-brand heterosexual male or a standard-brand heterosexual female.


Though pieces of the Big Bang Theory have been toyed with for centuries, Edwin Hubble is usually given credit for pulling it together as a unified doctrine in 1929.  It was instantly embraced by many theologians as proof of the existence of God since it posited a moment of creation, a big bang, and necessarily implied a Creator.  (Since then, some skeptical physicists and cosmologists have suggested ways in which the Big Bang might be compatible with a Godless universe, but that doesn’t concern us here.)

But there is another piece to the argument.  The Big Bang itself is not often questioned as a “historical” event.  Because of all the evidence the universe is expanding, even atheists acknowledge it.  And if you accept that the Big Bang is the beginning of the universe as we know it, you must also accept that it constitutes what is called a “singular point.”  The nature of the Big Bang is such that it is impossible to detect evidence of anything prior to the Big Bang.  One can speculate, of course.  One can suggest that the Big Bang is simply one of an endless series of expansions and contractions, but this can never be anything but pure speculation.  Since the Big Bang is a “singular point,” there can never be any real knowledge of what came before.

Suppose there is an omniscient God who knows humans will develop their brains and will eventually question the meaning of their existence, but He wants their knowledge of Him to be always a matter for faith---a God who, if he speaks to men at all, does so very rarely, to Abraham or Moses, for example, and in ways that are easily dismissed as myth.

Wouldn’t such a God create a singular point of natural history through which it is impossible to see?  That’s the Big Bang.  There is no evidence of anything that happened before it and there never will be, no matter how intelligent we become or how much we learn about the universe. There must be something before the Big Bang; otherwise, where would the material for the explosion come from?  But because the event itself walls off our knowledge of what’s back there, we can never learn, or reason our way, to the ultimate truth.  If God wants us to approach Him only through faith, and not because we KNOW He exists, wouldn’t He make that ultimate knowledge impossible to attain?


As Hillary becomes less popular every time she appears in public, it is clear there is considerable dissatisfaction with her as a candidate.  Then there’s 1) Bernie Sanders, the 78-year-old socialist (and non-Democrat) who is starting to outpoll her, 2) Lincoln Chafee, whose is basing his campaign on a crusade to bring the metric system to America, 3) Martin O’Malley, who recently apologized for saying “All lives matter,” and 3) Jim Webb, an interesting and accomplished person whose spot on the political spectrum is somewhere between Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, and who will never be nominated by the national Democratic Party.

Hard to believe, but the 2016 race for the Democratic nomination seems to be setting up nicely for Joe Biden.


If your home is burglarized in Philadelphia (and probably elsewhere as well), the odds on the police catching your criminal are slim.  However, if a gun is one of the items lifted, the police will come to your house and do a thorough investigation--- taking photographs, dusting for fingerprints, and reconstructing the thief’s movements.  As a friend of mine pointed out after my recent unpleasant brush with crime in the big city, this is a good reason to own a gun.


A heartbreaking scene I see frequently at Target is a parent pushing one or more little children around the store while talking incessantly on a cellphone.  Sometimes, the kids are trying to break through by talking to the parent.  Sometimes they are screaming.  It doesn’t matter.  Nothing the kids do will pull Mom or Dad away from their phone.  For me, the saddest scene is when the kids sit silently in the cart, having given up even trying to communicate.  When I saw this the other day (for the millionth time), it made me think of the Amish attitude toward telephones.

A lot of people think the Amish are anti-technology, and that is the reason they don’t drive cars or hook in to the electrical grid or have a phone in the house.  Actually, they are not opposed to technology at all.  What they are is pro-family.  When some new device, or power source, becomes available, the elders meet and decide whether it can be adopted without threat to family and community.  That is the only question for the Amish.

And that’s the problem with phones.  For decades they were banned entirely because their use would discourage neighbors and family members from visiting each other.  Also, the idea of someone chatting with a friend on the phone while ignoring his or her family was just appalling. Today the ban is not absolute, and you will sometimes see a little shack, at some distance to an Amish house, with a phone line going into it.  It’s far enough away to be very inconvenient, especially in the winter, but it is available for emergency out-going calls or for business calls to the “English” world.  Some Amish businessmen even have cell phones, but they don’t take them home from the workshop at night, and they don’t play Angry Birds on them.

And they don’t talk on them while they are in the grocery store with their kids.


Thursday, July 23, 2015


It’s July of 2015, there are sixteen of them, and it doesn’t seem likely there will be any more---not serious contenders, anyway.  So it’s time to review the field and tell you who has a prayer, who doesn’t, and why.  Some of them can be dismissed with a sentence or two; others require a bit more analysis.

In alphabetic order:

Jeb Bush.  The guy with the most campaign cash, most organization and most endorsements by standard-brand Republican organizations.  Obviously, the guy who gets the nod from the bloated corpse (but the rich bloated corpse) of the mainstream Republican Party can get the nomination.  I mean, Bob Dole got the nomination, didn’t he?  Republicans can win in 2016, and it would be sad for many of us if Jeb Bush got the nomination because he is peculiarly ill-suited to beat Hillary.  Just as Mitt Romney was the one guy who couldn’t beat Obama in 2012 (because, with Romneycare on his resume, he couldn’t attack Obamacare), Bush is the one guy who can’t beat the dreadful Hillary.  He’s the only guy who can’t challenge her as a “legacy” candidate.

Also, there are those of us who think no mainstream Republican candidate will ever be elected again, that George W. was the last. The brand is broken, in other words.  I may be mistaken about that, of course, but Jeb is not the guy who will prove me wrong.

Ben Carson.  A truly brilliant man and a decent, God-fearing patriot with the values we need our next President to have.  He has no chance to become president, however, and not simply because he has no experience in politics.

There is a reason doctors don’t get elected to office very often and a reason we’ve never had a president with a medical degree.  They are not really democrats, and not really suited to a democratic form of government.  It’s not how they think, it’s not how they are trained, and it’s not how they behave.  Over the years, I have had a number of chats with doctors on politics or morals or philosophy, and the thing that often strikes me is how genuinely surprised they are that someone would disagree with them.  They’re not accustomed to it.  It doesn’t occur to them that there could be a valid objection to their point of view, at least not one from a non-physician.  I vividly recall one such conversation on the topic of abortion with a doctor who insisted that his medical expertise trumped any sort of moral issue I might raise.  Abortion was proper until the moment of birth and that’s all there was to it.

You can see hints of this attitude in Ben Carson.  He gets his back up instantly when he asked questions he doesn’t expect, and he refuses to answer them.

Chris Christie.   See Jeb Bush.  There is only room for one anointed mainstream Republican, and he isn’t it.  He is hoping Jeb will falter and all the juice and money will flow over to him, but even if Bush is rejected by the electorate, Christie wouldn’t be the choice.  Chris Christie is a regional phenomenon, and the further he gets from New Jersey, the more people say, “Wha…????”

Even as a vice-presidential candidate, he brings nothing to the party since he certainly can’t put New Jersey into the Republican column.  It’s hard to see why he is running and soon, he won’t be.       

Ted Cruz.   Just as Jeb Bush is the mainstream candidate, Cruz is the real conservative (as opposed to the candidates who are currently trying to sound like conservatives in order to curry favor with what they perceive as “the base”).  Cruz won’t go to Iowa and say ethanol subsidies are groovy, like Scott Walker did, and he will never support an increased minimum wage law, like Santorum does.  The attention and money he has attracted indicates that if 2016 is the year for a conservative, Ted Cruz will be the guy.

Carly Fiorina.   Girlfriend!  What the heck are you doing here?  Fiorina is one of the few I would actually vote for, and in a head-to-head debate, she would make Hillary cry like a little girl.  Unfortunately, we won’t have a chance to see that.

She is not out of the question as a vice-presidential pick, however, and that is why she is still running.

Lindsey Graham.  Another liberal lined up behind Bush, with no chance of breaking through.  As a sideshow, his status as a (presumed) closeted gay senator brings an oddly antiquated aura to his candidacy.  It’s also a bit creepy the way leftists (e.g., Jon Stewart) mock Graham for being gay---I thought that was supposed to be a good thing in 2015.

(Note: in Queer Studies departments across the academic world, the theory that Abraham Lincoln was gay seems to be losing its adherents.  James Buchanan, however, is widely viewed as “our first gay President.”)

Mike Huckabee.  In addition to the Good Old Boy Republicans and the Conservative Republicans, there are also the Evangelicals, and Huckabee may be at the top of that list.  In an election cycle where the issues are the moribund economy, the dangerous world Obama has left us, and the trashing of our rule of law, guys like Huckabee seem very much like voices from yesterday.

Bobby Jindal.  In horseracing, the horse with the best early speed can sometimes burst away from the pack and hang on to win wire to wire, so one of the worst bets at the track is the horse with the second-best early speed.  Being the second-best conservative candidate in a Republican primary puts you in a similar position.

John Kasich.  In Ohio, he embraced Obamacare and vastly expanded Medicaid, explaining that it would get him into heaven.  As a liberal behind Bush, he has little chance of getting the nomination, but he is given a good shot at being chosen as Bush’s running mate.  The idea is that if Bush can win his home state of Florida and Kasich can win Ohio, the Republican ticket is certain to win the general election.

Yep, that’s how they think.  Nothing about persuading the electorate, nothing about the country itself, nothing about the Constitution, nothing about the jihad and the slaughter of innocents, but if we can snag those 47 electoral votes, WE’RE A FREAKIN’ LOCK!!!!

George Pataki.    Why Pataki?  I don’t know.  He’s almost 70 years old and he always wanted to run for president, so now he is.  Blue state moderate Republicans have virtually no shot at the presidency, but, for some reason, that doesn’t stop them from running.  Sometimes they even get nominated.  Right, Mr. Romney?  Pataki cannot even make the VP argument, like Kasich can, since Hillary will NOT lose New York.  In fact, the Democrats could nominate a gorilla for president, and the gorilla would win New York.

Rand Paul.   Shortly after he announced, he was criticized for being short-tempered and prickly with a female reporter, and the theory advanced by the Left was that he didn’t like women.  But that’s not it.  Like Ben Carson, Rand is a doctor, which means that he’s right and you’re wrong.  He’s going to be prickly and short-tempered with anyone who pushes back at him.  Doctors just aren’t suited to democracy.

There’s another reason Rand can’t win, however, and that is the precarious state of the world.  Since Obama took office, the world has become so much more dangerous that even isolationist libertarian types recognize that certain butts will have to be kicked, and soon, in order to assert American power and values.  Somebody will have to tell Putin he can’t have the Baltics.  Somebody will have to tell ISIS that enslaving women and setting people on fire must stop.  Somebody will have to tell Iran they can’t have the bomb.  Rand Paul is not the guy to do that sort of hard work.  He is not the right man for the moment, and that is why his campaign is languishing.

Rick Perry.  About 10% of the stuff Donald Trump says is accurate and pithy and funny and true, and his observation about Rick Perry’s glasses is one of them.  Trump said that Perry now wears glasses so that people will think he’s smart.  Bingo.  Not only is he correct, but Rick Perry in glasses (black, thick-rimmed serious-looking things), looks exactly like a guy who is only wearing glasses because he is desperately trying to look smart.

Perry’s brain-freeze in the 2012 debate will never be forgotten.

Marco Rubio.  He’s way Hispanic and Latino and he sometimes says conservative things and the mainstream Republicans don’t want to trash him because they think he might be important someday, but I don’t see how his base voter differs markedly from Jeb Bush’s base voter.  He’s a Gang of Eight guy and he’s pro-amnesty just like Bush is, and he will shade his views in one way for a certain group of voters and then shade them another way for the next group.  If Jeb Bush is rejected by Republican primary voters (and he may be), Rubio steps into his shoes.  Otherwise, there is no path to the Presidential nomination for him.

(Note: Since both Bush and Rubio are from Florida, Rubio cannot be chosen as Bush’s Vice President.  If he were, under the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, their ticket could not be awarded the electoral votes from Florida.)

Rick Santorum.  See Huckabee.  It’s over, Rick.

Donald Trump.  He’s not a conservative, he’s not a Republican, and he’s not running for President.  Other than that, his chances to win the Republican primary are terrific.

When I say he’s not running for President, I mean just that.  He is doing nothing to qualify his campaign in the various states in which he has to run and he is doing nothing to organize his followers.  All Trump is doing here is polishing up his “brand,” which is something he now does more-or-less instinctively.  This “campaign” so far has cost him little, and will make him a more valuable commercial and reality-TV commodity.  He’s WAY bigger than Honey Boo Boo now.  Plus, he’s a blowhard and he likes attention, so now that he has caught some lightning in a bottle with his immigration issue, he will keep pounding it until it stops working.  And it will.

The idea that he is going to mount a third-party campaign using his own money is even more ridiculous.  Guys like Donald Trump do not go to the bank to make withdrawals, they go to make deposits.  He may be a jerk and an egomaniac, but he never loses sight of the bottom line.  He would never be so foolish as to throw hundreds of millions of his own dollars at a quixotic quest that cannot succeed.

Scott Walker.  We may not have saved the actual best for last (alphabetically), but he’s a different sort of candidate, and hard to categorize, and that makes him a threat to win.  Bush, Cruz, Rubio and Walker are the only ones with a realistic chance.

Normally, one would view Scott Walker as just another Chamber-of-Commerce, good- ol’-boy type of Republican, and slot him in somewhere south of Bush.  He has a history (that is now being discreetly hushed up) of supporting amnesty and a “path to citizenship.”  Also, there’s the new-found love of ethanol now that he’s campaigning in Iowa.  So he panders.  He’ll say what he has to.  He has a lot in common with Jeb, and Christie, and Romney.  These are not exactly evil men, but they represent the past, and none of them will ever be elected President.  I certainly won’t vote for one, and I won’t vote for Walker either.

Walker, however, is different.  Though we cannot know what he believes, and we can’t believe what he says, he apparently believes in something. And he can fight.  He beat the public sector unions in Wisconsin though every major union in the country threw millions into the battle to defeat him.  Then they tried to recall him, and that didn’t work.  Then they spent more millions to prevent him from being re-elected, and failed again.  And all this happened in Wisconsin, a place that has not chosen a Republican for President since Reagan in 1984.

Scott Walker cannot be counted out of any race he enters, including this one.


Sunday, July 12, 2015


Donald Trump has gotten a lot of attention in the Republican presidential race with his recent comments about America’s broken immigration system, the quality of the individuals streaming across our southern border, criminal behavior of illegals, the need for a fence, and so on.  Republican voters like to hear this sort of thing because it’s the truth, because the situation threatens our security, because it costs a lot of money, and for a dozen other reasons.  It helps Trump immeasurably that other big-name Republican candidates (e.g., Walker, Rubio, Christie, Bush, Graham) denounce him and remain focused on a “path to citizenship” for those “living in the shadows.”  Many of us are familiar with those living in the shadows, and we can’t understand why these people, who mostly scramble to make a living and get their kids educated, are viewed as a “problem.”  It seems to us that the ones who emerge from the shadows to deal drugs, shoot people, commit drunken vehicular homicide, rape young women, and abuse our welfare system are the actual problem.

As I have noted before in these pages, there are ten or twenty other immigration issues more pressing than the creation of a path to citizenship for those living in the shadows.  Why should we worry about them?  First of all, many of them are not seeking anything other than money to send back to relatives in Mexico; they don’t want to live here or become citizens or legal residents.  The others, those who would like to stay, have chosen to come here knowing they may never get legal status, and as long as they are not killing people or committing crimes or doing other dreadful things, why are they worth our time?  Some manage to make a living and some will even succeed economically.  Some will learn English and become integrated into American life.  Most will root for the Dodgers.  They will grow old and eventually go the way of all flesh.  Their kids, the ones they bring here or create here, will be real Americans.  They will be just fine.

It’s not an ideal picture, having millions of illegals here, and it’s worth securing the border so there aren’t millions more of them tomorrow, but what else are we to do?  The Christies and Bushes and Rubios and Obamas scream that WE CAN’T ROUND THEM UP AND DEPORT THEM as if the only alternatives are 1) to round them up or 2) make them citizens.  But neither one of those options makes much sense, does it?  Why can’t we ignore them?  The ones who do crimes should get sent home.  The ones who can’t support themselves will go home voluntarily.  We can live with the rest.

Most Americans know this.  They know that the incessant cry for a “path to citizenship” from both Republicans and Democrats is just pandering by politicians who see that illegals already have significant political power, and will probably have even more, and soon.  Many illegals already vote, and at the level of local politics, their views must be taken into account on issues like policing, education and welfare policies.  So when Obama or Rubio or Pelosi or Bush tell us how noble these illegals are, they’re not really talking to us, they’re talking to the illegals or to their supporters at La Raza or Univision or any of the (growing) Latino political groups.

Trump, however, is talking to us.  Immigrant crime and the refusal to enforce our laws is a real issue, it concerns the continued existence of the republic, and none of the other candidates have been addressing it at all.  That’s why he’s broken through.  It’s why everyone is talking about him.  The lefties at CNN and NBC and the NYT and all the other media sinkholes think it’s just terrible, so they won’t shut up about him.  And though most of the Republicans don’t like what is happening, they are being forced to talk about the issue too.  On balance, this is a positive development for the Republican candidates.  Before, all they were was a bunch of guys wandering around Iowa and New Hampshire like the zombies on the Walking Dead, waiting for Rick or Daryl or Glenn to show up and lop off their coconut with a meat cleaver.  Now there is something to talk about, something that matters to people, and they actually have to talk about it.

One would like to think that, in our political process, Republican candidates would eventually be forced to discuss the assault on America from the radical Left (of which the trashing of our immigration law is only one aspect), but there is no obvious mechanism by which this is destined to occur.  The leftwing media won’t do it, the candidates themselves won’t do it, and the TV “debates” hosted by people like Candy Crowley wouldn’t normally touch an issue like this with a ten-foot hot poker.  (“Show of hands---who believes the Earth was created six thousand years ago?”)  Reince Priebus, the anointed commissar of mainstream Republicanism, yesterday begged Trump to put a sock in it.  The only market for this kind of serious talk is the American people; the political class and the media hate it.

There is simply no stomach for these kind of hard truths among those who hold the keys to the media or among most Republican candidates.  Keep in mind that the last two Republican candidates for President, McCain and Romney, managed to run 18-month campaigns costing hundreds of millions of dollars without ever engaging Obama on his plans to “fundamentally transform” (translation---“destroy”) the American republic.  Mainstream Republicans consider the discussion of these issues to be distasteful, impolite and, because Obama is black, racist.

So Trump, in that sense, is doing a good thing.  The problem with him, however---well, there are actually a lot of problems ranging from his many contributions to Democratic politicians (including his good friend Hillary), to his admiration for a single-payer health-care system, to his warm embrace of post-Kelo eminent domain law to force people out of real estate he personally covets.  Even if you admire Donald Trump personally (and I confess I can’t understand why you would), you cannot regard him as a political conservative or as someone to be trusted.

But the real problem is that he is pandering as well, and he won’t get away with it.  For one thing, sooner or later, someone will remember that Trump lambasted Romney for his “self-deportation” remark, and expressed his opinion that there has to be a---drumroll---“path to citizenship” for the 20 or 30 million illegals.  Donald doesn’t talk about his 2012 run for President very much, and he certainly doesn’t mention that.

Worse, however, is the other prong of his new-found policy prescription for those danged furriners.  Protectionism.  Mercantilism.  Tariffs.  Whatever you wish to call it, Trump is every bit as dedicated to this bit of demagoguery as Lou Dobbs, Nancy Pelosi, Pat Buchanan or Elizabeth Warren.  He recently proposed a 25% tax on all Chinese imports.  He has described NAFTA as a disaster.  He wants a 35% tariff on Ford vehicles manufactured in Mexico and shipped to the US.

There is one reason, and only one reason, to advocate such a policy, and that is to attract support from that small slice of the electorate who 1) are truly xenophobes, 2) are unaware that this particular school of economic thinking was thoroughly discredited by Adam Smith, David Ricardo and many others (as well as the common experience of Western European countries) about two hundred years ago, and 3) are easily manipulated.  The theory that one can detect criminal tendencies in an individual by studying the bumps on a person’s head remained intellectually respectable almost a hundred years after mercantilist theories became something that no serious economist would entertain.

That’s the reason why you never see a real economist from a university arguing against protectionism on CNN.  It would be like someone with a Ph.D. in astronomy agreeing to debate the shape of the planet with Rufus Moonbeam, First Exalted Potentate of the Flat Earth Society of East Rutherford, NJ.  Actual scientists don’t bother with flat-earthers, and professors of economics don’t bother with trade protectionists.

Donald Trump may be a boor, but he’s not a moron.  He (and everyone else who claims they want to “protect American jobs”) knows there is no fixed number of jobs. They know that a voluntary transaction between a businessman in Iowa and one in Shanghai must benefit both of them or it would not happen.  They know free trade benefits everyone.  They (and all of us) have known this for 200 years.  And when Trump or Warren or Lou Dobbs or Obama says otherwise, they are not misinformed, they are lying.

Protectionism is a tempting ploy for a politician because there’s always an audience for it.  In addition to the voters who don’t like the danged furriners and never will, there are always people whose lives have been recently disrupted by economic change.  When the only manufacturing plant in your town closes and your personal situation gets ugly, it’s not easy to see the larger picture.  That’s when you become fodder for those who think you’re an idiot but want your vote.

The problem with this strategy is that there are only so many people in this angry demographic at any one time.  Trump is now pulling what percentage of the Republican vote?  14%?  16%?  That’s a lot in a field of fourteen announced candidates with several more yet to jump in, but the 14% or 16% is his limit.  When Walker or Bush or Cruz starts climbing and the weaker candidates start dropping out, Trump will still be sitting where he is.  Then even his most fanatical supporters will start deserting him because they will come to understand he cannot win.

Enjoy Donald while you can.  Also, we can thank him for kick-starting discussion of a meaningful political issue in America.  Just don’t expect him to be around when the leaves start falling.


Sunday, June 28, 2015


And finally, Warner Brothers will stop selling toy replicas of the General Lee, the Dukes of Hazzard car with the confederate battle flag on its roof.  Now at last, the danger has ended.  We can all stop worrying about isolated young losers on psychotropic drugs going over the edge and committing mass murder at a bible study meeting.

The first thing we must understand about the Left's response to the killings of nine congregants at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, is that it represented an opportunity to advance a political agenda, and nothing more.  The ice-cold apparatchik Barack Obama, who attempted to politicize the event on the day of the killings, is utterly unmoved and untouched by the slaughter.  Hillary Clinton, who did the same thing a few days later, doesn't care either.  Neither do the network broadcasters and newspaper writers at left-wing media outlets like NBC, CBS, the NYT, etc., etc. etc.

All that matters is that the killings be used for something.  Obama and Hillary first tried to use it to advance gun control legislation, but that wouldn’t fly.  (The latest mantra is for “universal background checks,” but when it turned out the kid had passed a background check, there was no place to go with that idea, so it was dropped.)  But there was a confederate battle flag in one of the photos he posted of himself, so that became the campaign. It flies over a Civil War Memorial in Columbia, the state capitol, so it would have to be taken down.

“Fine,” said Nikki Haley, Republican governor of the state.  She would introduce legislation to remove it from the war memorial.

And then the mask fell off.  The battle flag at the memorial never had anything to do with the killings, of course, but in the heat of the emotional aftermath, an unreasoning demand to “do something” could be understood.  Nikki Haley understood it and acted accordingly.  At that point, the semi-plausible campaign of the Left to rid the state capitol of this supposedly racist symbol morphed instantly into farce.  Suddenly, removing the flag from the war memorial became “the least they could do” (--Jon Stewart).  Now streets across the old Confederate states had to be renamed, statues pulled down, products pulled from shelves at major retailers.  In an instant, it was decided that the South had to be cleansed of its culture and its history.  “Gone With The Wind” needed to be removed from circulation.  The Jefferson Memorial might need to be “re-thought.”   

Though the boy killer was apparently motivated by racist hatred of black people, the response of the Left seemed, oddly, unrelated to race hatred, the Civil War, segregation, and the like.  And that’s because it was unrelated.  The purpose of a campaign like this is not to get rid of the confederate flag or racist symbols.  Democrats and lefties don’t care about any of that.  In fact, the flag itself was installed by Democrats and defended by Democrats and is at the heart of the history of the Democratic Party.

Instead, this campaign, like so many others, is an attempt to get all of us accustomed to the de facto repeal of our First Amendment guarantees of free speech, and the trashing of our tradition of intellectual diversity.  When the Left tells us all to shut up, that we are offending their sensibilities, we must all now shut up.  Or be destroyed.

It is the same message driven home by campus speech codes, the same message learned the hard way by Brendon Eich, former CEO of Mozilla, who made the mistake of donating some money to the campaign for Prop 8 in California.  It’s well known to Republicans like Mitt Romney, who came to a public school in West Philly to talk about education policy during the 2012 campaign and was instead silenced by a jeering rabble under the direction of Mayor Michael Nutter.

And the purging of the confederate battle flag will not end here, of course.  It is only a matter of time before some guy is arrested for making “terrorist threats” or committing a hate crime because he accidentally parks his pick-up truck, with a confederate flag decal, across the street from a black church.  His truck gets confiscated, he faces three years of legal battles, and his life is destroyed.  That is how the Left works in 2015.

(During the recent shoot-em-up over a Draw-Muhammed contest in Garland, Texas, otherwise sensible people expressed the view that such events needlessly provoke rage and possible homicidal responses from Muslims and should be avoided.  The problem with this attitude is that it misunderstands the nature of the battlefield.  Muhammed has been depicted graphically for centuries, often by devote Muslims, so the position of jihadists that drawing Muhammed justifies murder is laughable.  The purpose of laying down this gauntlet is simply to attack our values, and demand acquiescence to the idea that our tradition of free expression is trumped by their faith.  If the entire Western world were to submit to these demands, there would be more demands, and then even more.  Just as the confederate flag flying over a war memorial instantly becomes Cooter’s car and Gone With The Wind, drawing Muhammed would segue into banning Porky Pig cartoons, or something equally ridiculous.  When speech is attacked, we must draw Muhammed, and we must fly the confederate flag.  Those who hate our values, whether they are jihadists or Democrats, are counting on us to back down, but if we want a free society, we cannot give an inch on these issues.)

The other aspect of this flag imbroglio that makes me want to scream is the response of Republicans to the demand that they condemn the confederate flag.  Every Republican presidential wannabe has been asked this question.  What would you do about the flag in Columbia, South Carolina?  Do you think it should be taken down in other places?  Do you think it’s right that Walmart and other retailers are pulling flag-related merchandise from their shelves?

Whatever the response has been, I haven’t heard one of them take this obvious softball and hit it out of the park.  I haven’t heard even one deliver the shiv-between-the-ribs answer this question deserves.

“But George (Chris, Rachel, David, Diane, whatever…), why are you asking ME this question?  Why are you asking Republicans this question at all?  It’s not our damn flag.  It belongs to the Democratic Party, the party that fought for slavery in the 1800’s, then fought for Jim Crow laws, then opposed the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, 1871, 1875, 1957 and 1964.  Why aren’t you asking the Democrats, who wouldn’t let a federal anti-lynching law be passed for a hundred years?  Why aren’t you interested in what Democrats think about this---you know, the Democrats who segregated the federal civil service, the Democrats who constituted 100% of the Ku Klux Klan, the Democrats who first decided to fly the confederate battle flag over the Capitol Building in Columbia, South Carolina????”


Sunday, June 14, 2015


In the summer of 1940, when my mother was 26 years old, one of the more significant events on her social calendar was a date for a dance at a country club just outside of Philadelphia. The young gentleman who had invited her (whose name has been lost to history), was apparently a country-clubbish sort of guy because (and this is really the only thing I know about him), he was playing tennis a couple weeks before the big dance and, as luck or fate would have it, broke his leg.

Sophie,” he said to her a few days later, “I'm sorry about this. I know you bought a new dress for this thing. Here, take the tickets. Find a guy who can dance with you. Enjoy yourself.”

At the time, my mother ran a beauty parlor at 9th and Spruce, in Philadelphia, and she shared her problem with the other girls in the shop. In a nutshell, she needed a date.

Beatrice, the shampoo girl at the time, a woman my mother would later fire, piped up. “My brother Stanley can dance. He's been at college in Michigan, but he's back now.”

Does he have a tuxedo?” It was the only question my mother asked about Stanley.

Yes,” said Beatrice.

OK. Talk to him.”

Stanley and Sophie were married sixteen months later, on December 26, 1941, right before my father's unit shipped out for WWII. My sister was born in late 1942. I was born in 1951. When my father died in 2001, our parents had been married almost sixty years.

My aunt Beatrice eventually forgave my mother for firing her.

A few years ago, when my son Tex was in high school, we bought him a used tuxedo for his birthday, and I shared with him my views on how important it is that a young man have a tuxedo. I told him this story.

Yes see, Tex,” I said, “Stanley Kubacki was a young man with some prospects but no money. He did, however, have a tuxedo, and if he had NOT had that tuxedo in the summer of 1940 when his sister came home from work one day and offered him a blind date, well.... Do you see the significance of this story, Tex?”

If he had not had a tuxedo, my grandmother and grandfather would never have met, would they?”

Probably not, Tex. And if they had never met, I would not exist.”

He thought about that for a bit.

Yes,” he said finally. “I see your point.”


Thursday, March 5, 2015


The US Department of Justice (Eric Holder, Proprietor), yesterday released its report on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It's a schizophrenic document which completely exonerates Darren Wilson (the officer who shot Brown), while condemning the Ferguson police department itself for racially-biased and discriminatory practices. The bias bits, quoted widely in the press, consist of “gotcha” statistics with no accompanying analysis or attempt to place the findings in context.

One of the most touted of these statistical findings is that 93% of the arrests in Ferguson are of African-Americans, though the population is only 67% African-American. The (unspoken) conclusion to be drawn is that the Ferguson police often arrest black people because they are black and not because they are criminals. To put it another way, the implication is that the same behavior that would land a black man in jail will be overlooked if committed by a white person.

What the DOJ report does not mention, however, is the underlying assumption of this 93%---67% comparison. This disparity can only have a racially-discriminatory explanation if the crime rates for white people and black people are the same. This, in fact, is what the DOJ would have us assume---that the rate for crimes committed by black people and the rate for crimes committed by white people are the same. But they are not, of course. The crime rate for black people is about six times the crime rate for white people, and it has been this way in America for at least fifty years.

Over the years, crime rates for different races and ethnic groups vary. They also vary from city to city. They may also vary with respect to specific crimes. Since the 1960's, for example, robberies by blacks occur at eight times the rate as that by whites. The homicide rate for blacks is about four times that for whites. The crime rate for rapes is only twice as large for blacks as it is for whites. These numbers have been documented repeatedly, for decades, across the country by city and state and federal authorities. The idea that 67% of the people in Ferguson (i.e., the black people) commit 93% of the crimes there is hardly surprising.

Let's translate this with some numbers. Since 2/3 of the residents of Ferguson are black and 1/3 are white, let's say there are 2000 black people there along with 1000 whites. Now let's assume that Ferguson resembles America over the last fifty years and that the black crime rate is six times that for whites. Therefore, if there is one white criminal per thousand white people, there will be six black criminals per thousand black people. Thus, out of the three thousand residents we are assuming, there will be one white criminal and twelve black criminals. Blacks will be 12/13 of the criminals and will commit 12/13 of the crimes, and will probably represent 12/13 of the arrests. That's 92%.

The reason 93% of the arrests in Ferguson are of black people is that 93% of the crimes in Ferguson are committed by black people. There is no other plausible explanation.


Monday, February 23, 2015


I don't remember the last time I failed to get ashes on Ash Wednesday. This year, I got them at St. John the Evangelist on 13th Street in downtown Philly. I never go there for any other reason, but their ashes operation is a very streamlined, in-and-out affair designed for working people who don't have time for an hour-long mass in the middle of the work week. You walk in, light a candle if you want, say a prayer, and then the priest (who is usually a guy from Lesotho or Manila or Lima) comes out and conducts a five-minute service. Then two or three helpers emerge from behind the altar and everybody in the joint gets ashes.

The priest or helper always says something as he (or she) applies the smudge. In the Middle Ages, it was usually “Memento mori,” which means “Remember death.” Bit of a buzz-kill, of course, but that's what Ash Wednesday is about. It's the beginning of Lent, which is the last forty days (actually forty-five) of Christ's life, so a remembrance of mortality is a big part of the story.

The ritual sounds grim, but in fact, it's not. When you start your day with a reminder, in no uncertain terms, that your end is nigh, you walk out of church with a need to affirm life and the vital principle and to, in the words of the late Warren Zevon, “Enjoy every sandwich.” That's what always happens to me, in any case. Getting ashes is supposed to be the most depressing thing that happens to you that day, so that afterwards you walk around smiling and cheerful and you pat little kids on the head.

Except it's not the Middle Ages anymore. For the past ten years or so, the homily I've been given with my ashes has been “Turn away from sin and read the Gospels.” Wimpy stuff. Pitiful, really. If there were Catholic restaurants that served fortune cookies, it's what you would get in a Catholic fortune cookie. But that's modern feel-good Catholicism for you. It's a big reason there aren't as many Catholics as there used to be, at least in the U.S.

But this Wednesday, I got lucky. I approached one of the helpers and as she loaded up her thumb with a double shot of the blackest, she looked me right in the eye and said, “Remember---you are dust and to dust you will return.” And she said it like she meant it.


In a way, getting ashes these days is more fun than it used to be. When I was a kid, it seemed like most of the foreheads you saw on Ash Wednesday had a nice black smudge on them. Those were the days in Philly when everyone knew one or more working-class Catholic families with six kids, all of whom went to parochial school. My father, who practiced law in the 50's and 60's, once told me about running into a lawyer named Jacob Goldstein on Ash Wednesday and being surprised to see ashes on Jacob's noggin.

Jake,” he asked him, “did you convert?”

No, Stan, but I've got a jury trial today.” Expecting seven or eight Catholics on the jury, Jacob was taking no chances. Back then, getting ashes in Philly was no big deal. Even Jews had them---well, a few Jews anyway.

Today, however, ash-wearers are sufficiently rare that I usually get told by someone, seriously, that I have some dirt on my head and I should wash it off. I see people looking at me, puzzled, and then realizing, “That's right. Yesterday was Mardi Gras.” I like it much better this way. Before, I was just another smudge in the crowd; now I'm slightly exotic and even somewhat annoying. Being honest now, one reason I never miss a year is that I know there's a certain number of cranky atheists who look at me and get pissed off.

After church, I went to my job at Target, where I typically see hundreds of people during an eight-hour shift. Only ten or twelve (all women) had ashes, but because ash-wearers are now so rare, a guild mentality has developed in places like Philly where those of us who sport the smudge are a distinct minority. You notice each other. You make eye contact. “Oh, yeah,” you think, “we cool.” At one point, I was bending over and arranging some bread on a shelf so the customer who came up couldn't see my head until she spoke to me. I looked up and there, two feet away, was a forehead just like mine. She was startled. “Dominus vobiscum,” I told her, and made the sign of the cross. It was a second or two before she remembered she wanted to know where we keep the cream cheese.

The ashes even provide an introduction. I never speak about anything personal with customers unless they initiate it, but I did on Ash Wednesday, telling several of the young ladies about how I scored big at St. John's that morning. All were suitably impressed. They were young enough that some had never heard anything but the turn-away-from-sin, fortune-cookie stuff.

My favorite Ash Wednesday experience occurred in St. Louis (not an especially papist burg), about twenty-five years ago. I was there on business, had flown in that morning, and was stuck in a law office until early afternoon when we broke for lunch.

Early that morning I had ascertained there was a cathedral downtown, so as soon as I was released from the high-rise where I had spent the morning, I hauled ass about ten blocks to the church, sailed through the (one) open door and found, in an enormous structure with a nave straining up to heaven itself---nobody. An open Catholic church downtown in a major American city always has some poor bastard in one of the pews, praying for something-or-other, but this one, in St. Louis MO on Ash Wednesday afternoon, had nobody but me. I approached the altar, genuflected (ask a Catholic what that means), and sat myself down in the front row. There was only so much time I could spend there. I only had an hour for lunch.

Five minutes passed.

Then, the door just behind the pulpit opened slightly and a woman peeked out, saw me, and shut the door. I thought about this for a minute, then advanced into what is called (I think) the presbytery, where the mass is done, and knocked on the door. Thirty seconds passed and the door was opened by the same woman. I introduced myself, explained my mission, and asked if there were some way to get my ashes.

That was all over an hour ago,” she said, and gave me a long look. “OK, I'll see.” And the door closed.

Time passed. Minutes. Was I being so terribly unreasonable? It's Ash Wednesday, it's only about one o'clock, and this is the big church in downtown St. Louis. I mean, what am I---a burglar?

Finally, the door flew open and a tiny man, shrunken with age, looked up at me. He had to be 80 years old and though he was wearing the backward collar, he seemed otherwise disheveled, as if roughly awakened, recently.

Ashes?” he said. “You want ashes?”

I explained my quest, apologizing all the while. But now I felt terrible because the situation was suddenly rather obvious. This venerable geezer had been up since 4 am on Ash Wednesday duty, had planted smudges on hundreds of heads and done two or three masses, and finally he had retired to the rectory for his soft-boiled egg and a dry martini, and had fallen asleep in front of “The Price Is Right.” And then I came along.

Fine,” he said, shutting me up. “Wait here.” He went back inside and reappeared a minute later with a dish of black ash. Loading up, and with a flick of his wrist, he punched me in the head with his thumb and smeared the results across a wide swath. “Turn away from Satan,” he told me, “and read yer Gospels. OK???” An instant later, he was gone and the door was shut in my face. In the silent, empty cathedral, the slam of the door made me shiver. It was the sound of doom itself.


Sunday, January 25, 2015


[Much of the analysis that follows, and the story of Virgil Carter, comes from “The Hidden Game of Football” by Carroll, Palmer and Thorn, first published in 1988]

Greek tragedy doesn't do the boffo box office it did in Aristotle's day. In 2015, we're more into RomComs or CGI spectaculars or comedies like “Bad Bosses 2,” with Jennifer Anniston as the irrepressible nymphomaniac. Nevertheless, the ancient echoes of “Oresteia” and “Medea” and “Oedipus” still speak to us of the inevitability of doom that follows, that must follow, a moral transgression.

I am speaking, of course, of the Green Bay – Seattle game, a Greek tragedy with Packers coach Mike McCarthy in the role of Oedipus, for that is what Packer fans were calling him after the game. Well, not “Oedipus” exactly, but its modern 12-letter equivalent. In the first quarter, you didn't know how the Pack would pay for its sins against the gods of football, but you knew they would.

I watched the game with a horrifying certainty that Green Bay would be punished, with the suspense and drama residing only in the method by which their comeuppance would be exacted. An emergency on-field leg amputation for Aaron Rodgers? A Green Bay coach disemboweled in a bizarre sideline accident involving a linebacker, a cheerleader and a parabolic microphone? Instead, the vengeance from Mount Olympus was simple, but perfectly fit the crime. After giving away points in that first quarter (to the Seahawks! in Seattle! in the NFC Conference Championship!), Green Bay found itself, as the clock ticked down to 0:00 in regulation, needing just one of those squandered points for a victory they had thrown away. (And by the way, did anyone on Planet Earth think Green Bay would win in overtime?)

It was the field goals, of course. You can't kick those field goals. In the first quarter, with 8 minutes remaining, Mike McCarthy was facing 4th and goal at the 1/2-yard line. He didn't hesitate, and sent out the fieldgoal team to kick an 18-yarder.

(Mike McCarthy: You're looking especially hot today, Jocasta!
Jocasta: I dunno, Mike, it feels funny somehow.
Mike: Hey, what could go wrong?
Jo: Oh...OK. Can you unzip me? Oh, wait. That's right. Zippers haven't been invented yet!)

Three minutes later, following a Seattle turnover, Green Bay again found itself 4th and goal at the Seattle 1-yard line, and McCarthy again took the three points.

You can't kick those fieldgoals. You can't kill your father and you can't have sex with your mother and you can't kick those fieldgoals. I'm not really sure which of the three is worse, though I lean toward the fieldgoals. I guess I'll leave that issue to the professional theologians and philosophers.

The reasoning is not complicated, and you would think that most football coaches would have figured out the 4th-and-1-in-the-first-quarter scenario by the time they got their first paying job (or would have had it explained to them). We are only looking at two choices here---kick it or go for it---and all we have to do is calculate the resulting points (the “expectation”) from each option.

Option A, the fieldgoal, is easy to assess. You are almost certain to make a fieldgoal from that distance. Call it 97%. Multiplying 97% by 3 points is about 2.9 points, and that is your expectation. On the rare occasion the kick is missed, Seattle gets the ball on its 20-yard-line, which, as we will see later, holds no advantage for either side.

Option B, trying for the touchdown, is a bit more complicated since there are two possible significant outcomes---you score the touchdown or you don't---and the differing expectations from these alternatives must be summed.

First, the chance of making a first down (or in this case, a touchdown) on 4th and 1 does not vary much from year to year in the NFL. You have about a 66% (or 2/3) chance of making the first down. Since a touchdown is worth 7 points, going for it nets you 2/3 times 7, or 4.6 points. This is already 1.7 points better than the 2.9 points to be expected from the fieldgoal.

(These are averages, of course, and the odds for a particular team against another particular team in a particular situation may be different. But is there any reason to think Green Bay's chances, even against Seattle, are worse than the league average?)

But there's more! What about the 1/3 of the time Green Bay fails to make the touchdown, and Seattle takes over at its 1-yard-line? What are the expected points arising out of that situation?

For this, we turn to the work of Virgil Carter, a BYU quarterback who became an NFL journeyman and backup for three teams in the 1960's. He was not a great QB, but he was a smart guy, and he had the brilliant insight that field position in football could be expressed as a number of expected points for one team or the other. His findings were published in Operations Research in 1971.

Carter compiled years of data from NFL games and determined, for example, that a team with a first down at the 50 yard line has an expectation of +2 points. This doesn't mean they would score a safety, and it doesn't mean they would score at all in their current possession. It means that when you average all the “next scores” in all the games where a team had a first down at the fifty, the average result was +2 points for that team. This could also be expressed as a -2 expectation for the team on defense.

All of which brings us to Seattle's expectations if they succeeded in stopping Green Bay and took over possession at their own 1 yard line. According to Virgil Carter (and subsequent work), Seattle's expectation with a first down at its own 1 is -2 points. In other words, if you are stuck that deep in your own territory, the other team is more likely to make the next score than you are.

Remember that 2/3 of the time, Green Bay scores its touchdown, with an expectation of 4.6 points. The other 1/3 of the time, when Green Bay fails, they are still a favorite to put up the next points, and that expectation is equal to 1/3 times 2 points, or .7 points.

Green Bay, by going for the touchdown, expects 4.6 plus .7 points, or a total of 5.3. Since their expectation when kicking the fieldgoal is only 2.9 points, they give away 2.4 points when they kick from the 1 yard line. And they did it twice.

Kicking those fieldgoals was a dreadful mistake. Green Bay gave away almost 5 points by doing so. Worse, they summoned the vengeful gods of football and made their defeat the only just result.

There are people who will not criticize a coach for doing something unforgivably stupid, like kicking those fieldgoals. The broadcasters certainly didn't. They said something like, “Seattle forced the Packers to go for three.” Of course, the Seahawks did no such thing. McCarthy did what he did because in a situation he has seen hundreds of times in his career, HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO DO! Or he “went by his gut” (another dopey thing broadcasters will often say), as if there is no objective answer to the question of whether to kick the fieldgoal or try for the touchdown. But there is. There always is. Sometimes it can be a close call, but there is always an objectively correct answer. And this was decidedly not a close call.

When you are playing blackjack and you have twelve while the dealer is showing a face card, you take a card. You do so not because you “have a feeling,” but because it is the correct play. Presented with that situation a million times, you will win more (or lose less) by taking a card than by standing pat. Your feelings have nothing to do with it. Among other things, the cards don't know you have feelings and they wouldn't care about your feelings even if they did know. The inexorable percentages in the NFL are much the same way.

Mike McCarthy won a Superbowl a few years ago, and it's hard to fire a guy like that no matter how little he knows about basic game strategies. What Green Bay should do, however, is to hire some local kid who plays poker and backgammon and a few other games, and have him stand on the sidelines with Mike and tell him when to punt or go for it or kick a fieldgoal or when to go for two after a touchdown. You wouldn't have to pay him much---let's say $100 a game and a few hotdogs. He would win a game for them every year, a game they should win but which Mike McCarthy would otherwise piss away.

** ** **

And then there's the Superbowl, featuring Seattle and Green Bay, which Vegas says is a pick-um. Based on my numbers, Seattle is better. Surprisingly perhaps, the Seahawks win the yards/pass contest 6.4 to 6.1. With defensive yards/pass, they are even better. Seattle wins that matchup by a 4.7 to 5.3 score.

As you may have gathered, I don't like Seattle much. I don't like the way they play, I don't like their ethically-challenged coach who left USC one step ahead of NCAA sanctions, and I don't like the way the NFL allows them to get away with what is politely called their “defense.” Also, I have grown fond of Bill Belichick for his increasing resemblance, behaviorally and even physically, to Richard Nixon. I want New England to win.

However, I don't think they will. “Inflategate,” or as I prefer to call it, “Ballghazi,” probably hurts New England here. First, it's a continuing distraction for the Patriots, while Seattle is left entirely unmolested by the media and can focus completely on their game plan. In addition, the media obsession with New England can be used by the Seahawks to pump themselves up. I mean, here they are, the World Champions, back for a second title, and nobody is talking about them. They ain't getting no respect, and it probably pisses them off.

After the gift victory from the Packers, Seattle wins the Superbowl this year.